“Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.” (Psalm 90:13-16, NIV)

As we come to Psalm 90, we find perhaps the oldest Psalm in the whole collection. We also come to Psalm 90 as the first Psalm in Book IV of the collected Psalms. What we see as “The Book of Psalms” is actually divided into five separate sections called “Books.” Each section ends with a Hallelujah Chorus of sorts. Book I, which includes Psalms 1-41, ends with “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.” [Ps. 41:13]

Book II, Psalms 42-72, ends with “Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen. This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.” [Ps. 72:19-20]

Book III, Psalms 73-89 ends with, “Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.” [89:52]

Book IV, Psalms 90-106, ends with “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the LORD.” [106:48]

Book V, Psalms 107-150, brings the whole collection to a resounding end with an entire Psalm of praise, concluding with the words, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.”

Book IV begins with “A prayer of Moses the man of God.

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.” Ps. 90:1-2 Thus, we learn that this Psalm is attributed to Moses, who probably wrote this Psalm during the Exodus, which was over 400 years before the birth of David.

Psalm 90 is a reflection on the struggles of life, especially the lives of the Israelites during the 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai. Moses begins by reflecting on the everlasting life of the Lord, who delivered His people from bondage in Egypt. But then, he reflects on the plight of mankind; death, brought into the world through sin.

Moses was surrounded by death. He was born when the Egyptians had commanded that no Jewish male baby should live. He witnessed the death of all the first born of Egyptian men and beasts on the night before the Exodus. And for forty years, Moses witnessed the death of an entire generation of Israel in the wilderness, due to their sinful stubbornness and rebellion against the Lord.

We see these things reflected in verses 3-10; “You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’ [Possibly recalling what Moses wrote in Genesis 3:19; “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”]

Verses 4-6 continue; “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.” [Not only looking back to the curse upon Adam, but the whole history of mankind from Adam to his own time, Moses sees the curse of sin.]

Moses cries out to the Lord from his own experience in the wilderness; “We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. 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 finish our years with a moan. 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.” [Verses 7-10]

Moses bemoans the stubborn ignorance of the children of Israel; “If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.” [Vs. 11] And then he intercedes for them in verse 12; “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” It was too late for the older generation, who had fallen into rebellion against Moses and God, but it was not too late for the new generation who would inherit the Promised Land.

The words of this prayer are immensely practical for us to make the subject of our own prayers. Nothing much has changed in human nature and the world of death in which we live. Our life expectancy in America is still within that seventy to eighty-year span and we are still stubborn, rebellious and largely ignorant of the righteous wrath of the thrice holy Lord. Each day, we should ask the Lord to teach us to number our days, even the hours and minutes of each day, to make sure that our time here counts.

Our text, verses 13-16, mark a distinct change in tone. It is clear, that Moses approaches the Lord in this Psalm with honesty, humility and honorable fear of the Lord. But he ends with words of supplication supported by faith in the Lord’s compassion and unfailing love for His people. “Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.”

Moses, to whom God personally revealed His name, “I AM” [Yahweh or Jehovah], now addresses The LORD (Yahweh) and pleads for divine mercy and grace, and the return of God's favor. His prayer is personal and passionate, “how long will it be?” It is the cry of a parched soul in a waterless wasteland for satisfying showers of faithful and grace filled love and mercy. It is not a complaint for the afflictions which were deserved by their rebellion. Rather it is a confession of what they brought on themselves, along with confidence that the Lord would gladden their hearts, even as He relieves their suffering. (The Lord always hugs His children after the spanking.) And it is a prayer for the future, that the lessons learned may last and prosper generations to come as they learn of the splendor of a gracious, personal, compassionate, merciful and loving Savior.

We live in the wilderness of a dying world, seemingly changing from bad to worse as the days of our lives go by. But we also live in the presence of an unchanging God, who has entered this world through His Son to redeem us and our world from the reign of death. God never changes but He invites us to change, to be transformed into the image of His resurrected Son, Jesus.

Like Moses, we may often bemoan the state of things in this life. We must face the prospect of the effects of sin in our lives. We learn from this Psalm that our time is very short compared to eternity. We also learn from this Psalm that we can pray for God’s presence, His compassion and His unfailing love to refresh us and grant us joy.

May we, as Moses prayed, learn to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom; seeking the Lord’s face in all that we think, say and do. May we even learn to rejoice in our relatively mild afflictions, as we reflect upon the deeds of God and the splendor of His grace in Jesus Christ. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” [2 Cor. 4:17]

Verse 17 concludes Psalm 90 with this benediction; “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.” This is not stepping ahead of God and then asking Him to “bless our mess.” This is seeking His favor, first and foremost; Trusting that the Lord will establish the work of our hands for us, as His own works through us; “…which God prepared in advance for us to do.” [Eph. 2:10] “…that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”