The Lord, Our Home

Sermon by Ligon Duncan on January 5, 2020

Psalms 90

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If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 90. Psalm 90. Some of you will perhaps remember that many years ago I preached from this psalm. I think I’ve preached from this psalm twice during my time at First Presbyterian Church. But over the last two years I’ve been giving this psalm, along with Psalm 89, renewed attention, and I hope I have some things to share with you tonight that I was not able to share before because I had not yet learned them.

The backdrop of Psalm 90 is Psalm 89. Now you’ll notice in your Bibles that Psalm 90 begins Book Four of the Psalms and Psalm 89 ends Book Three of the Psalms. But the psalms are actually tied together. And they are even textually tied together. If you’ll look back at Psalm 89 verse 46 you will see the phrase, “How long, O LORD?” And you will notice in the midst of Psalm 90 that same plea is lifted up in verse 13, “Return, O LORD! How long?” And so the psalmist is giving you a que in Psalm 90 that there is something that has happened in Psalm 89 that is the reason why this psalm is here in the very outset of Book Four of the Psalms. 

And here’s the great problem. If you look back to Psalm 89, to the beginning of the psalm, you’ll notice the language, “I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations,” and many of you will recognize that as a song that you sang in youth group. You remember singing, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever! I will sing! I will sing!” Remember singing that in youth group? It’s a very happy song. And basically you were singing Psalm 89 verse 1. And nevertheless, I think singing that song as a young man in youth group I didn’t realize that Psalm 89 is a dirge! It’s not a happy song! Now it starts out with that kind of exclamation, “I will sing of the mercy of the LORD forever,” but if you look at Psalm 89 verse 38, from verse 38 to the end of the psalm – well here’s how verse 38 starts off – “But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust. You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins,” and it goes like that till the end. And so Psalm 89 is actually a psalm that begins by rehearsing God’s promises to David and to Israel and then it ends lamenting the fact that God’s judgment has been visited on David and Israel.

So the people of God are singing those first thirty-seven verses – which when you first look at them look very happy and upbeat – they’re singing those first thirty-seven verses through blinding tears because they think that the promises of God have failed. That’s the backdrop of Psalm 90. The people of God, in Psalm 89, are facing the biggest problem in all of the theology of the Old Testament. And that problem is, “Have the promises of God to David and Israel failed?” In 2 Samuel 7, God promised David that there would be descendants from his line on the throne of Israel forever. And He promised that Israel would always be in the land. Now how did that end up? We’re told that the last king of Israel saw his own children put to death and then his eyes were put out and he was taken to Babylon to live as a captive in the king’s court for the rest of his life, having only now the final memory of sight being the death of the line of David. And then the children of Israel are taken into captivity with him. And so everybody, from 586 on in Israel, is asking the question, “Have Your promises to David and to Your people Israel failed, Lord? You told us that David would always be on the throne and we would always be in the land and now there is no king of David’s descendants on the throne and we are in exile!” That’s what Psalm 89 is about. 

That’s why Psalm 90 is here. This psalm turns to God for help from old truths that He had delivered way back in the days of Moses. All behind this psalm are words from Deuteronomy 32 and 33. In fact, there are words in this psalm that go all the way back to Genesis 1, 2, and 3. So what’s happening is that the people of God are turning to very old words, very old truths, to help them in their present plight. In hard times, God’s people look back to old paths; they go back to God’s old words and they find them to be fresh and true. And that’s what we’re going to find tonight. 

You know, there are a lot of ways I could outline this psalm for you. I could outline it, “God.” That would be my outline. You’ll see, that would be a good outline of this psalm, “God.” Or, we could outline it in two parts. We could look at verses 1 to 11 as “a meditation on God” and then verses 12 to 17 as “a petition to God.” So there’s a theological meditation in verses 1 to 11 about God and then in verses 12 to 17 there’s a prayer to God. In fact, there are a series of prayers and petitions that are lifted up to God. Or, we could say verses 1 and 2 are about “God,” verses 3 to 6 are about “brevity,” the brevity of life and death. We could say that verses 7 to 11 are about “death and sin and wrath” and their relation to one another. And we could say that verses 12 to 17 are about “grace.” But however you outline this psalm, in it you learn that God is home, God is eternal, God is just, and God is gracious. And we need to know all of those things in time of trouble. 

