Notes on Psalm 90
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 28 July 2013; Revised 16 October 2013
Scripture: The Scripture text of this Psalm is taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Other versions may be quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the commentary author.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the psalm. References to the Mishnah and Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Quotations from the Targums are taken from Edward M. Cook, The Psalms Targum: An English Translation (2001).
Syntax: Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Hebrew words is taken from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). Parsing information for Hebrew words is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (1991). Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Greek words used in the Septuagint (LXX) is from Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957).
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebrew and Jewish nature of Scripture I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament) and Besekh (New Testament), as well as the terms Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ). This commentary contains the Name of God. If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.
Chapter: 90 in the MT; 89 in the LXX. (Psalms 9 and 10 in the MT are combined in the LXX.) See the Hebrew text and English translation at Biblos Interlinear Bible.
"A Prayer of Moses, the man of God," verse 1 in the MT. The LXX also repeats this title (ABP). The Targum has, "A prayer which Moses the prophet of the Lord prayed when the people, the house of Israel, had sinned in the wilderness" (Cook).
Few modern scholars, as Anderson, accept Moses as author, generally on grounds of assigning the Book of Psalms to a post-exilic date, but some commentators, as Clarke, have questioned authorship because of a perceived conflict in Moses' age and the statement in verse 10 about longevity of life. Messianic Jewish Rabbi Glenn David Blank, too, argues against Moses as the author because the psalm depicts the maximum age as 80, and that only with special strength, when Moses lived to be 120 and was quite healthy at the time of his death (Deut 34:7) (240).
Regarding age the psalm does not say that every person reaches the age of 70 or 80. The Hebrew says lit. "the days of our years," a clear reference to the wilderness generation that implies seventy either as an average or a limit. At the time of Moses' death the nation of Israel had completed forty years in the wilderness in which all the adults who had come out of Egypt had died because of their rebellion. It's hardly likely that the wilderness generation lived to be as old as the three surviving men of that period - Moses, Joshua, who lived to be 110 (Josh 24:29), and Caleb who conquered Hebron at the age of 85 and who claimed to be just as strong then as he was when he spied out the land (Josh 14:10-12).
Blank also argues against Moses as author in terms of the character of the psalm. The Torah describes Moses as the most humble man on the face of the earth (Num 12:3), but Blank believes the author of this psalm displays chutzpah, challenging and confronting God throughout the psalm for an answer to one of humanity's most difficult questions (240). This seems to be a contrived interpretation, because in my view the psalm does not confront or challenge God at all.
In the first part of the psalm (verses 1-11) Moses extols God's greatness and holiness and in the second part (verses 12-17) he offers an earnest petition for God's grace and favor. The first part offers a reality check that explains the reason for the human condition. As for the second part it is not confronting God to pray for big things. Regardless of Moses' professed humility he displayed considerable chutzpah throughout his life. When he was not yet forty Moses attempted to act as leader of the Hebrew people before he had been called by God (Ex 2:14). After receiving his divine commission Moses had the chutzpah to confront Pharaoh, the most powerful ruler on the face of the earth, and demand release of the Israelites.
In the wilderness years Moses repeatedly faced challenges and pressures that would cause most men to quit. He may have complained about his burdens at times, but he endured. When the golden calf idolatry occurred Moses broke the tablets of commandments inscribed by the finger of God (Ex 32:19) and then had the audacity to confront God's judgment with the offer of his own life as a substitute for the nation (Deut 32:32). Moses' greatest chutzpah, of course, was his hitting the rock instead of speaking to it (Num 20:8-11), for which he lost the privilege of entering the promised land. Having humility does not mean one lacks chutzpah.
The Hebrew word for humble, anav, may mean poor, afflicted, humble or meek (BDB 776). Often in Scripture the humble must endure affliction caused by the rich and powerful, enemies or oppressors (e.g., Ps 9:13; 10:12; Prov 3:34; 14:21; 16:19). The adjective stresses the moral and spiritual condition of the godly as the goal of affliction implying that this state is joined with a suffering life rather than with one of worldly happiness and abundance (TWOT, II, 682). Moses' description of himself as humble is not a proud boast, but merely a report of his absolute dependence on God (cf. Paul's statement in Acts 20:19).
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi (1040-1105), commonly abbreviated as Rashi, the Medieval French Jewish commentator on the Tanakh, accepted the Targum's setting for the psalm and also attributed the next ten psalms to Moses (91-100). Gill, however, points out that three of these psalms could not have been written by Moses. Psalm 95 was written by David, based on Paul's quotation in Hebrews 4:7. Psalm 96 also belongs to David when compared with his psalm of thanksgiving in 1Chronicles 16:23-33. Psalm 99 mentions Samuel, who lived long after the time of Moses.
Eminent Christian commentators who favor Moses as author include Calvin, Coffman, Coke, Delitzsch, Faussett, Gill, Henry, and Morris. Delitzsch declares that Psalm 90 bears within itself distinct traces of the same origin as the song in Deuteronomy 32, and the blessing of Moses in Deuteronomy 33, the discourses in Deuteronomy, and in general the directly Mosaic portions of the Pentateuch (593). As Coffman says, "no good reason whatever has ever been advanced for denying it."
