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Message from Psalm 90
by Major Pauline Gruer-Caulfield

 *editor's note: These are preaching notes, not academic essay papers, and so may lack a reference here or there (indeed, they were prepared for preaching and not for wider readership).  It is not the intent to withhold credit from a source.


O Lord, How long will it be?


These are the words of someone at the breaking point.  Moses in his pain comes before God. Instead of swallowing his feelings, he pours them out and in the process finds renewed strength.  We can conclude this from our reading of Deuteronomy 34 where we find him at the end of his life having such a strong relationship with God.


For a few moments we are going to look at the person behind this prayer recorded for us in Psalm 90, and the process he went through.


The person behind the prayer

Deut. 34 just gave us a glimpse into the man. A tremendous leader, the things he did empowered by God, he was so close to the Lord that it is described as “the Lord knew him face to face.” The chapter and Moses story end by stating that no one has ever done what he did! Yet, that same chapter reminds us, he was a flawed leader, he took the people all the way to the promised land but he himself was not able to enter because of choices he had made contrary to what God asked him to do.  We can see at least two principle messages here, we could say two sides of a coin, on one side we see the warning, as the New Testament tells us:  if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! I Cor. 10:12, because even Moses, as great as he was, for a moment thought he knew better than God and messed up. The other side of the coin is the message of grace. Though sin caused a significant loss, the loss of a dear dream, God did not give up on Moses. Moses died as “the servant of the Lord.”  There is forgiveness, there is restoration, there is hope.


Psalm 90 takes us to a time - we don’t know the exact circumstances they were going through - when Moses cried out to God. It must have been a prolonged, trying situation because we find him exclaiming: “Relent! How long will it be? Have compassion on us…” v.13 You can almost feel the anguish in his words.  Now pay attention to what Moses does. When he finds himself in such desolation he confronts his emotions and he actually writes it down.  We know this because we are reading it.  He sits down to put his complaint, his cry in writing.  God I cannot take it much longer!  But when he begins writing first he considers who He is praying to.


Lord, you have been our dwelling place. For the last 40 years of his life Moses along with the Israelites wandered through the wilderness. 40 years having a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night marking the place where they should camp. This was not a metaphorical expression. God had literally been their dwelling place, their refuge. None other than the Creator, the Eternal God, He has been their oasis.


But then we get to v. 3 You turn men back to dust… we can say, compared with God humans are nothing but dust. In comparison with God’s eternity our brief span of life is like grass.  Even if we were to live a thousand years, to God it would be like a day. But it is not the comparison which strikes us, it is the fact that it says: You, You God, turn people into dust. And though it sounds harsh, it is true. God alone has the power over creation, including the life and death of humans.


Obviously we are dealing here with the enduring mystery at the heart of the Bible, namely, the relationship between the sovereign rule of a loving God, the free will he has given us, and the existence of sin, suffering, and death.  The last are stumbling stones for many an unbeliever and the source of much doubt for many believers.[1]


Last week I found myself talking back to the TV. A futile exercise… I don’t know if anyone has watched the Good Doctor.  I thought I would give the show a try and in this week’s episode a boy who is dying of terminal cancer says: “I don’t believe in God, because if I believed in him I would have to believe that he allowed me to get cancer and that would make him a monster and that is too terrible so I rather believe there is no God. That there is nothing after death.” I wonder if the writers of this show had read Psalm 90. … we we read about the wrath of God, the indignation, the anger of God. It is a horrifying image. Now, if you’ve read the Old Testament you would be familiar with some of the situations, the people who were given every advantage, keep on sinning. It is not that God is a Dictator who cannot stand when people don’t do what He has dictated; the problem is that sin is deadly, it tears at our relationships, it tears our relationship with nature, it tears our relationship with God.  We live in a world drastically damaged by sin.


As I heard those word: “I rather believe there is not God, there is nothing after death.” I found myself saying “no, no, there so much more” and I was thinking of all the people watching this show.  My mind went to creation, when Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden of Eden because of their sin, God actually provides clothing for them, they would need protection from the inclemency of a world under the consequence of sin, they would need to be covered, actually that is the first sacrifice we read about in the Bible (Genesis 3:21). Then I thought of the cross, God in a sense, again, covering us through His sacrifice, suffering as He pardoned us.  We need to share with our friends, speak about these things so that when suffering comes into their life, they may have the strength that comes from knowing how much God cares.


We can’t solve the mystery of pain and suffering in one sermon on this text.  But we can assert, with Moses, that yes, God is ultimately in control of all things, even death. Sometimes we are shaken by it, taken by surprise, other times we wonder why so much suffering before we can go to be with Him. At the end of the day we acknowledge, our times are in His hands.


