This week Harvey came to shore. Thirty-eight deaths (at last count), 50,000 structures under water (at least), generations of work swept away. For awhile, frenetic activity will rule the day. Crews from distant places will rush to Houston to gut every structure worth saving. Debris will line the streets. Many will be homeless for a long, long time …
But there will come a day when thoughtful people will reflect. How do we live wisely when life is so short? How do we hope to see our lives established when everything we do can be swept away and disappear?
Psalm 90 speaks to these questions. In this ancient text (perhaps the oldest of the Psalms), we read of Moses’ response to God’s particular judgement of Israel. While those in Houston labor and suffer under the general effects of a fallen world resulting from sin, Moses and Israel faded away in the wilderness under the direct judgement of God.
What do you teach people passing away? How can those you lead yet be established in their lives when under God’s judgment?
Those whom God establishes in wisdom ponder God’s eternality (:1-10) God is … (:1-2) This is the most basic thing we can know about God. Before God created generations of men, mountains, earth and world; before time itself (mea olam ad olam “from everlasting to everlasting”), God is. Moses, like a good Jew, is about to complain to God. But, he will complain in faith. Like Israel, he wrestles with God, but he will complain in relationship.
God is Creator … This is the second most significant truth we can ponder. We live in a materialistic age that (for the most part) says that matter is eternal. Not so, in the worldview of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. God is the eternal Creator and the starting place for thinking about all life. Evil, love, your body, your work—these make sense when we begin, rightly, by knowing God as Creator.
“I believe in order to understand,” Augustine said.
“I believe in God like I believe in the sun, not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” (C.S. Lewis).
God is the Creator of creatures (:3-6). He returns man to where man came from: You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” (:3). Humankind passes from this life—like a “watch in the night,” like debris, like a dream, like grass.
And, God judges sin (:7-10). You have set our iniquities before you … (:8a). Our sins are exposed. Then, we expire: … we bring our years to an end like a sigh (:9b).
Is this depressing yet? Not if you are in relationship with Your eternal Creator.
Those whom God establishes in wisdom measure their days (:11-12). Psalm 90 turns on the two middle verses which form a question and an answer. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? In other words, who makes the connection between God’s judgment and man’s sin? (:11).
Then, the answer, and the theme verse for the entire psalm: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (:12). The one with the proper estimation of himself—this one will receive “wisdom,” moral and ethical skill in body, mind, soul and desires.
So depressing now? Not so much. In Moses’ situation, there was time left yet before the older generation sunk into the sand. And, there were the children, the rising generation, hopeful to be rooted in God. And, there was the eternal God who can establish them in wisdom and whose favor might yet be enjoyed.
And those whom God establishes in wisdom do enjoy God’s favor (:13-17) Petitions abound in this final section. Turn back to us! … Comfort your servants (:13) … Satisfy us! (:14) … Make us glad! (:15) … Show us your work! (:16) … Establish the work of our hands (:17). While only a couple of these verbs are properly passive, the passive idea dominates. God is the subject; we are the objects of His affections. God is the One who acts as Creator; we respond as creatures. And, if we respond to God in wisdom, the work of our hands will become part of God’s work, and we will know God’s favor, and our work will endure.
Moses died, as did the older generation of Israel. But, God wasn’t finished. Here’s the good news! In the fulness of time Christ came. He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5.21). Moses’ hope, however distant, was anchored in Christ. Our hope, in floods and in the frequent frustration of our own work, is, likewise, in Christ. In Jesus, we enjoy God’s favor. The petitions of Psalm 90 come true for us. Our lives, established in the wisdom of God, count for eternity, because we are His workmanship, and the work itself is His.
And that isn’t depressing at all!