So let’s look to the Lord in prayer before we read His Word and ask for his help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. We need it more than we need food, for we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So speak Lord, Your servants listen. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it, in Psalm 90:

“A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Are you sad or lonely or lacking in hope? Then this is a psalm for you. Are you so content with this life that you have not learned to count your days, to contemplate eternity? Then this is a psalm for you. In this psalm, Moses points us to God as the solution to our plight. He teaches us that God is home and eternal and just and gracious. And I want to walk through the psalm with you together.

God is Our Home 

The first thing that I’d like you to see is in verses 1 and 2 where Moses points us to the great comfort of God Himself. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Now this is something that Moses understood experientially. It was Moses’ plight to spend the entirety of his life and ministry as the leader of Israel as a nomad. He never got to settle down in Canaan with the people of God. He died having had a glimpse of the land and having lived forty years as a nomad. And when he says that God is our dwelling place, he knows what he’s talking about because he never gets to be able to say, “Canaan is my dwelling place, the Promised Land is my dwelling place.” All he can say is, “God is my dwelling place.” You see why this is so appropriate for the children of Israel in exile in captivity asking, “Lord, what’s happened? We’re not in the land that You promised to us anymore. We’re in exile! We’re being made by our captors to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land!” And here are Moses’ words waiting for them, “God is your dwelling place. God is your home. God is your refuge. God is your city. God is the place where you belong.”

And I love the fact that it doesn’t just say that the Lord provides refuge. The Lord provides our refuge. It says, “The Lord is our refuge.” Moses says a word, hundreds, almost a thousand years before the time that this psalm is placed in the position that it is at the beginning of Book Four with the people of God publicly lamenting the situation of the end of the Davidic monarchy and with the captivity of Israel, and he points them to God. “God is your refuge. You may have lost your present home, but God is your refuge.”

God is Eternal

And then look at verses 3 to 6. He contrasts our ephemeral brevity of life with God’s eternality. “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” In other words, we are short, God is long. It’s a contrast between the brevity of life and the eternality of God. But notice the contrast is the comfort. It’s not there to discourage us; it’s there to encourage us. Here’s the idea. If your hope is in something that dies with you, you have no lasting hope. But the good news is, because we hope in a God who outlives us, we have a hope that will outlive us. We are short, but He is long. He is eternal, therefore our hope can last. 

Brister Ware loves to quote “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.” By the way, that’s a hymn that everybody ought to memorize. And one of my favorite lines in that hymn is this one – “Change and decay, all around I see; O Thou that changest not, abide with me.” Do you see what Henry Francis Lyte is doing in that line? He is drawing comfort from the unchangeability of God! Now you thought it was utterly impractical when somebody was making you say, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable.” That is unspeakably comforting. “Change and decay, all around I see; O Thou that changest not, abide with me.” Moses is asking you to draw comfort from the eternality, the unchanging eternality of God. Your hope does not die here because God does not die. Your hope is in a God who goes on.

God is Just 

Third, look at verses 7 to 11. Here, Moses ties together all misery and death to sin and misery and death to God’s wrath in judgment. Notice what he says. “We are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.” Verse 11, “Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” In other words, it’s not just that life is brief; it’s that death is here because of sin and death is the visitation of God’s just judgment on our sin. So our death is connected to sin and is itself the visitation of God’s just wrath against our sin. In other words, we are to draw a line from all misery and death back to sin and learn to hate sin more than we hate its consequences and to acknowledge that God is holy and just and we are sinful and deserving of judgment. Verses 7 to 11 speak of a God who is just and righteous and He has righteously appointed death as the penalty for our sin.

So as the psalmist contemplates this situation of exile, of the ending of the Davidic line, and he’s thinking about all this, he goes to God. He acknowledges that God is the only home. He acknowledges that God is eternal. He acknowledges that God is just. And so what has happened is not that God’s promises have failed, it’s that we have broken God’s covenant and He is justly punishing us for our sin. It’s not that God’s covenant has failed, it’s that we have forsaken God in the covenant and He has righteously appointed death as the penalty for sin. 

God is Gracious

And then Moses turns us to God in prayer. And we could actually number this prayer several different ways. You could number it in seven parts; you could number it in more parts than that. I’m just going to concentrate on six specific petitions in this prayer with you today. 

