Psalm 90 & The Best Resolution for 2023

As we begin a new year, people look with hope and optimism that something much better is before them than what was previously experienced. This is what new year’s resolutions are all about. Hope and optimism are necessary for people in their pursuit of happiness in this life. But often these hopes are dashed with new hardships that lead people on endless search for that new thing will finally produce a happy, pain free life. Will it ever come?

The Scriptures are not silent about charactering the hardship of living under the sun due to the sin and curse of God for our rebellion. In this life, we will have much tribulation, but the question is whether we can move beyond earthly pessimism and optimism to something that provides us lasting happiness.

This is why Psalm 90 is one of the most helpful psalms to contemplate where true happiness can be found as we live in a world of death and sorrow.

Facing Our Reality

Psalm 90 is the only psalm authored by Moses in the psalter and was written for the tribes of Israel in the wilderness who faced many sorrows on their way to the promise land. It’s a psalm that draws you into the pain that Moses experienced during wilderness life. Moses had come to see firsthand the sorrows of humanity, and the transiency life under the sun.

This psalm was most likely written against the background of Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness, as recorded in the book of Numbers. The Lord rendered a great judgment on Israel: “They shall surely die in the wilderness. We read in Numbers 32, “And the LORD’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give (Num. 32:10).”

How devastating it must have been for Moses to watch an entire generation of Israel fall to death in the wilderness, unable to enter the land. Adding grief to more grief, Numbers 20 tells us that Moses’ siblings, Aaron and Miriam, died in the wilderness.

All Moses knew was a world of death coming out of Egypt. Those around him whom he loved, the closest of his family and friends, died before his face. Can you imagine his pain? Do you know this sorrow as the sentence of death is executed everywhere before our eyes, even upon those closest to us? The closer it hits to home, the more we know Moses’ pain.

With this context, we can appreciate the grief of Moses in the following words: “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 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 (Ps 90:3-6).”

Moses is thinking of the curse pronounced at creation: “From dust you were taken, and to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19).” This is the ugly reality of life. We are all dying. The wages of sin is death. Death knows no favorites, it comes for us and our children; it calls in a moment, and completely redirects out lives into a new path of grief.

As the lives of those closest to us expire before our eyes, our hearts are often crushed. There is no pain greater than to lose by death those closest to us, along with all of the painful forms death brings. Moses bemoans this: “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, you carry us away like a flood.”

The imminency of death is one of the many things our years under the sun says to us.

As we continue to read Psalm 90, things get worse for Moses and us. After facing the consequences of sin, Moses writes, “For we have been consumed in your anger, you have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance (Ps 90:8).”

Sin is the greatest problem for everyone dwelling under the sun. Our greatest problem is not American’s decline, or our financial woes, or a bad marriage, or the presidential election, or even our health. Too many people have made these diversions the issues of first importance in their lives while this dreadful of death reality looms over them. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “God is terribly angry about the sin we are born with as well as the sin we personally commit. As a just judge he punishes them both now and in eternity.”

This is truly the worst of all news. The summons can come to us at any moment, tonight your soul may be required of you, then what? Our rebellion from God, our departure from his will, our acceptance of Satan’s lie, has this as its reward: death. Then comes a final judgment and hell to follow, eternally, for the rebellion that was chosen by us in this life against God.

Sin and the judgment to come is the bad news of this life. All have committed treason against the Lord and are deserving of our impending deaths. If this were the end of Moses cry, there would be no hope, but thankfully, there is good news to report.

A Much Better Way Forward

Many struggle to see Moses’ answer in Psalm 90. Often, the solution of this psalm is presented rather moralistically, as if the imperative of verse 12 is the singular answer: “So teach is to number our days so that we gain a heart of wisdom.” Moses, however, pleads for something else first. Is there a way to escape the awful predicament into which we find ourselves? For “who knows the power of his anger (see vs. 11)?”
Following the terrifying question, comes a heartfelt plea to the Lord: “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 (Ps 90:14). A beautiful covenantal word is chosen by Moses. Give us, O Lord, your “chesed”—your merciful, faithful, loving, kind, gracious love that we might be happy in the days of our affliction.

Yes, we can be happy and live with true comfort in this life, even in the face of death. Moses appeals to the good news God announced from the beginning and demonstrated after the breaking of the covenant on Sinai. God promised a mediator, an intercessor, someone who could come into our world of sorrow and bear for us the punishment our sins deserve. There would be one who, in our place, and for us, know the power of his anger so that we never would. God promised to send his son Jesus, out of his great love with which he loved us, to come and stand in Israel’s place and in ours. Jesus made the journey through the wilderness, enduring the wrath of God, making a sacrifice for our sins, and opened up the promise land to us.

I believe this is what Moses realized, standing on the mountain that day realizing he would not enter the promise land. A greater one to come would (not insignificantly named “Joshua”, the Hebrew name for Jesus) bring us into the land. This makes the first verse of Psalm 90 most glorious: “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. (Ps. 90:1)” Jesus is our land! Moses would lose nothing. By faith Moses looked for the revelation of God’s steadfast love in the face of Jesus Christ, seeing in him the much greater land that Abraham taught everyone to seek.

This is the good news from heaven that is made known to the ends of the earth. This is why the Heidelberg Catechism states so confidently that our deaths are not due to his wrath against us, but instead, because of his steadfast love, our deaths put an end to our sinning and provide an entrance into eternal life, into the presence of Christ.

Psalm 90 is not an ominous psalm leaving he reader without hope. Moses says: “You are my land, my happiness, my forgiveness, my joy, my wisdom, my everything, O Adonai”. With you there is no lack!” This is what Moses can celebrate in the face of death. There is a better land, a renewed creation, a place prepared for us and we will soon be there, together. This is more certain than death itself.

Dear reader, when you believe in Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven, the sting of death is taken away, and you have the Lord himself, who is your inheritance and your eternal life. These present sorrows, soon, will be no more–forever.

Anyone who enters eternal life must repent and believe, they must come to Jesus first to receive forgiveness of their sins. Have you come to this only place of happiness? It will change how you look at everything, especially 2023 and beyond.