The 18th century scholar John Gill summarized three viewpoints on the historical setting as set forth by his contemporaries. The first suggestion is that this prayer was made by Moses when he was about seventy years of age, ten years before he was sent to Pharaoh, while he was in Midian. Gill rightly dismisses this interpretation as untenable. The second view is that, based on the Targum reading, that the psalm was penned sometime soon after the spies brought a bad report of the land, and the people began complaining, which provoked the Lord to pronounce judgment of shortened lives (Num 14:28-35). All the rebels twenty years of age and older would not live more than forty years and would die in the wilderness, thus reducing the average lifespan to threescore and ten. So on occasion of national tragedy Moses wrote this psalm, setting forth the brevity and misery of human life.
The third view is that the psalm was written towards the end of his life, and when weary of it, and his travels in the wilderness. While Gill favored the second historical setting, Morris prefers this view, suggesting the psalm may well have followed the long blessing Moses spoke to Israel in Deuteronomy 33 (55). The Targum words "when they sinned" need not be taken as a specific point in time, but of the entire wilderness period. Also the perfect tense of a number of verbs in the middle portion of the psalm favor a retrospective orientation.
The psalm is usually classified as a lament of the community or nation because of the assumption of a post-exilic date. The psalm is placed as the first in Book IV of the Psalms.
Usage in the Besekh
Verse 4 is alluded to in 1Peter 3:8.
The psalm could be considered a hymn contrasting the greatness of God and the limitations of man. Verses 1-11 contain a personal retrospective in a conversational format with the God of Israel. Then, verses 12-17 contain a petition for God's continuing covenantal faithfulness and grace toward Israel.
(1) A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
A Prayer: Heb. tephillah, a prayer, a petition to God. BDB calls it a liturgical prayer (813). of Moses: Heb. Mosheh (LXX Mōusês) is most likely derived from Egyptian mes meaning "child" or "son" (BDB 602), since the daughter of Pharaoh named him (Ex 2:10). She explained the chosen name by saying, "Because I drew [Heb. mashah, "to draw"] him out of the water." Moses was the great Hebrew leader, prophet and lawgiver of Israel. Moses was a Levite, the son of Amram and Jochebed (Num 26:59). He had two wives, Zipporah (Ex 2:21; 18:2) and a Cushite woman (Num 12:1), and two sons of Zipporah, one named Gershom and the other named Eliezer (Ex 18:3-4). Moses was the leader of the Israelites in their deliverance from Egyptian slavery and oppression and their journey through the wilderness.
At Mount Sinai Moses served as mediator to facilitate the beginning of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Forty years later on the plains of Moab Moses renewed the covenant with Israel and made preparations for their entry into the promised land. Moses compiled, wrote and/or edited the five books attributed to his name (Ex 24:4; Deut 31:9; Mark 12:19; Luke 24:27, 44; Acts 15:21; Rom 10:5) and left Israel with the rich legacy of God's Word. He was a heroic leader of the people and a devout man of God. His story is found in the extensive narratives from Exodus 1:1 through Deuteronomy 34:1. Moses was a giant of a man. Moses died at the age of 120 and God buried him in the land of Moab (Deut 34:5-7).
the man: Heb. ish, man. of God: Heb. Elohim, the plural intensive form of Eloah and the generic word in the Tanakh for the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe. The title "man of God" is applied first to Moses in Deuteronomy 33:1, and then later to an angel (Jdg 13:6-8) and to various prophets (e.g., 1Sam 2:27; 1Kgs 17:18). The title is attributed to Moses, not simply because of his godly character, but because, as Gill says, he was a man of more than ordinary gifts received from the Lord, a prophet of the Lord (Deut 34:10, and the chief of the prophets, and a type of the great Prophet (Deut 18:15; Acts 7:37). Paul summed up his life by saying, "Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later" (Heb 3:5). See my article Moses and Yeshua.
The Everlasting God (1-4)
1 Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Lord: Heb. Adonai, Lord. Adonai is a plural intensive or emphatic form of adōn ('master, owner'), which normally refers to men to indicate rank, authority or possession of something or someone (TWOT, I, 12). Adonai occurs numerous times in the Psalms to refer to God, sometimes as a substitute for YHVH or often in combination with YHVH, such as "YHVH our Lord" in Psalm 8:1. The Messiah bears this title in Psalm 110:1. The LXX translates Adonai with Kurios, the most frequent title used by the apostles of Yeshua. In spite of Moses' failure he still worshipped God as his lord and master. You have been our dwelling place: Heb. ma'on, dwelling, habitation, here used figuratively of a refuge. Adonai has always been the abode of all God's people. in all generations: Heb. vador, period, generation or dwelling. lit. "generation and generation" or "generation after generation."
2 Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
Before: Heb. terem, prep., not yet, ere, before that. This is an important word to introduce a historical perspective. the mountains: pl. of Heb. har (LXX oros) is given in Scripture to a comparatively large ridge, a collection of small hills and to many hogbacks in Israel. Modern science distinguishes hills from mountains by classifying a hill as being less than 1,000 feet above its surroundings, but the distinction may depend upon local interpretation. English Bible versions reflect the arbitrary standard of modern science in many passages, rather than recognizing that a single Hebrew and Greek word was used to refer to any natural topographical feature that rose above a valley, plain or other surroundings regardless of height. were born: Heb. yalad, Pual perfect, to beget, to give birth, to bring forth. Moses uses the word picture of birth from a water filled womb to describe the creation of land on the third day, which was brought forth out of the watery expanse. There could also be an allusion to the mountains being formed by the sculpting action of the global deluge in Noah's day.