Look at verse 12. Here’s the first prayer. “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Now what does that mean? It doesn’t mean reckon with the fact that the cashier at McDade’s gave you the senior citizen’s discount when you didn’t ask for it. Not that that’s happened to me any time recently and it’s on my mind! No, “Teach us to number our days” means to value and realize the brevity of this life. And here’s the thing. We’ll never learn this lesson, we’ll never rightly estimate human life or appreciate its brevity unless the Lord brings it home to us. We won’t. That’s why he prays, “Teach us to number our days.” He’s asking us to be more concerned with living well than living long. William Swan Plumer once said, “Some die old at thirty and some die young at ninety.” Very true. Very true. “Teach us to number our days.”

Second, he prays, “Return, O Lord! And do not continue to punish Your servants!” There’s the acknowledgement. “Lord, we are in this fix because of sin.” But now he turns the Lord’s words back on Him. When Adam sinned in Genesis 3, what did God say? “From the dust you came, to dust you shall return.” In this psalm, we are reminded of this. Verse 3, “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of men!’” And the psalmist says, “We deserve it Lord! Uncle! We deserve it! But now I’m going to take those words and I’m going to turn it back to You. Lord, You return! You return to us! Reverse Your curse! Show us mercy!” That’s the second petition. “Return, O Lord! And do not continue to punish Your servants!” It’s a plea for mercy to God to come to us and reverse His curse.

What’s the basis of it? That’s the third prayer. Look at verse 14. “Satisfy us with your steadfast love,” or maybe your Bible translates it, “loving kindness” or “Your mercy.” It’s God’s covenant love. In other words, the psalmist is making the same plea that David makes in Psalm 51. “Forgive me, Lord!” Why? “Because of Your loving kindness. Satisfy us with Your loving kindness. Your loving kindness is better than life. Forgive us because of that loving kindness.” 

Then the prayer in verse 15; this is the fourth petition. “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.” Balance out the sorrows of life with God-given joy. But here’s the thing, in the New Testament we know that the Lord answers this prayer better than Moses prays it. Moses asks for the sorrows of life to be balanced with joy. “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.” But Paul says, “This light, momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” And Peter says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you have been grieved by various trials and you rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.” No wonder James says, “Count it all joy, brethren, when you meet various kinds of trials.” God answers this prayer better than Moses prays it.

Fifth, in verse 16, he says, “Let your work and your majesty appear to us.” In other words, “Lord, we want to see Your redemptive work of love and mercy. We want to see evidences of Your working.” This is very much like Simeon’s prayer. “Lord, I want to see Your salvation.” And so he can pray, “Lord, You can take me home now. I can die now because my eyes have seen Your salvation. I want to see You at work, Lord. I want to see Your redemptive work and love and mercy operative in my life.” Every time we see someone come to faith in Christ; every time we see someone grow in grace. 

I was recently with a group of people and we were talking about one particular individual who they all loved and cared for and they were mentioning the fact that this woman, this very godly woman, had a daughter who had strayed. And in fact, had had an affair and broken up a marriage and it was very, very heartbreaking to her mother. But, they said, “You know that she and her husband have become Christians and they’re rearing their children in the church.” And this is the first I had heard of it. And the Lord had done a work in their lives. We all want to see the Lord work. We want to see the Lord’s love and mercy at work in people’s lives. That’s the prayer. “Lord, no matter what’s happening in our situation, let Your work and Your majesty appear to us.” 

And then finally this. Look at verse 17; a sixth petition. “Confirm the work of our hands. Make our work matter and make it last. Make it means something. Use it. Use us, Lord. Don’t let us do meaningless things. Make our work matter. Prosper the work of our hands. No matter what our situation is, Lord, give us meaningful work. Work that matters.” 

The psalmist is facing a great challenge and the challenge is, “Lord, I don’t understand what You are doing. It seems like Your promises have failed. Moses points us to God and then he leads us to God in prayer, and because God is our home and our help and our hope, just like we sang with Isaac Watts a few moments ago, we can get through anything. That’s a good thought for the beginning of the year. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word and we ask now that You would cause it, by Your Spirit, to dwell in us richly. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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