I. God is eternal (1-8)
II. Man’s time is short (9-11)
III. Making the most of our time (12-17)
I. God is eternal (1-8)
• Who wrote this Psalm?
• Summarize the main point of this Psalm in one or two sentences.
• What qualities of God does Moses describe?
• How does reminding ourselves of this help us keep the right perspective?
• What is man made of? What does it mean that He will return man to dust?
• How does knowing you are dust affect your perspective?
• How does God view time (4)?
• Who is the “them” in verse 5?
• What are people like (verses 5-6)?
• What do you learn about judgment (7-8)?
• How does knowing there is a future judgment affect how you live your life now?
• What would you say to a person who thinks that they can hide their sins?
2 Peter 3:8 – But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Isaiah 40:28 – Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
1 Timothy 1:17 – To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Revelation 22:13 – I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Moses is the writer – Knowing that Moses wrote this Psalm helps us to understand some aspects of it better. Specifically, Moses talks about God’s wrath as well as the toils and afflictions that they faced. Likely, the forty years judgment of wilderness wandering was the background for these ideas.
2. You have been our dwelling place for generations – It is an interesting observation. Most people would mention a geographical location, perhaps a city or country, as their dwelling place. Moses says that God Himself is their dwelling place.
For hundreds of years, the Jews were slaves in Egypt and didn’t have a place to call their own. After that, another generation was spent in the wilderness, wandering from place to place.
One might have called them homeless. But home is where the heart is. And Moses realized that God was with them. He dwelt with them. His very presence was shown to be with them in the pillar of cloud and fire.
Exodus 33:15 – And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.
Moses did not want to go anywhere without the Lord’s presence.
Moses’ words remind us of what Jesus said in John 15:4.
John 15:4 – Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
A husband might say to his family, “my home is wherever you are.” Those would be words of comfort to a family who didn’t have a long-term home to call their own. In a similar manner, Moses recognizes that their relationship with God was more significant than any physical house could ever be.
3. From everlasting to everlasting you are God – A key theme in this Psalm is that God is eternal. Mountains are steadfast, ancient, and immovable. They stand the test of time. Snow falls and melts. Trees grow and die. People come and go. The mountains are still standing there unchanged. And yet God existed for eternity past before the mountains. He existed before creation.
Reflect – How does the knowledge that God existed for eternity past impact you?
Perhaps the most important theme in this chapter is perspective. We need to gain the proper perspective. Knowing who God is, who we are, and our relationship with Him can remind us what our purpose is in life. Trivial things should be recognized for what they are. And proper priority should be given to important things.
Having the proper perspective can help us respond to various situations in a calm, patient, and humble manner.
Here are a few examples where having perspective can help.
• Your toddler often wakes up at night crying. She is messy. Almost every meal is interrupted by spilled milk. It is hard to get proper rest or feel you have time for yourself. You need perspective. She will grow up and mature. This time will pass. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t even register as a blip.
• Your favorite sports team loses year after year. When I was a child, I lived in Texas. So I have grown up cheering for the Dallas Cowboys. In the early 90s, they won the Super Bowl three times. That was great. But they haven’t been back to the Super Bowl (or even back within one game of the Super Bowl) in 27 years. I need perspective. Football is just a game. Life and happiness should not be affected by somewhat else playing a game. Sports are trivial when you consider the everlasting God and the massive universe He created.
• You are sick with a chronic illness. Every day you are in pain. It seems like it will never end. Perspective can help. It will end. In comparison to eternity, the time is short even though it feels so long (Romans 8:18).
Application – Sometimes, we need to zoom out from our situation and look at the big picture. That is what Moses helps us do in Psalm 90. God is eternal and existed from eternity past. Our time on earth is short, but we too have an eternal soul that will exist into the future for all eternity. Remembering that can help us have perspective.
4. You return man to dust – Here is another reminder that helps us keep perspective. Next time you start to become prideful and self-centered, remind yourself, “I am a pile of dust.”