Now, Moses’ intention is not so much to raise that large theological issue as it is to assure us that the Lord is our dwelling place.  In spite of the brevity of human life, we dwell in the God who is eternal. Though he was crying his heart out, he knew that he was surrounded by the eternal arms of love.[2]


Let’s look at vs. 12 and 13  Moses prays: God, teach us to number our days, teach us to make good use of the time we have today,… before we know it, it is gone.


On Friday my eldest volunteered at TED X and one of the speakers was Jeremie Saunders award winning actor, producer, and podcast host.  He has cystic fibrosis, at the age of 10 he discovered the life expectancy of someone with cystic fibrosis was 30. He is now 3 months short of 30.  He is campaigning hard to get people to embrace the truth that we are all going to die.  Of course, it is true. Unless the Lord surprise us returning within our lifetime, everyone in this room will die.  Jeremie’s life changed when instead of living under the shadow of death, around the age of 18 he decided to embrace the fact that he had probably 12 more years to live, max. He thought, what do I want to do with the time I have and he went for it. I don’t know if he is a Christian or not, but he is doing exactly what Psalm 90 tells us to do, v. 12 prays “teach us to number our days aright…that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” So he challenges people, What do you want to do with your life? Get started!


When Moses writes teach us to number our days, he has been addressing our mortality, but also and more importantly is the fact that in spite of our few days we keep focusing on the wrong things, he talks about public sin, secret sin, he was trying to guide a people who knew of God but they kept diverting, he himself had also fallen at times and so he prays teach us to number our days. Get started! Get right with God! Get on with living as you were created to live, in close, unhindered relationship with God!


Right after praying teach us to number our days, Moses cries out, O Lord! How long will it be? How many times have you made this prayer? Our life may seem over in a puff but when we are in anguish, when there does not seem to be a way out, when we hear chronic, when there’s one more medicine added to the list “futile”, when our prayers for a prodigal continue to be unanswered, when injustice continues to prevail… we do have those days, don’t we.  “I don’t know if I can take it any more.”  Moses was there!


But let me remind you again of what he does when his heart is overwhelmed: he remembers who God is – our dwelling place. He recognizes their sin; they keep messing up in very evident ways and in secret, and are suffering for it. And then Moses writes it down, How long will this anguish last? He takes his pain to God.


Moses turns to God and asks him to re-balance, redeem the times of our lives.  We may have the life span of morning grass, but God can “satisfy us in the morning with (His) unfailing love.”  We may have “trouble and sorrow,” but by God’s grace “we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, he prays, for as many years as we have seen trouble.”


How is such a re-balancing, and redemption possible?  Israel has seen throughout its history that God acts in history, disrupting the natural order of things to accomplish his great purposes.  Moses alludes to those historical actions in verse 16.  May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.”  The most splendid deed God ever did, of course, is the event that was Jesus Christ.  In the fullness of time, God broke into history in the person of Jesus, so that we could be saved from our sins and could therefore, live forever.  Through Jesus, God changes the times of our lives.[3]


Because of Jesus Christ, all of the passionate prayers of verses 13-17 become precious promises.  Even death has been conquered through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And instead of the futility of a life that passes all too soon, through the recreating grace of God, our life can be filled with purpose.  Moses ended his prayer saying: May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us: establish the work of our hands for us – yes establish the work of our hands. Please let it not be futile. In 1 Cor. 15:58 in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ we find the answer to this prayer  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (I Cor. 15:58).” [4]


At the point of writing Psalm 90 it must have seemed to Moses that all the effort, all the sacrifice he had made, all the tears to show them the way to God, to guide them to the ‘promised land’ would be for nothing, these people would end up dying in the wilderness of their rebellion.  God, how long? God is so tender in His love for us.  As we read in Deut 34, the Lord allowed Moses to see the land, Moses, they’ve arrived!


What is the Lord saying to you today through His Word?  Who do you identify with? Are you the one still living in sin, in rebellion to God, ignoring the fact that our days are fleeting. God has given you today to come Home, to give your life fully to follow His ways. Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, come Home.


Are you the one caring for others, seeing their suffering, trying to guide them to healing and wholeness.  Sometimes we need, like Moses, to be the ones coming to God saying, I don’t know how much longer I can take it.  We are going to sing “I need thee every hour” and I invite you, as we all raise our voices in prayer, let us pray with you, come to this place of prayer, pour your heart to Him and let Him renew your strength.



*editor's note: These are preaching notes, not academic essay papers, and so may lack a reference here or there (indeed, they were prepared for preaching and not for wider readership).  It is not the intent to withhold credit from a source.


[1] Stan Mast, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-25a/?type=the_lectionary_psalms

[2] ibid

[3] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-25a/?type=the_lectionary_psalms

[4] ibid








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