Psalm 90

Prayer of Moses, the man of God

There are three famous verses 4, 10 and 12 in this psalm which is the only attributed to Moses.
Fist one states that a thousand years are like yesterday for God (Ps 90:4), which means that decades of our life are present to God, in the way we can see rather clearly what was a day ago.

The number of seventy or eighty years in the second verse is very realistic for human life (Ps 90:10). These are not any more symbolic numbers from the beginning of the Bible but the experience we have today.

The last of the three verses gives profound advice: It is in the taking in account how quick our days are passing by that we can come to the genuine wisdom: "Teach us count our days that we may gain a wise heart" (90:12). The fact, that we are not constant and eternal in our human life is not a disadvantage but a fundament for wisdom.

The whole Psalm can be understood in light of the experience of Moses. He is the man of God (Ps 90:1) from the time when he was saved from death as baby.

This Psalm is his intercession. He is speaking in plural, in the name of the whole community. He is talking about "us" and about "our God". His experience made him feel for all.

a) In the first part of his prayer Moses is contemplating Creator and the creation (v1–6).
It is the fact that the great work of God was also work of Moses, where he had to act a lot. His part was great and demanding.

Moses contemplates the eternity of the Lord:

He is God of passing generations (v1)
He is God of his servants and of their children (v16), that means also God of the future generation.

Moses knows from the first revelation that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and of his father (Exodus 3:6).

Thousand years is for us the time at the beginning of second millennium, A. D. 1000 – too much for us to keep in mind. Something similar is the time of Abraham for Moses.

For Moses God is a dwelling place for the whole community, a firm point (v1).
God is a parent of the mountains and of the world (v2), and human being is like dust, like a flower living only one day (v6).

b) In the second part Moses is thinking about hard time experienced and interpreted as God's anger (Ps 90:7–11)
For Moses the human days marked by God's anger are lost (v9).
God' anger means that our guilt and hidden sins are discovered and open (v8).
The assignment is to get to know God's emotion (v11).

c) In the third part of his prayer (v12–17) Moses is contemplating God's goodness. God is marked by his grace, compassion and solidarity (v14.17).
In front of this God a human being can have wise heart (v12) and be servant of God (v13.16). The work of our hands may be constant (v17).

The modest man of God uses the proper name of the Lord, Yahweh, only once in this psalm in v13, but very audaciously he asks for God's conversion, as he has done in his prayer for the people worshipping the Golden Calf: "Turn! Repent!" (Exodus 32:12; Ps 90:13)

For personal reflection:
Do I experience myself as God's creation?
What do the emotions of the Lord mean to me?
Have I learned to appreciate the work of my hands?

10 August 2011
Niko Bilić SJ