Adam was literally created from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). He was a pile of dirt. He had no ability to bring life to himself. He couldn’t sense anything. He couldn’t do anything. But then God breathed into him the breath of life. That breath from God gave him life. As God has given, so He can take away.
A pile of dust has no rights. A pile of dust that has been given life should never complain. How can a pile of dust rebel against the one who gave it life? How can a pile of dust become prideful and try to take glory from its Creator to itself? How can a pile of dust declare its independence from the one who sustains it?
One day our bodies will return to the dust. Moses says that God will say, “Return, O Children of man!” Our life is in His hands.
Application – Knowing these things should affect how we treat God.
• We should obey Him.
• We should recognize our dependence on Him.
• We should glorify Him.
• We should not complain about anything.
• We should be grateful for the life that He gives us.
• We should have perspective.
Next time you are tempted to complain, be prideful or go your own way, remind yourself that without God’s breath, you are but dust.
5. For a thousand years in your sight, are but as yesterday when it is past –
God exists outside of the dimension of time. Time markers for people were created in Genesis. In Genesis 1, it says, “there was evening, and there was morning the first day.” We will never be able to fully comprehend how time exists for God. Does He exist in all times at once? Does He fast forward and rewind time going in both directions rather than only forward? Is it fast? Is it slow?
We don’t know how God experiences time.
Even for people, time can be relative. Time seems to crawl so slowly if you are sick in bed at night and can’t go to sleep. One night can seem to last forever. On the other hand, fun or exciting days can seem to be over in an instant. As the saying goes, “time flies when you are having fun.”
Moses’ emphasis on God’s eternality helped him and his people gain perspective in the difficult times they faced. They were in Egypt, living as slaves for hundreds of years. After that, they wandered in the desert for forty more. During those years, they faced many afflictions and hardships. Knowing God was eternal could help them have faith that these things were temporary. God had a plan. He would fulfill His promises. He would bring them through this.
The Israelites complained a lot during those years. They lost sight of the truths that Moses writes about in Psalm 90. They were living in a moment. While they should have zoomed out to look at the big picture, they instead zoomed in and lived in the moment.
6. We are brought to an end by your anger – Moses looks forward in time to see the destination for his people. Indeed, the entire generation of Jewish adults who left Egypt was judged by God and died in the wilderness. God was angry with them because of their continuous rebellion.
During these years, the Israelites were often short-sighted. When Moses spent forty days on the mountain with God, they rebelled. Over and over, they complained. Often, they only focused on the short term. They were like the child who knows that he will be punished for eating the forbidden cookie but still chooses to do it anyway.
Moses saw (and recorded in Psalm 90) where this type of mentality would lead.
7. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
No one can hide their sins from God. Many people choose to live in the moment because they think that they will never be held accountable for what they do. They choose to disbelieve in God or think that He does not care about their day-to-day decisions.
For example, 36% of millennials in the US believe that “God is unconcerned with my day-to-day decisions.”
This lack of proper perspective will cause them to excuse and minimize sin. On the other hand, remembering there is a coming judgment will motivate us to live holy lives.
Application – Never forget that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Rather than zooming in on the short-term thrills of sin, zoom out and see the resulting consequences, both in this world and the next (Psalm 73:17).
II. Man’s time is short (9-11)
• Why does Moses emphasize God’s wrath?
• Why does Moses seem to take a pessimistic view of life and death?
• What does life ending like a “sigh” mean?
• How long do people tend to live? Is that long or short?
• Knowing that your time is “soon gone,” what should you do?
• Why do many people not consider God’s judgment and wrath (11)?
• How is helpful to think about His wrath?
Ephesians 5:15-16 – Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
James 4:13-15 – Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Psalms 31:15 – My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. All our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh – The Israelites experienced God’s wrath in the wilderness. The end of their lives came quickly (max forty years for the adults leaving Egypt). All of those who rebel against God will experience His judgment. Their lives will seem short and filled with affliction.
