Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 7 2019 - Psalm 90 – Return to dust

Psalm 90 was the basis of Isaac Watts' famous hymn, "Our God, Our help in ages past, our hope for years to come", often sung on Remembrance Day. The psalm is headed, "A prayer of Moses the man of God" (the headings to the psalms were added by the compilers of Israel's songbook). Moses may not have written this psalm himself, but it reflects the experience he and the Israelites faced as he led them through the wilderness and towards the Promised Land.

Because of the Israelites' refusal to trust in the God who had rescued them from Egypt, all the adults who had come out of Egypt died during the 40 years wandering in the wilderness. This is the background to the lament of such verses as 3 and 7:

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’ …
We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.

But this experience of judgment and death is set against the larger canvas of God's goodness and mercy. The opening two verses affirm:

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

The eternal creator God redeemed his people and made them his own. Though he may be angered by their rebellion yet he has not cast them off: he remains their God and their place of refuge and they remain his people.

This psalm also reflects the opening chapters of Genesis, and therefore our own experience. We were created in God's image, created to share in his loving rule over creation. But, like our father Adam, we have all rebelled against God and fallen short of his glory. We all live under the judgment of God and under a sentence of death. We are often made conscious of our own mortality:

Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (v. 10)

But as Isaac Watts wrote, our God has been our help in times past and he remains our hope for the future. He sent his Son into the world who endured death on our behalf. By his resurrection he has broken the power of sin and death. He has had compassion on his servants (v. 13). We know that we shall one day be raised with him to live in a world where death will have been banished for ever. Then the longing expressed in this psalm shall be fully answered:

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Father God, we thank you that you took pity on us in our frail mortality and sent your Son into the world to save us. Lord Jesus, we thank you that you have promised to prepare a place for us in glory and to return one day to take us to be where you are and to see your glory. Holy Spirit, fill us with joy and peace in believing and help us always to be ready to tell others of the reason for the hope that is in us. Triune God, you have been our help in ages past and you are our hope for years to come, be our protection while life shall last, and then our eternal home.

Peter Misselbrook