Or You gave birth: Heb. chul, Polel imperfect, to writhe in travail with, bear, bring forth. Owens translates as "writhed in travail with." Moses repeats the birthing word picture. to the earth: Heb. erets, earth or land. and the world: Heb. tevel, world, the inhabited world, which BDB sees as a poetic synonym of eretz (BDB). If there is a distinction between the two words then eretz could refer to the land masses and tevel to the structural foundations of the earth (Ps 18:15). Another point of contrast would be land as a place of agricultural production (Gen 1:12) and world as a place to be inhabited by mankind (Gen 1:27; Job 37:12). Morris interprets eretz as the basic elements of the ground and tevel as the "beautiful inhabitable cosmos made from those elements" (55).
Even from everlasting: Heb. olam, long duration, antiquity or futurity. to everlasting: Heb. olam is repeated for effect. The time reference would be from before anything was created to the most extreme possibility of time in the future. You are God: Heb. El, a proper name of God in the Tanakh, though not God's personal name. El is a very ancient term, widely known throughout the ancient Semitic world (TWOT, I, 42), but in Scripture He is the God of Israel, the only true God. Moses asserts unequivocally God's eternal preexistence.
3 You turn man back into dust And say, "Return, O children of men."
You turn: Heb. shuv, Hiphal imperfect, to turn back, to return. man: Heb. enosh, man or mankind; i.e., the human race, especially opposed to God (Job 4:17; 7:17; 9:2). back into dust: Heb. dakka, dust as pulverized earth, an allusion to man's original creation from dust (Gen 2:7). And say, "Return: Heb. shuv, Qal imperative, is repeated creating a synonymous parallelism. O children: pl. of Heb. ben, son. The word could be taken literally in terms of male descendants. of men: Heb. adam. Moses is not referring to descendants of mankind generally but descendants of the first man, Adam. The first man lived 930 years (Gen 5:5) and had many sons and daughters (Gen 5:4). This verse describes the tragic history of man that after Creation came the Fall and then God's pronouncement of the Curse on all that He had made (Gen 3:16-19).
As a result of Adam's sin and the Curse all human beings die and return to dust (Gen 3:19; 1Cor 15:22). Not only do all die but mankind inherited another penalty of Adam’s sin – condemnation or separation from knowing God (Rom 5:14-18). Death is appointed by God (Heb. 9:27). While many believe this verse refers merely to the inevitability of death, I believe it refers to an appointed day. As David says, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps 139:16). Solomon also said “there is…a time to die” (Eccl 3:1-2).
4 For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.
For a thousand: Heb. eleph. years: pl. of Heb. shanah, year. The word is not specific as to whether it is lunar or solar. Given the recounting of the Genesis narrative of Creation and Curse in the previous three verses this time reference probably alludes to the fact that the antediluvian patriarchs lived close to a thousand years (excluding Enoch who at age 365 was translated to heaven). The average age was 912 years with Mahalalel the youngest at 895 years and Methuselah the oldest at 969 years. In fact, all the antediluvian patriarchs (Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah) were born during the first millennium of earth history. (See Appendix 2, "Chronology of the Patriarchs in Genesis," Henry Morris, The Genesis Record, Baker Book House, 1976).
in Your sight: Heb. ayin, eye. are like yesterday: Heb. ethmōl, yesterday as in the day before the present day, and figuratively of recently or formerly. 'Yesterday' would be a twenty-four hour period. when it passes by: Heb. abar, Qal imperfect, to pass over, through, by or pass on. or as a watch: Heb. ashmoreth, a watch as a division of time. in the night: Heb. layil, night in contrast to daytime and typically began at sundown. The night watch could refer to a guard post at night (Neh 4:3, 16-17; 7:3) or priestly duties at the tabernacle at night (Neh 12:24; 13:14). In any event the 'night watch' was four hours (Anderson). The contrast stresses the eternal nature of God who created time. Time only has relevance to man. God existed before time began and will continue to exist after time ends. So, since the eternal God is not bound by time as people are a millennium going by is no more significant than four hours to a human.
The Mortal Man (5-11)
5 You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew.
You have swept them away like a flood: Heb. zaram, Qal perfect, to pour forth in floods, flood away, lit. "you flooded them away." Moses compares the span of human mortality to the debris carried away by a flood, probably alluding to the antediluvian population carried off by the great Noahic Deluge along with the massive plant and animal remains now preserved in fossils in the sedimentary rocks (Morris 58; Gill and Henry concur). The same usage of the verb occurs in Habakkuk 3:10 which mentions a "stream" (Heb. zaram) of water, and the context describes the great deluge of Noah's time (Hab 3:5-15). Yeshua uses this same terminology in the Olivet Discourse when he said, "they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away" (Matt 24:39).
In spite of all the scholars who prefer to believe the Noahic Deluge was a local flood, the biblical record affirms the global nature of the catastrophe. These simple facts from the Genesis record make the matter clear:
· God's purpose was to destroy all life on planet earth, 6:7, 13.
· The ark was too large for regional fauna, 6:15.
