Rejoice and be glad (Ps 90:1-17)

Well here we are again – back in another national lockdown, for the second time this year. In an attempt to protect the NHS and save lives, much of our economy and society has been forced to shut down all over again.

Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, waiting expectantly to enter the Promised Land, our country is waiting expectantly for an end to the coronavirus epidemic and the lifting of all the restrictions it has imposed on our daily lives. We look forward to a time when this virus will be suppressed – to a time when either a successful vaccine or simply a change in the season will cause the coronavirus crisis to come to an end. I’ve certainly got my fingers crossed that things will be back to normal by the Spring!

Today’s psalm, Psalm 90, was written by Moses. In fact its the only psalm in the Bible that is specifically attributed to him. It’s a prayer that Moses seems to have written when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, waiting for that Promised Land. Its also a Psalm which the Lord Jesus may well have meditated on as he contemplated his passion – a prayer he turned over in his mind as he prepared himself for his death and resurrection. And, for us too, this is a Psalm that we can pray in the era of COVID-19. So let’s unpack what it says…

  1. God is eternal, but mankind is mortal (v.1-6)

If the statistics are to be believed, around 50,000 people in the UK have now died with coronavirus, with the average age of the deceased at 82. These ‘killer facts’ associated with COVID-19 might be new, but the twin realities of death and ageing come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Psalm 90. Because the opening verses of our Psalm make it clear that God is eternal, but mankind is mortal.

For example, in verse 5 Moses writes that “you sweep people away in the sleep of death”, and in verse 10 he says that “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet…they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

This Psalm sees clearly that death is a part of life. Even when the pandemic is over, the death rate among all men and women will stubbornly remain at 100%. Even in ordinary times, over 600,000 people die in the UK each year, approaching 2,000 fatalities each and every day.

Our Creator, in contrast, is immortal. Whereas we are temporary, transient and mortal, God is permanent, steadfast and unchanging. As it says in verses 2 to 4: “from everlasting to everlasting you are God. A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by”. He existed before the Big Bang and effortlessly out-lives every natural organism.

So if we human beings are to find an antidote to death, a vaccine to cure mortality, then the solution can only come from God – from the ultimate source of life and the only everlasting being. Only in relationship with him can we have hope beyond the grave. He is the only possible safe “dwelling place” for eternity.

  1. God is holy, but humanity has fallen (v.7-12)

Last weekend judgement fell on Donald Trump’s presidency, didn’t it? His four-year term of office has expired, and he had to face the verdict of the American public at an election. Despite the best efforts of his legal team, it seems unlikely that he will remain in office having clearly lost the election. Even the most powerful man in the world has been held to account.

Just as Donald Trump was accountable to the American electorate, so are we all accountable to God. Verses 7 to 12 remind us that we live our lives under the gaze of a holy God. Measured against his perfect standards, none of us measures up. God is holy, but humanity has fallen. By rights we are due the guilty verdict described in those verses. By rights, says Moses, we ought to be “consumed by his anger”, “terrified by his indignation” and fearful of his “wrath”. Honest self-examination should reveal to us our need for forgiveness from God, as well as for life beyond the grave.

  1. God is gracious, so rejoice and be glad! (v.13-17)

After that sombre reminder of our mortality and moral failings, the final paragraph of our Psalm comes as a welcome relief! It provides bright light at the end of the tunnel, good news to emphatically lighten the mood. Because the final four verses of our Psalm remind us that God is gracious, so we can rejoice and be glad!

God’s wonderful character traits are listed out in verses 13 to 17. He is compassionate towards his people, unfailing in his love and splendid to behold. This all means that God delights to give good things to us his children. If we are followers of Christ, we can approach God with confidence and hope. We can boldly ask for those things closest to our heart:

  • In the face of death, disease and ageing we can ask for strength and courage. We can ask God for a share in the resurrection of Christ, so that we will live with him forever in the world that is to come.
  • Secondly, when conscious of our weaknesses and failings we can ask God for a share in the grace and forgiveness won for us by the Lord Jesus, when he died for our sins upon the cross.
  • And thirdly, like Moses in the final verse of today’s psalm, we can also ask God to “establish the work of our hands”. In other words, we can ask God to ensure that our lives have a positive impact on our neighbours, friends and colleagues. We can ask his help to exhibit a Christ-like character that will be treasured by our loved ones long after we’ve gone.

We live in the midst of a fallen and fragile world, and we are fallen and fragile as individuals – but God is gracious, so let us rejoice and be glad!

Phil Weston