1 Lord, you have ever been our dwelling place. 2 Before you made the world of time and space, Before you made the mountains and the earth, You are eternal God; you gave them birth.
3 You turn all people back to dust and say, “O human race, to dust again decay.” 4 Because a thousand years are in your sight Like yesterday or like a watch by night.
5 Into death’s sleep you sweep them all away, For they are like the grass at break of day— 6 Although it springs up new with morning light, It dries and perishes before the night.
7 Your wrath consumes us; we are terrified. 8 Before your gaze our sins we cannot hide. 9 Under your anger all our days pass by; Our years come to their finish with a sigh.
10 Our years amount to seventy in length, Or even eighty if we have the strength. And yet our days in grief and pain are passed; They quickly end; away we fly at last.
11 The powèr of your anger who can know? Your wrath’s as great as is the fear we owe. 12 Teach us to number all our days aright; So will our hearts be filled with wisdom’s light.
13 Return, O LORD! How long will you delay? Have mercy on your servants, LORD, we pray. 14 O satisfy us with your love always, That we may sing, rejoicing all our days.
15 In place of our affliction, make us glad; Give joy for all the years you made us sad. 16 To all your servants may your deeds be shown, And to their children make your glory known.
17 Now may the favour of Almighty God Abide on us—rich blessings of our Lord. Establish every work our hands have done; Yes, Lord, for us establish them each one.
This works well when sung to Eventide – the tune most often used for Abide with Me.
Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. That association ought to alert us to its importance for the worshipping community.
This poem, a meditative prayer or a song of lament, contrasts the enduring life of God with our transient existence. Two themes, the greatness of God, steadfast in love and justice; and the pathos of human pretensions, fickle and feuding, are laid beside each other in devastating clarity.
Faced with this great gulf, what hope is there for the human race? ‘Lord you have ever been our dwelling place’ begins the Psalmist in an impassioned plea. The God who gave birth to all, our creator, our beginning and our end, is our only hope. Turning to God in penitence and humility may yet temper the divine wrath against us.
This is an uncomfortable psalm for those of us more accustomed to hear about the love, rather than the anger of God, but it may be a necessary corrective. To the view that it’s impossible for love and anger to coexist, P.T. Forsyth responded “True love is quite capable of being angry, and must be angry and even sharp with its beloved children.” “For He can be really angry only with those He loves.”
Despite the chasm that exists between God and us, God portrayed in this Psalm is not remote, but very much in our world. Our lives are an open book to God, and God cares deeply about us. This poem is not so much about the brevity of life, as the way we conduct our lives in God’s sight. That is wisdom. The ‘sigh’ with which we end life can be one of frustration and regret, or one of gratitude and of fulfilment. That it can be so is the gift of God’s loving favour towards us.
Gracious God thank you for the Psalmist’s words reminding us that you care so deeply that our willfulness moves you to anger. Help us never to lose heart but place our trust in you, for your loving has extended to the giving of your Son for our salvation. Amen
The Rev’d John A Young, retired minister of the Scottish Synod, member of Giffnock URC
Sing Psalms! The Psalter of the Free Church of Scotland, Edinburgh.