· The Hebrew mabbul, “flood,” applies only to Noah’s Deluge, 7:10; 9:11, 15, 28; 10:1, 32; 11:10 (cf. Ps 29:10; Isa 54:9).
· The “fountains of the deep” and “floodgates of heaven” opened in one day, 7:11.
· Rain poured for 40 days and nights, 7:12.
· Flood waters covered all mountains and 15 cubits above the highest mountains, 7:19-20.
· All with the breath of life (mankind and animals) outside the ark died, 6:17; 7:21-23; 8:21.
· Only Noah and his family were saved, 7:23.
· After 5 months the ark finally rested on the mountains of Ararat, 8:4.
· Water receded for two months before peaks were seen, 8:5.
· Noah and his family were in the ark for over a year, 7:11; 8:14.
Using the standard population demographic formula the antediluvian population beginning with two people could easily have reached 235 million by the time of the flood, 1,656 years from Creation. The current population rate would have meant 3 billion deaths (BBMS 421). they fall asleep: Heb. shenah, to slumber or sleep in the natural repose of the body. There is no verb and the mention of sleep may be translated lit. "they are asleep" (YLT) or "they are as sleep" (LITV). Sleep is a common euphemism in Scripture for death (Job 14:12; Ps 13:3; 1Cor 11:20; 15:51).
The second part of the verse actually begins a new thought that is completed in the next verse. In the morning: Heb. boqer, a point of time occurring at the end of night, the coming of dawn, and the beginning of the day. they are: Heb. hayah, Qal imperfect, to fall out, come to pass, become, be. Owens renders as "they are," as do most versions. like grass: Heb. chatsir, green grass, herbage, generally as food for animals. which sprouts anew: Heb. chalaph, Qal imperfect, to pass on or away, to come on anew, to sprout. Owens translates as "which is renewed," whereas Alter translates as "that passes." BDB says the verb means "come on anew, i.e., sprout again" (322). In any event Moses contrasts the brevity of life with vegetation.
The judgment of death imposed on Adam and all his descendants resulted in a finite life span. However, the global cataclysmic flood of Noah’s day (Gen 7:17-24) and the “division of the earth” (Gen 10:25) that occurred a hundred years later so altered the environment that life expectancy dramatically plummeted from a high of 969 years prior to Noah to about 200 years afterwards. Job lived about 210 years (cf. Job 42:16), Terah 205, Abraham 175, Isaac 180, Jacob 147 years and Moses 120 years.
6 In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; toward evening it fades and withers away.
In the morning: See the previous verse. it flourishes: Heb. tsoots, Qal imperfect, to bloom or blossom. This verb implies that Moses is alluding to some kind of flower. and sprouts anew: Heb. chalaph, Qal perfect. See the previous verse. The perfect tense emphasizes the completed growing cycle. toward evening: Heb. erev, sunset or evening. By itself "evening" is not a definite clock time. In ancient times Jews reckoned a day (Heb. yom) in two ways. Yom was first defined as an evening followed by morning (Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 31; Ex 16:8; 27:21; Ps 55:17; Isa 17:14; Mark 13:35). Days listed on a Hebrew calendar begin at sundown the day before. This practice is particularly relevant for the observance of Passover and other festival meals after sundown.
Yom was also defined as morning followed by evening as here (e.g. Ex 18:13; 1Sam 17:16; Job 4:20; Isa 5:11; Acts 28:23). In other words "until the sun passed the meridian all was morning; after that, all was afternoon or evening" (Clarke, comment on Ex 12:6). Hours of the day were measured from sunrise. The morning and evening sacrifices specified in (Ex 29:39, 41; Num 28:1-4) were conducted about 9 A.M. (the third hour) and about 3 P.M. (the ninth hour) respectively (see Edersheim-Temple 108; Josephus, Ant. XIV, 4:3). These two systems of measuring time are not contradictory but complementary.
it fades: Heb. mul, Poel imperfect, to circumcise, to cut off. The blossom falls off. and withers away: Heb. yabesh, to be dry, dried up, or withered, used of plants to indicate the shortness of its growing cycle. The Targum adds "through heat." It is notable that Moses does not describe the grass as dying. Plants have no life and therefore cannot die. With redundancy to make his point Moses takes a literal setting for a figurative use. Most plants do not have such a short growing cycle as depicted here. Sprouting in the morning and withering in the evening probably refers to the "Morning Glory" (also called Bindweed, of the family Convolvulaceae), which are native to Israel. The growth cycle of a flower that lasts less than 24 hours seems insignificant compared to a human's life of 70 years (613,200 hours), but human lifespan compared to the lifespan of the eternal God is not even a second of time on a human clock.
7 For we have been consumed by Your anger and by Your wrath we have been dismayed.
For we have been consumed: Heb. kalah, Qal perfect, come to an end, vanish, i.e., perish, be destroyed, which BDB says is hyperbole for severe discipline. by Your anger: Heb. aph, a nostril, nose, face, anger. For humans the emotion is revealed by change in facial expression. The implied anthropomorphism spells unrelieved trouble if God does not have mercy on his errant servants. and by Your wrath: Heb. chemah, heat, rage, a burning anger. The use of the word for God's wrath occurs frequently in the Tanakh, mainly in the prophetic works, but a few times in the Torah for God's wrath against the wilderness generation (Num 25:11; Deut 9:19). Because the words for both "wrath" and "anger" suggest hotly burning breath, the language carries forward the image in the previous verse of grass withering (Alter 319). we have been dismayed: Heb. bahal, Niphal perfect, to disturb or terrify. Owens translates as "overwhelm." The Israelites could hardly believe that the God who brought them out of Egypt could be so cruel as to decree that they would die in the wilderness.