Only in Christ can we be redeemed. And even then, we live in a fallen world and feel its effects
2. The years of our life are seventy… [or] eighty – Life is short. Life spans in some modern countries have increased since then, but not by much. For many people, their sole focus in life is to live longer.
I was talking with an elderly gentleman recently and asked him what he was living for. His answer was that he was living today so that he could live tomorrow. Most of his time is spent on trying to increase his life span. Through healthy eating and proper exercise, he hopes to extend his life an extra decade or more.
He may or may not be successful. The end result will still be the same. Death comes to us all.
Hebrews 9:27 – And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.
People spend vast amounts of money in attempts to live longer. Plastic surgeries make cosmetic alterations to keep people looking young. Some even invest in fantasies such as cryonics and crypto freezing in hopes that they can live forever. Others have sought ways to detach their minds and upload them to a cloud so that their consciousness continues.
In the end, these attempts prove futile. Death is a fact, and it is wise not to ignore it.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 – It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Reflect – How can acknowledging death (and judgment after it) affect your life now?
A wise person sees that death will eventually come and prepares himself for it. Many do not.
Compare the last words of some famous atheists with believers.
Here are the last words or nearly the last words of several prominent atheists or unbelievers.
– Thomas Paine (A champion atheist during revolutionary times. He wrote the Age of Reason and challenged the credibility of the Bible.): “O help me! Stay with me, for I am on the edge of hell here alone!”
– Sir Thomas Scott (Atheist chancellor of English until 1594): “Until this moment, I thought there was neither a God nor a hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.”
– Anton LeVey (author of Satanic Bible): “Oh my, what have I done? There is something very wrong… there is something very wrong.”
– Francis Newport (head of an English Atheist club): “Oh Eternity, forever and forever! Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell!”
– Voltaire: “I am abandoned by God and man! I shall go to hell! O Christ, O Jesus!” His condition was so frightening, everyone was afraid to approach his bedside. His nurse said: “For all the money in Europe I wouldn’t want to see another unbeliever die!
And here are the last words of some Christians.
– John Lyth: “Can this be death? Why, it is better than living! Tell them I die happy in Jesus!”
– John Pawson: “I know I am dying, but my deathbed is a bed of roses. I have no thorns planted upon my dying pillow. Heaven has already begun!”
– Margaret Prior: “How bright the room! How full of angels!”
– Sir David Brewster: “I will see Jesus; Oh how bright it is! I feel so safe and satisfied!”
– D.L. Moody: “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go. This is my triumph. This is my coronation day. It is glorious!”
3. Who considers the power of your anger – Many prefer living in blissful ignorance. The wise consider God’s holiness, righteousness, and wrath. Note the word “consider” implies that one should intentionally spend time thinking about these things.
III. Making the most of our time (12-17)
• What was Moses’ application based on the facts shared in the first part of the chapter?
• Why is it important to “number our days?”
• How does this help you to get wisdom?
• Knowing that time on earth is limited, how should you use it?
• What can you learn about the meaning of life from verse 14?
• What specific prayer requests does Moses make in these verses?
• What can you learn about prayer from those requests?
• Are you satisfied with His love?
• Do you rejoice more or complain more?
• What does it mean to “establish the work of our hands?” What type of work will be established and what type of work will fade and disappear?
• If you were to die tonight, what would you have accomplished of eternal value?
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 – Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Colossians 4:5 – Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom –
Here is the key application from the passage. We need to learn to number our days. Doing so will give us the proper perspective. As we number our days, our attitude and behavior should change to reflect that awareness.
Reflect – Imagine someone told you, “You don’t have long to live. You will die within a week.” Would this change your plans for the next week? How?
Life is short.
James 4:14 – Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Our lives are compared to a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. One need only turn on the news to see how many people’s lives are snuffed out unexpectedly. Recently, I was surprised one morning to wake up and see that Kobe Bryant and several others had passed away in a sudden helicopter crash. They were going to his basketball center to play hoops, never imagining that their lives here on earth were almost at the end.
