Psalm 90 — Where Is Our Dwelling Place?
This is the oldest psalm in the Book of Psalms. It was written by Moses. Scholars believe it probably happened during the events of Number 20. It was 38 years after God sentenced Israel to wander in the desert for their unbelief. Moses’ sister Miriam, and his brother Aaron had already died. And worst of all, Moses struck the rock out of his frustration and God prohibited him from entering the promised land. This was written by the man whom God spoke to “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11), but failed to enter the promised land.
Moses centred the psalm on death, and the true dwelling place that we should seek.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Moses called God “our dwelling place”, and it was “throughout all generations”. God has been our dwelling place since the beginning of time, and He will still be in the generations to come.
Imagine how Moses felt, being tasked to lead God’s people out of slavery, and into the promised land, and then failing to make it himself because God prohibited him. He had obeyed God through those decades, he had persevered despite threats from Israel’s enemies, and remained faithful even when the Israelites went astray numerous times. Yet God refused Moses' entry just because he struck the rock.
Will you still have such great confidence and love for God if this happens to you? Have you felt like you’ve served God faithfully and yet got let down by God? Do you feel disappointed with God?
Moses did not focus on Canaan as his dwelling place, but on God as his dwelling place. His heart was not set on the fertile grounds of a piece of land, but on being close to God. He was allowed to view the promised land from Mount Nebo before he died, but the mountains and vast lands meant little to him; God was there before the mountains and earth were formed.
Moses’ achievement was not entering the promised land himself, but to help his people enter Canaan. Jesus died and saved us so that we too can enter our Promised Land — Heaven.
You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death — they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.
We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
We will return to the dust when we die. Notice how Moses magnified God and reduced humanity through these verses? God is timeless, while we age and grow old. God is eternal while we are mortal. We are limited by time and our physical body.
Whenever we look back at the past, we will realise how quickly time flies by us. What we did decades ago feels like yesterday. When we approach the end of our life, we will looked withered, like grass in the evening desert.
Are we consumed by God’s anger and are we terrified by God’s indignation? The Israelites knew God’s anger and indignation well. They saw how God destroyed the Egyptians, how the earth opened to swallow up Korah and his men, and many other incidents that happened while they were in the wilderness. The entire generation who grumbled against God when they believed the false reports of their spies were forbidden from entering the promised land. The 40 years in the desert was judgment for their unbelief.
Do we think seriously about God’s indignation at our sins? How would this help us in our relationship with Him? God is indignant with our sins because He loves us, and it was what brought Jesus to save us. This is an aspect of God’s nature that very few of us wants to talk about. Moses appreciated God’s love and indignation.
Our sins are put before God and “our secret sins in the light of your (God’s) presence”. None of our sins are forgotten, though we wish that God does. Our sins are ALL revealed to Him.
Moses’ thoughts during the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness are reflected in this psalm. He witnessed the death of many during the 40 years. Everyone aged 20 and above could not cross the Jordan into the promised land and died in the desert (Numbers 14:26-35). These included his brother Aaron and sister Miriam. How had witnessing so many funerals changed Moses’ view of life and God? Will attending funerals change our views?
All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.
Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Imagine you were Moses, and everyone you know has died before you. God’s wrath was very clear to Moses, but the people refused to believe him. We are all afraid of God in some way, but we do not have a proper understanding of God’s wrath. We want to believe in a kind God who pardons our disobedience, and we are often slow to realise that obedience is God’s expectation from us.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Romans 1:18)
“Moses saw men dying all around him; he lived among funerals, and was overwhelmed at the terrible results of the divine displeasure. He felt that none could measure the might of the Lord’s wrath.” (Spurgeon)
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.
We love celebrating birthdays in our youth but we become very aware of the years as we get older. Death is a certainty but we lack the wisdom to look forward to it. How long will it take for us to gain this wisdom that our days on earth are limited and that we need to look to the everlasting?
Moses pleaded to God to “Relent”, and show mercy and compassion. He asked God to satisfy them with His “unfailing love”. He asked for better days ahead and for God’s favour to rest on everyone.
The last blessing that Moses prayed for, was for the work of their hands to be established. He prayed for success for what they worked for. The biggest concern and dream the Israelites had at that time was to be successfully settled in the promised land. This came true, although Moses didn’t get to see it.
We need God to establish the work of our hands too. We want to settle in our Promised Land, that Jesus had died to set up for us. Without God’s blessing, we can never enter heaven. We need God’s favour to rest on us.
Andy is the head of compliance for an international bank and is happily married, with three daughters. He became a disciple of Christ three decades ago, and studies God's Word passionately. He desires to be constantly led by the Spirit. Andy joined the Central Christian Church in 1990.