8 You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.
You have placed: Heb. shith, Qal perfect, to put or set. The verb treats what follows as a court room indictment. our iniquities: Heb. avon, iniquity, guilt, punishment for iniquity, with the last meaning applying here. Iniquity is an abstract theological concept of crooked behavior, not simply violating a standard but perverting the standard for selfish purposes. The noun generally occurs as a collective in the Tanakh in that the individual misconduct is often associated with that of the group (e.g., Gen 15:16; Lev 16:22; Isa 53:6). The noun denotes both the deed and its consequences, although the context often lays emphasis on one aspect. In Hebraic thought the act of sin and its penalty are not radically separate (TWOT, II, 650). Most scholars believe that implicit in avon is an awareness of the culpability of the action, but this may not be true in all instances (Anderson; cf. 1Sam 20:1; 2Sam 14:32).
before You: Heb. neged, in front of, in sight of, opposite to. Nothing is hidden from God. our secret sins: Heb. alam, Qal passive participle, to conceal. The word is a verb, not a noun, and as a participle functions as an adjective to describe someone's character or behavior. The Targum and Rashi, the Medieval Jewish commentator, interpret "secret sins" as the sins of youth. Moses contrasts overt sins known to others and sins known only to God, although in fact that secret sins do not remain hidden for long. in the light: Heb. maor, a luminary. The noun alludes to the fact that God dwells in unapproachable light (Ps 104:2; 1Tim 6:16; Jas 1:17; 1Jn 1:5). of Your presence: Heb. paneh, face. The noun is plural and could be lit. "faces." The noun is an idiom for the personal presence of someone. The use of "faces" with respect to God could imply His triunity. Sometimes in Scripture we see the face of the Father, sometimes the face of the Spirit and sometimes the face of the Son and sometimes God in unity, such as the plural Elohim in Genesis 1:1. In any event no sin can be concealed from God.
9 For all our days have declined in Your fury; We have finished our years like a sigh.
For all: Heb. kol, conj., the whole, all. The conjunction is singular to it views the following noun in a collective sense. our days: pl. of Heb. yom, day or daylight. Yom is generally used in Scripture as a specific division of time denoting the daytime portion of a 24-hour day (Gen 1:5) or a complete solar/lunar cycle of 24 hours (Ex 2:13). When used in the plural yom can refer to a year (1Sam 27:7), many years (Gen 18:11) or the extent of a person's life (Gen 5:8). The Hebrews did not conceive of time in the abstract, but used yom overwhelmingly in the sense of ordinary measurable time. The time reference could pertain to the forty years in the wilderness. The words "our days" denotes the shared experience.
have declined: Heb. panah, Qal perfect, to turn or decline. The verb is a word picture of the daytime giving way to sunset and night and here figurative of life declining toward the darkness of Sheol. in Your fury: Heb. ebrah, overflowing rage, fury. We have finished: Heb. kalah, Piel perfect, to be complete, at an end, finished, accomplished, or spent. The verb alludes to completing one's lifetime. our years: pl. of Heb. shanah, a year. The time reference is a parallel to "days." like a sigh: Heb. hegeh, a rumbling, growling or moaning sound. The term refers to a fleeting sound, a sigh or moan, as the last breath is exhaled from the body and life ceases. The Targum has "like the breath of mouth." Anderson suggests that the expression refers to the whole life as one long sigh or moan.
10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.
As for the days: pl. of Heb. yom. See the previous verse. of our life: pl. of Heb. shanah, year, lit., "the days of our years" (Owens). Moses begins with a similar phrase as the previous verse. they contain: lit. "in them." seventy: Heb. shibim, seventy, a cardinal number. years: pl. of Heb. shanah. There is no indication of how the year is specifically measured, whether lunar or solar, but the difference is of no consequence. Anderson rejects the notion that Moses intends seventy as an average age, but as the normal limit of human life and only a few individuals would live to see their seventieth birthday. This interpretation does fit the wilderness generation, since Moses' declaration is no doubt retrospective spoken at the end of the wilderness period and the completion of the judgment on the early rebellion of the ten spies.
or if due: Heb. im, conjunction, lit. "if," which functions as a hypothetical particle. What does “if” mean? “If” introduces a conditional statement with two terms, one stated and the other unstated: if “a” is true or exists, then “b” is a logical outcome. If “a” is not true, then the opposite outcome may be inferred. to strength: Heb. gevurah, strength or might as a physical quality of the body. eighty: Heb. shemonim, eighty, a cardinal number. years: The opening clause contains no verbs and is lit. "the days of our years in them seventy years or if to strength eighty years" (Owens). In the Mishnah the Jewish Sages described seventy as the time for white hair and eighty as the time for new or special strength of age (Avot 5:21). It should be noted that "strength" as applied to eighty means the condition of health, not one's productivity.