Many people leave this world unprepared for the next. And even many who trust in Christ and are ready to face Him still may have regrets in their use of time.
A person once compared people to candles. Two candles represented two people’s lives. One candle was tall, almost new, having only burned for a short time. The other candle was short, almost spent. The tall candle represents a young person who likely has most of their life in front of them, while the short candle represents an older person. Both candles have something in common. Each day they keep burning. And each day, they are one step closer to finally burning out.
Our lives are the same. God has put us on this earth for a reason. He has prepared certain good deeds, missions if you will, which He wants us to accomplish for Him (Ephesians 2:10). Every day is an opportunity to fulfill the missions God has for us that day. But if we do not do them, they are gone and will never come back again.
Application: Spend some time evaluating your day-to-day activities. Do you make a habit of redeeming the time? When you have free time, what will you normally do? Is there anything in your life that you feel wastes your time or distracts you from using your time well? Would you have any regrets if your time on earth was up? Are there any activities you need to cut? Are there any you need to add?
2. Satisfy us and make us glad – In verses 14 and 15, Moses makes a petition to the Lord. He asked the Lord to satisfy them with His steadfast love and to make them glad. Moses realized that time was short. Therefore he hoped that God would help them make the absolute most of it, filling them with joy. The prayer could be paraphrased like this, “We aren’t going to live very long so please help us to live the time we have to the fullest, joyfully finding our satisfaction in you.”
Unbelievers often also realize that their time is short. Their conclusion, however, is the opposite. They may seek to squeeze as much fun and partying in as they can while they can.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon examined everything the world had to offer. Like Moses, he also realized that time is short. His conclusion was similar. Money, materials, fame, achievement, and sex all fall short. Only God satisfies.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
3. Let us see your work – Moses asked to see God’s work. He wanted more of the Lord and less of the world.
4. Establish the work of our hands – The last request that Moses makes (and he makes it twice), is that the Lord establish the works of their hands. His hope is that what he does will last. He wants it to be meaningful and to stand the test of time.
Moses had the right perspective. Things that seem important in the short term quickly lose their significance when you zoom out on a longer timeline. As believers, we should look at things on an eternal timeline.
What difference will the things I am doing today make in 100 years?
Believers should evaluate the things that we spend time on and make sure that our lives have a long-term impact on others for good (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Here are some things that can make an eternal impact.
• Sharing the gospel.
• Leading family devotions with your children
• Studying God’s Word
• Reading Christian growth books.
• Fellowship with believers
• Sharing your testimony
• Being a testimony to unbelievers
• Anything where you obey God with the right attitude
We should not be confused and think that routine day-to-day life is not meaningful. The very smallest task we do for the glory of God is worthy. That includes cooking for our families, changing diapers, or helping your kids with their homework.
Fun activities can also be redeemed and made useful.
• When you play a board game with your children, help them grow in teamwork or learn to have a good attitude win or lose.
• When you go for a picnic, spend some time thanking God for the beautiful environment and day. Leave the grounds cleaner than when you left.
• When you go on a walk with your spouse, consider how you can encourage her in the Lord.
• Instead of surface chit-chat with your friends, bring up deeper and more meaningful topics. Ask them thought-provoking spiritual questions.
When we have the mentality that we want God to establish our work, it will help us to do work that is meaningful and to do it in a way that brings honor to God.
It is unlikely a 40-year-old man would spend the week eating Cheetos, drinking coke, and playing an R-rated video game would ask God to establish the work of his hands.
We know the things that carry eternal value and the things that don’t.
Application – Think about how you can redeem even normal day-to-day activities and bring spiritual value to them. How can you make your family dinner time more fruitful? How about your weekly sports or shopping day with your friends? Enjoying this world God has made for us is good. But let us not forget the one who gave us these good things. He should be the center of our activities.