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Relevant Passages: Psalm 90

Psalm 90, a somber and elegant psalm directed towards God consists of three parts: (1) The contrast between “You,” the eternal God, and “we”, his ephemeral creatures, vs. 1-6; (2) Our troubled life is cut short by “Your” anger at our sins, vs. 7-12; (3) Pleas for “Your” mercy and constant love, and the gifts of joy and success, vs. 13-17.

The psalm opens the fourth section in the book of Psalms (psalms 90-106). Other particularly memorable psalms in this section include 91, 100, 103, 105-106. While many psalms are intensely personal, Psalm 90 has been cast into the language of the community’throughout the first person voice is in the plural, “we”.

As with most of the Old Testament, the psalm offers no promise of a future life or a resurrection even of the righteous, nor does it attribute tragedy to the devil.

In the heart of the psalm is a question directed to humans’ who among us actually considers the power of God’s anger(v. 11)? Then follows an appeal to God to teach us to number our days (v. 12). The logic of the sequence indicates that one purpose of the psalm is calling the worshipers to self-examination.

An ancient superscription attributes this psalm to Moses. Some commentators have linked the psalm to Moses’ years of exile in the wilderness when he was alone and surrounded by the magnificent desolation of the desert.

Perhaps most troubling to modern readers is the sustained attention given in the psalm to God’s terrifying anger or “wrath” that destroys (vs. 7-11). Most commentaries on this psalm, including the SDA Bible Commentary, tend to side-step the strong language. Actually, God’s wrath against sin and sinners is a re-occurring theme throughout the Bible from Genesis 18:30 to Revelation 19:15. See Job 42:7. For a positive appeal to the wrath of God to bring justice against evil oppressors see Psalms 2, 7, 21, 54 and 69, etc

For reflection and discussion:

  1. Why would anyone want to live if life is as bleak as the psalmist presents it? Does the psalm give any purpose for living? What argument would the psalmist raise against ending one’s own life?
  2. The psalm presents God as making sure he misses none of the sins of his people (v. 8) and then, in anger at their sins, consuming them (vs. 7,9). How does this description of God fit in with the picture of God presented by Jesus?
  3. The sentiments of Jonathan Edwards’ infamous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” appear to agree with this psalm’s view of God’s anger. What other aspects of God’s character are also mentioned in the psalm?
  4. Near the end is the appeal that the children will see “your glorious power” (v. 16). How does righteousness and religious commitment get transmitted to the next generation?
  5. What enduring value does the psalm have for Christians who believe in the resurrection and the existence of a devil who delights in destruction?

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