Psalm 90 is the oldest psalm in the Bible. It was written by Moses, who lived around 1400 B.C.  Moses also wrote the first 5 books of the Bible, and here we have a prayer of Moses that serves to teach us the sobering reality of the world we live in and the wisdom we need in view of it.

The first two verses consider the transcendence of God. The Lord was before the earth and the world were made (verse 2). Since God is eternal, he is not tied to a time or a place. He is above, separate from the creation. Therefore, he can be the “dwelling place” for all generations.  He is the one secure, unchangeable dwelling place for us.

To make God our dwelling place simply means to place your hope and future in him rather than in the temporal dwelling here on earth. Those who choose God as their dwelling serve God as pilgrims on their way to him. Hebrews 11 uses Abraham as an example: “He was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

In verses 3-11, Moses gives us the reasons this pursuit of God is the only wise way. Our lives here are exceedingly brief. Moses points us to why life ends in verse three: “You return man to dust.” This is a reference to Genesis chapter three. After man had sinned against God, he incurred the previously warned about consequence of disobedience: death.

The Lord told Adam that the earth he lived on would be cursed because of him, and that he would return to the dust of the ground from which he was formed, meaning he would die. Death is the leading indicator that something is terribly wrong with the world we live in.

Moses faces the brevity of life squarely in verse 5. He compares the life of man in this world to a flood that goes sweeping by or a dream that melts away quickly. He also uses the metaphor of life being like the grass that springs up in the morning and withers in the evening. When we behold a flower in the spring, we are reminded that like the flower, we will not last long.

Rather than taking the reality of how short our lives are and directing us to live it up while we can, Moses addresses the unavoidable, underlying issue: God knows the guilt of our sin and holds it against us (verses 7-8). We aren’t simply frail or broken people living in a broken world; we have guilt and are under judgment because of it.

The sin we have may be hidden to us, or to others, but it isn’t to the Lord. Moses says, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins is the light of your presence (verse 8).” Moses is emphasizing the fact we are all heading very quickly to a court where God is the judge and his righteousness is inflexible. He does not excuse sin; this is the great issue we must face.

In verses 9 and 10, Moses explains to us the reason there is such trouble and toil in this world, culminating in death; because the wrath of God against man’s depravity is being revealed. Moses is simply pointing out the reality of the world we live in. 

Nevertheless, men do not consider this. They tend to suppress thoughts about why things are as they are in this world: “Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you (verse 11)?”  Moses is saying that not many get the point, though is it plain enough.

For those who do get it, who by seeing the shortness of life gain wisdom and call on the Lord. Verses 12-17 point us to another reality: God, though he hates iniquity, delights in mercy. The Lord Jesus said that Moses wrote about him. Though Moses writes in general terms in this psalm, it is very plain that our need of a Savior is emphatic in this psalm.

God’s steadfast love (verse 14) to us is expressed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who testified he came into the world to save sinners and give them life and knowledge of God. The good news of Christ exceeds the bad news of our sin, death, and the troubles in this world. God gives him freely, but requires turning from sin to Christ in faith. Those who believe Moses look to Christ.