Time on His Hands
“Time on His Hands” ~ Psalm 90
This message began about 40 years ago when my seminary classmate and good friend Robert Sandford preached on it in a homiletics class. I asked him for a copy of his notes.
A year later, I wrote my own message, utilizing Bob’s notes - giving him full credit! A year after that, I used Psalm 90 for a funeral message for Bea Payne, a lady who had lived in Vermont for 90 some years, but because she was born in New Hampshire, was still considered a “flatlander.” I’ll read one of Bea’s poems to conclude my remarks.
In the years since 1986, I have used this Psalm exclusively for funeral messages. I have honored the memories of
and Art Ingalls
with these eternal words.
God allowed me to think of no other Scripture for this great occasion than Psalm 90. I pray we can do both the Psalm and this occasion justice as we consider both past and future with appropriate gratitude to God.
Time is God’s gift: Use it wisely.
CONTEXT: The citation at the beginning of this psalm is to Moses, THE MAN OF GOD. Even though that is true, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. God warned Moses he would die before Israel crossed the Jordan to take possession of the land. Perhaps this prayer was delivered just before Moses and the people parted company for the last time.
1. Our God is an eternal God. (1-4)
He has been HOME to ALL GENERATIONS of humanity. (1) Isn’t this a great thought? God is our HOME; ideally, the place we belong and feel most like ourselves. This is as true for us as it has been for ALL GENERATIONS. This truth sets up Moses’ plea for God’s mercy in vs. 13-17 in the sense that “You’ve done it for us before, please do it again.” The word HOME has also been translated as “refuge.”
God exists before and after this creation. (2) As much as the MOUNTAINS impress us with their grandeur and appear unchanging, they are nothing compared to their Creator. God existed BEFORE He made this creation. From the BEGINNING to the END of this creation, He is God. The creation gives glory to the Creator, not the other way around. In Deuteronomy 32:18, God is both Father and Mother to His people. Here, the psalmist wrote He GAVE BIRTH to creation. God alone is God and everything that exists owes its existence to Him.
The passing years do not have the same significance to God as the do to us. (4) To us, A THOUSAND YEARS sounds like an eternity. To God, it’s like a few hours long. 2 Peter 3:8 adopts this line of thought: BUT YOU MUST NOT FORGET THIS ONE THING, DEAR FRIENDS: A DAY IS LIKE A THOUSAND YEARS TO THE LORD, AND A THOUSAND YEARS IS LIKE A DAY.
2. Our lives are brief. (3-12)
He alone determines the span of our years. (3, 5, 10) We are created to be MORTALS, returning to the DUST from which we are created. (3) Like DUST, we are swept away. (5) This mortal body is discarded when we are done with it.
Moses reflected on a 70- or 80-year life span. (10) Why these numbers? These were not the typical lifespan of Moses’ era. Maybe these were the outer limits of an above-average lifespan.
No matter our life span, THE BEST YEARS ARE FILLED WITH PAIN AND TROUBLE. No matter our life span, the years fly by and then so do we! This is a cynical view, but it is not the last word in this psalm. Instead, it ends with a plea to God to restore the joy of His people.
Our span of years was compared to very temporary things. (5-6) Like DREAMS, our lives are over soon & quickly forgotten. (5) Like GRASS that lives but a day, we quickly age and WITHER. (5-6) Moses uses here a bit of poetic license to make his point: there are no actual plants that have such an accelerated lifespan.
All this consideration of details aside, the point is that the brevity of life makes WISDOM more important. (12) We have so little time, there is none to waste. All life’s experiences are to be used for getting WISDOM. This teaching is also expressed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:17, MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY IN THESE EVIL DAYS. It takes wisdom to honor that command.
3. We must live our lives in fear of the Lord. (7-17)
We deserve God’s wrath for wasting our time on sin. (7-9) We need to be reminded of the wages of sin - death. The consequences of sin are so severe Jesus had to give up his life on the cross. If we give it proper attention, God’s anger against sin causes us to WITHER and feel OVERWHELMED. (7) The sins we attempt to keep SECRET are not hidden from Him (8) because God knows our hearts.
Our entire lives are lived out under the threat of His WRATH. (9) None of us have anything righteous enough to mitigate God’s WRATH. If it were not for grace, we would all be destroyed. Our lives end with a GROAN because of age, our own sin, and the sins others commit against us. (9)
We must fear the Lord. (11) God’s ANGER is beyond our comprehension. There is nothing in this life that can compare with His ANGER. God’s WRATH is AWESOME; He deserves our FEAR. Because of these facts, the only sensible thing we can do is FEAR God. Fear of God is, as Proverbs reminds us frequently, the beginning of WISDOM.
We must pray for His blessings in the span of our lives. (13-17) Moses pleaded with God to no longer forsake them, but to be present with them as He had been in the days before His WRATH. (13) In our time, we are to pray for Jesus to TAKE PITY on us and DELAY His Second Coming no longer. We are God’s SERVANTS, which should encourage us. Still, on our own we are guilty of sin and cannot be saved unless God takes PITY on us.
We must pray for the true satisfaction of experiencing God’s UNFAILING LOVE. (14) This needs to be a daily prayer. His LOVE will enable us to SING FOR JOY every day, to the END OF OUR LIVES. This contrasts with living our lives beneath His WRATH in verse nine.
We must pray for God to restore everything lost to adversity. (15) He will give us GLADNESS in exchange for MISERY and GOOD years to REPLACE THE EVIL YEARS.
We must pray for God to allow us and our children to behold His GLORY. (16) This would be experiences of God doing things only God can do.
We must pray for God to show His approval by granting success to all OUR EFFORTS. (17) “Success” is based on God’s grace, not on our efforts. God defines “success;” it is not according to our desires. We ask God to not allow all our sacrifice and effort on His behalf go to waste: for His sake and for His glory, we pray for success.
The Zondervan Bible Commentary, One-volume Illustrated Edition, Psalms, John W. Baigent and Leslie C. Allen
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, Psalms, Willem A. Van Gemeren