Moses not only spoke retrospectively, but as it turned out prophetically. Although there are many people today who live well past 80, modern medicine has not actually made a significant difference in the average life expectancy from birth, which as of the year 2010 in the U.S. is 78.7 years, an increase of 1.8 years from the year 2000 (see the reports at Centers for Disease Control, Life Expectancy). According to a United Nations report at World Health.net global life expectancy is 68 for the years 2005-2010. In Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and the Far East average life expectancy is 70-80, whereas in most of Africa the average life span is under 60. For specific countries see the World Life Expectancy Map. Moses’ analogy that man’s days are like grass, which springs up in the morning and is gone by evening (Ps 90:5), is still apt.
Yet their pride: Heb. rohav, pride or proud, which identifies an unfounded pride in one's life span (TWOT, II, 834). The noun, third person plural, derived from the verb rahav, is found only here in the Tanakh. The LXX, Targum and Syriac have "span" as a capsule term for a lifetime and followed in the ESV, NRSV and RSV. The Hebrew word may suggest that even the best years of our life are characterized by toil and trouble (Anderson). is but labor: Heb. amal, trouble, labor, toil. BDB favors "trouble" in the sense of sorrow (19). Owens concurs. and sorrow: Heb. aven, trouble or sorrow, particularly as a consequence of sin. For soon: Heb. chish, adv., quickly. The word occurs only here in the Tanakh, a reference to the passing of human life. it is gone: Heb. guz, Qal perfect, to pass over or away. Alter translates the verb as "cut off" (as in KJV, NKJV, OJB), because of an assumed association with the noun gazaz (so Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, #1468), to shear or cut. However, there is no etymological basis for the assumption.
The verb corresponds to the common idiomatic expression of "passed away" used when someone's dies. Alter comments that the grammar is problematic because the verb is third person masculine singular and does not readily attach to the first person plural subject that follows (319). Actually, using the third person singular verb seems a natural manner of expressing the totality of the life span or the essence of life itself, and is so translated in the ASV, CJB, GNT, HNV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, and OJB. However, the CEB, ESV, GW, HCSB, NCV, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV and Owens inexplicably translate the verb as "they are gone," probably treating the plural "years" as the antecedent of the verb. and we fly away: Heb. uph, Qal imperfect, to fly away to a distance as a capability of birds, but used here figuratively of the end of life. Regardless the metaphor has nothing to do with the Egyptian idea that the human 'soul' is like a bird (Anderson). Yet, from a New Covenant perspective Moses' observation would be suggestive of going to meet God after death if not resurrection (cf. Job 19:26).
11 Who understands the power of Your anger And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?
Who understands: Heb. yada, Qal active participle, to know. Owens has "who considers." The verb refers to a personal, even intimate knowledge, of something. the power: Heb. oz, power or might, used of that which is exerted for His people and against their foes. of Your anger: Heb. aph. See the note on verse 7 above. And Your fury: Heb. evrah, overflowing rage, fury. according to the fear that is due You: Heb. yirah, fear, here in the sense of reverence and piety owed to God because of His holiness and covenantal faithfulness. Moses offers a simple observation of human ignorance and lack of awareness of the connection between sin and punishment.
Petitions for Future Grace (12-17)
12 So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
Moses now presents the first of seven petitions for God's help and continued grace. Each of the petitions is given in the imperative conjugation, but such a form does not mean that Moses is commanding God. Rather the imperative emphasizes the urgent and heartfelt appeal Moses is making to God, imploring Him to action. So: Heb. ken, adverb, 'by the force of,' 'so' or 'thus.' The adverb connects the preceding statement as the reason for what follows. teach us: Heb. yada, Hiphal imperative, to know, but in this grammatical construction has the meaning of providing knowledge and therefore to teach. The verb is second person singular, so Bible versions insert "us" to treat the subject of the instruction as a corporate singular in line with the person of the rest of the words in the verse.
to number: Heb. manah, Qal infinitive, to count, number or reckon. our days: pl. of Heb yom. See the note on verse 9. Counting days was a normal part of complying with God's calendar, particularly the days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev 23:15-16; 25:8; Deut 16:9). That we may present: Heb. bo, Hiphal imperfect, to cause to come in or bring in. BDB renders the phrase as "that we may gain" (97) and Owens has "that we may get." to You a heart: Heb. levav, the inner man, the mind, the will, heart in a figurative sense. The words "to You" are not in the Hebrew text. of wisdom: Heb. chakmah, skill or wisdom. In Hebrew culture chakmah always had a practical and ethical aspect and was acquired by education. In Scripture education is centered in the home with the father as the principal teacher (Lev 10:11; Deut 4:9-10; 6:7, 20-25; 11:19; 31:19; 32:46; Ps 78:4-5; Prov 1:8; 3:1; 4:1-4; 6:20; 13:1). To petition God to provide instruction treats Him as Father.
The verse would lit. read "So teach [us] to number our days that we may gain [or get] a heart of wisdom." The literal meaning is reflected in the ASV, ESV, HNV, KJV, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, OJB, and RSV. Other versions offer an interpretation of the petition: "Teach us how short our lives are" (or words to that effect; ERV, EXB, GNT, NCV, NET, NIRV, NLT). In Genesis Moses numbered the days of creation and the days of all the generations from Adam to Abraham. Every day that we are given is precious. The petition asks God to help us make them count. As Paul says, "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil" (Eph 5:15-16).
