As a new year opens, what will the future hold? What are we justified to hope for, and what is realistic to work towards? In the prayer of Moses the man of God, we get an insight into what a bright and desirable prospect would look like for a believer and the church collectively, and what we can legitimately throw our energies into striving for with the Lord’s help and blessing. Time seems to be passing so quickly and there are so many things that cause grief even at times when we are conditioned to take an optimistic view. In this light David Dickson comments on the six things Moses prays for in Psalm 90 in the following updated extract.
1. Wisdom for eternity
In the concluding part of Psalm 90, Moses prays for six things in response to the short and sorrowful life of the Lord’s people. The first petition is for wisdom to provide in time for the remedy of sin and everlasting misery, before this short and uncertain life ends. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (verse 12).
Although our life is both short and uncertain as to how soon it may end, yet our tendency is to look on its indefiniteness as if this meant its duration will be infinite and our years innumerable. When Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days,” it implies some acknowledgement of this.
It is easy for us to calculate how many of our days are already past, and easy to consider how few there are to come by the course of nature (or God’s ordinary providence), yet this lesson must be taught by God before we can make any profitable use of it. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
The only remedy for sin, and the wrath of God, and the misery of mortal humans for sin, is the wisdom which is taught by God in the Scripture, i.e., that sinners should seek reconciliation with God through the sacrifice and obedience of Christ, and keep friendship with God by the power of His spirit.
The right use of the things we see manifested in our lives of sin and wrath and judgments is to deal with God by prayer, not only that He would inform us of our danger and duty, not only that He would reveal to our minds the mystery of grace and reconciliation, but also that He would effectually move our will, heart and affections by faith which worketh by love, so that we would make application of the remedy for ourselves. “So that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
2. Comfort from God
The second petition is that God would not only remove the evidences of His displeasure against His people, but that He would also now at length show Himself to be reconciled by changing His dealings with them in a course of comfort. “Return (O Lord), how long? And let it repent thee concerning thy servants” (verse 13).
Although the Lord does not go away from His people (He always remains with the in one or another gracious working) yet in terms of His comforting presence He may turn away until His people request Him to return.
When the Lord does withdraw His comforting presence from His people, however short a time it may be, it sems a long time to us in this short life. “Return, O Lord, how long?”
Although the Lord does not change His affections or repent like a man, yet He can change His dealings, like a father who commiserates his child’s affliction, and tries to cherish and comfort him after disciplining him.
“Let it repent thee concerning thy servants.” Although we are very slight servants, and sorely smitten for our disobedience, yet we should not cast away our calling, nor act as if our relationship with God has been dissolved. Instead we should cling to Him in any way we can. Here they still call themselves His servants.
3. Spiritual refreshment
The third petition is for some spiritual comfort and refreshment to their souls, which would keep them in good heart and in hope of eternal salvation. “O satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad in our days” (verse 14).
When a soul is conscious of God’s wrath, he or she has as great a hunger for spiritual comfort as a famished man has for food. “O satisfy us!” The renewed confirmation of God’s mercy, pardoning sin and giving us a clear sight of our reconciliation, is able to comfort us in our greatest sorrow. “O satisfy us with thy mercy!”
As physical hunger cannot tolerate delay, so neither can a sense of God’s wrath, or the desire for favourable acceptance long endure the absence of consolation. After a night of trouble they earnestly expect a morning of comfort. “Satisfy us early!”
A poor hungry soul, lying under a sense of wrath, knows it will be happy for ever if only it can find again what it felt before – one sweet fill of God’s mercy made known to it. “Then we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
However great our trouble, and however long it lasts, the renewed sense of God’s reconciliation to us seasons and sweetens all our trouble, recompenses all our losses, and makes our situation in this short and miserable life very comfortable. “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil” (verse 15).
4. God’s work to grow
The fourth petition is that God would continue the work of building and enlarging His own church, and of glorifying Himself in their sight, and in the sight of their posterity from generation to generation. “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children” (verse 16).
The building, purging, enlarging and propagating of the church, and the manifesting of God’s care for it, is the Lord’s own proper work. He will not give it up. Although He may hide His activity for a time, yet He is still at work, and His people should pray for and may expect the manifestation of it.
As it is the glory of the Lord to manifest His grace and mercy to His people, or the visible church, so correspondingly it is the desire of the Lord’s people to have Him glorified, no less than to have themselves preserved or comforted.
The church in every age should have a care that their posterity would participate in the same merciful work of God which they have themselves experienced, and that their children would profit by how their predecessors were corrected.
5. The beauty of the Lord
The fifth petition is that God would beautify His people. He beautifies them with His holy ordinances, with order and unity and peace, with a holy lifestyle, and with the evidences that He is dwelling among them as His own covenanted people, proper subjects of His kingdom, and those who belong to His own family.
God is the glory of His people – their beauty and ornamentation is in Him. This is how they are made honourable in the sight of all nations, as the bride is made beautiful by her clothing and ornaments. This is how His people should think of Him, and value Him, and love Him. They should remember Him and seek their beauty in Him.
The time when the beauty of the Lord is on His people, and seen to be on them, is when they are behaving like His covenanted people – when they are walking in faith and obedience before Him, and is showing Himself to be their covenanted God, protecting and blessing them.
6. A blessing on what we do for God
The sixth petition is that God would bless the endeavours of His people for promoting God’s work among them, and for transmitting His ordinances and truth to their posterity. “Establish thou the work of our hands” (verse 17).
If we pray for the Lord’s work to progress in His church, we must resolve not to be idle, but to commit ourselves to endeavour, in our places and callings, according to our ability, to promote His work, just as His servants and instruments should be doing.
When we do go about building the Lord’s church and promoting Christianity, we must acknowledge that the success of our labours depends only on God, who must be entreated for the blessing.
Our work is so mixed and defiled with imperfections and sins that God would only be just if He withdrew Himself from it. We must therefore all the more earnestly deal with Him to keep His own hand on His work, and keep our hands in it.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.