13 Do return, O LORD; how long will it be? And be sorry for Your servants.
Moses offers the second of his seven petitions. Do return: Heb. shuv, Qal imperative, to turn back, to return, here in the sense of showing favor. O LORD: Heb. YHVH (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey), the tetragrammaton of the God of Israel, referred to in Judaism as either Adonai (Lord) or Hashem (the Name). YHVH dominates in the Tanakh, first occurring in Genesis 2:4. While not reflected in Bible translations YHVH is not a title or a word for a deity, but the personal name of the God of Israel (Ex 3:15; 2Chr 14:11; Isa 42:8). YHVH is translated in the LXX with Kurios, which generally means one in control through possession and may be rendered as lord, master or owner. See my article The Blessed Name for more discussion on this subject.
how long will it be? Heb. mathay, interrogative adverb 'when.' And be sorry: Heb. nacham, Niphal imperative, be sorry, moved to pity, have compassion. The appeal would be parallel to the petition "return." for Your servants: pl. of Heb. ebed, slave or servant, which BDB considers to mean 'worshippers of God' (713). In normal usage ebed described someone enslaved after being captured in war or in order to pay a debt, whether voluntarily or involuntarily (cf. Ex 21:7; Lev 25:39, 44, 47). In addition, ebed identified those that served God, especially service in the tabernacle or temple (DNTT, III, 593ff). The great Hebrew and Jewish heroes of the faith considered themselves servants of God the King and it was considered a high honor for a person to be called a servant of God. Abraham was the first to use this title (Gen 18:3; 26:24), but the most frequent usage is in relation to Moses (Ex 4:10; 14:31; Deut 34:5), including 18 in the book of Joshua alone.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were identified as servants of God (Ex 32:13). God also regarded Caleb as His servant (Num 14:24). Joshua was the servant of Moses (Ex 24:13) and therefore the servant of God. Yet, Moses probably refers to the entire nation and not just to those who faithfully served God (cf. Lev 25:42, 55). Even after rebellion the people of Israel still belonged to him and God did not cancel his covenant with Israel on account of their rebellion. The question is non-specific. 'How long will you be mad at Israel?' 'How long until you show favor to Israel?'
14 O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Moses presents his third of seven petitions. O satisfy us: Heb. saba, Piel imperative, to be sated, satisfied or surfeited. Only God can truly satisfy the human soul. in the morning: Heb. boqer, morning. BDB suggests that the word is figurative of bright joy after a night of distress (133). The time of day may also allude to the morning sacrifice (Ex 29:39), which served as a continual declaration of devotion, commitment and complete surrender to God. with Your lovingkindness: Heb. chesed, favor, kindness. The LXX translates the word with eleos, "mercy." The characteristic is an evidence of God's love toward those who love Him and keep His commandments (Ex 20:6; Ps 25:10). Motivated by chesed God not only loves but forgives (Ex 34:6-7; Num 14:18-19; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 145:8), and thus the trait may be translated as "lovingkindness" or "steadfast love." God's chesed also prompts Him to remember His covenant with Israel and David (Deut 7:9, 12; 1Kgs 8:23; 2Chr 6:14; Neh 1:5; 9:32; Ps 89:1-4, 28; 106:45; Isa 54:10; Dan 9:4). Moses asks God to continue in faithfulness to the covenant He made with Israel.
That we may sing for joy: Heb. ranan, to give a ringing cry, to sing in joy and exultation, especially in praise to God. A number of versions translate the verb as "to rejoice," (ASV, CEB, ESV, HNV, KJ21, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), which seems strange considering the verb following. and be glad: Heb. samach, Qal imperfect, to rejoice or be glad. The verb refers to a joyful disposition of the heart (TWOT, II, 879; Ps 19:8; 104:15; 105:3), which can result from meeting a loved one (Ex 4:4), God's law (Ex 19:8), and participation in God's appointed festivals (Deut 12:7; 14:26; 16:11; 26:11; 27:7). In the Psalms the experience of samach may result from righteousness (Ps 40:9), music of instruments (Ps 45:8), wine and food (Ps 104:15), but especially salvation (Ps 5:11; 9:2; 14:7; 16:9; 32:11; 40:16; 63:11; 64:10; 86:4; 90:15; and 92:4). all our days: pl. of Heb. yom. See the note on verse 9 above. One might think that Moses is employing hyperbole, because one cannot possibly be "glad" every day of one's life. However, the verb refers to an action, not an emotion. The CJB appropriately translates "Fill us at daybreak with your love, so that we can sing for joy as long as we live."
15 Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil.
Moses offers the fourth of seven petitions. Make us glad: Heb. samach, Piel imperative, rejoice, be glad. The force of the imperative means to cause to rejoice or gladden. See the note on the previous verse. according to the days: pl. of Heb. yom. See the note on verse 9 above. The appeal is not for being happy a specific number of days, but that days of gladness would remove the emotional pain of the days of affliction. You have afflicted us: Heb. anah, Piel perfect, be bowed down or be afflicted as a form of discipline. After entering the wilderness God punished Israel on ten occasions:
· The golden calf idolatry resulted in 3,000 idolaters being killed (Ex 32:27-28).
· Grumbling at Taberah resulted in fire consuming the complainants (Num 11:1-9).
· Grumbling at Kibroth-hattaavah resulted in a plague from quail (Num 11:4-6, 31-35).
· Opposition of Aaron and Miriam to Moses taking a second wife resulted in leprous judgment on Miriam (Num 12:1-15). Miriam (Num 20:1) and Aaron (Num 20:28) subsequently died before the nation reached Moab.
· Grumbling after hearing the negative report of the spies resulted in judgment of shortened lifespan (Num 14:1-4, 28-30).
· Korah’s rebellion resulted in the deaths of 250 men (Num 16:1-35).
· Grumbling after Korah’s death resulted in a plague that killed 14,700 (Num 16:41-49).
· Grumbling at Meribah resulted in Moses being judged for hitting the rock (Num 20:2-13).
· Grumbling en route to Edom resulted in fiery serpents killing many (Num 21:4-9).
· Idolatry and immorality at Peor resulted in many people executed (Num 25:1-9).
And the years: pl. of Heb. shanah. See the note on verse 4 above. The mention of "years" is probably intended as a parallelism of "days," an allusion to the 40 years of judgment. we have seen: Heb. ra'ah, Qal perfect, to see with the eyes, an idiom of personal experience. evil: Heb. ra, 'bad' in the sense of adversity in circumstances or 'evil' in the sense of a moral fault. BDB considers the meaning as evil, misery or distress (949). There is no implication that God has committed evil as an unethical act against Israel. Rather, Moses is referring to the bad times of death and mourning Israel had experienced in the wilderness because of their being afflicted by God. The retrospective use of "years" could also stretch back to the 400 years Jacob's descendants endured Egyptian oppression (Gen 15:13; Ex 12:40-41), because seeing adversity is not the same thing as being afflicted by God.
16 Let Your work appear to Your servants And Your majesty to their children.
Moses offers the fifth of seven petitions. Let Your work: Heb. po'al, doing, deed, or work, here referring to God's work in providential care. appear: Heb. ra'ah, Niphal imperfect. See the note on the previous verse. to Your servants: Heb. ebed. See the note on verse 13 above. And Your majesty: Heb. hadar, honor, splendor or majesty, probably referring to God's royal dignity. to their children: pl. of Heb. ben, son or seed. Moses projects far ahead of the generation that would claim the promised land, but all the descendants included in the covenant made at Moab (Deut 29:15). Moses prays that future generations will experience the providential care and miraculous works he had known.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
Moses offers the sixth and final petitions to God. Let: Heb. hayah, Qal imperfect, to fall out, come to pass, become, to be. the favor: Heb. no'am, delightfulness, pleasantness, as shown by God's favor. of the Lord: Heb. Adonai. See the note on verse 1 above. Ending the psalm with the use of Adonai connects with the statement that Adonai had been the nation's "dwelling-place." our God: Heb. Elohim, the God of Israel. In the LXX Elohim is rendered with theos. The first use of Elohim in Scripture is as the Creator of the heavens and earth (Gen 1:1). In contrast with pagan deities Elohim is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe. Not only is Elohim the all-powerful transcendent God, but a very personal God who called Israel into a special covenant and one who loves and desires a relationship with men.
be upon us: Heb. al, upon, above or over, perhaps as a protective covering. And confirm: Heb. kun, Polel imperative, to be firm, to set up or establish. for us the work: Heb. ma'asseh, a deed or work. of our hands: pl. of Heb. yad, the hand, a part of the human body, here used figuratively of the whole person. Yes, confirm the work of our hands: The exact same petition is repeated for effect, although there is no "yes" in the Hebrew text.
ABP: Charles Van der Pool, The Apostolic Bible Polyglot (An interlinear Septuagint, LXX, with English translation) The Apostolic Press, 2006. Psalm 90 online.
Alter: Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.
Anderson: A.A. Anderson, Psalms 73-150. The New Century Bible Commentary. Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1972.
BBMS: Henry Morris, Biblical Basis for Modern Science. Baker Book House, 1984.
Blank: Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank & Paul Wilbur, TLV Psalms with Commentary. Destiny Image Publishers, 2012.
Clarke: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (1826). Ed. Ralph Earle. Baker Book House, 1967. Also online.
Coffman: James Burton Coffman (1905-2006), Psalms. Commentaries on the Bible. Online
Coke: Thomas Coke (1747-1814), Psalms. Commentary on the Holy Bible. 6 vols. Online.
Cook: Edward M. Cook, The Psalms Targum: An English Translation. 2001. Online.
Delitzsch: Franz Delitzsch, Psalms. Commentary on the Old Testament (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, 1866-1891), Vol. 5. Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 Vols., ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
DSB: Henry Morris, Defenders Study Bible: King James Version. World Publishing Co., 1995.
Faussett: A.R. Faussett, The Book of Psalms. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, 1871) Online.
Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.
Henry: Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on the Whole Bible. Hendrickson Pub., 1991. Online.
Morris: Henry M. Morris, Sampling the Psalms: A Scientific & Devotional Study of Selected Psalms. Master Books, 1991.
Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Iitzhaki (1040-1105), Commentary on the Tanakh. Online.
TWOT: R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. Moody Press, 1980.
Copyright © 2013 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.