During the early years of Moses’ life he lived what we might call a ‘charmed life.’ As a member of the Egyptian royal family he possessed extraordinary wealth, power, fame and success. Yet in due time he decided to leave all that behind him and ultimately lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

The latter experience was about as far removed from his ‘dream’ lifestyle in Egypt as you could possibly imagine, ie a nomadic lifestyle where Egyptian-style creature comforts were hard to come by. In addition, the people were tried to the very limit of their faith, where sin and God’s wrath followed.

These events would have shocked and dismayed Moses and caused him to think deeply about what it all meant, what he and his people could learn from such tragedy and how he could best respond. Perhaps it was with this in mind that Moses wrote the words we now call Psalm 90. The Psalm is so relevant to us because – like Moses and the children of Israel – we are often confronted with situations which test the endurance of our faith.

The Illusion of Tomorrows Forever Coming

The Psalm begins: “A prayer of Moses the man of God. “LORD, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men” (v1-3).

Moses highlights the problem of human mor­tality, contrasting man’s inevitable destruction to the everlasting nature of God. What a problem it is – and how confronting – when we find ourselves remembering some departed loved one. There is something truly shocking about the finality of death.

He uses quite graphic language to describe that departure: “For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morn­ing it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth” (v4­ 6)! Here we are told we are like a “watch in the night” which in Old Testament times was sometimes divided into three, or – some commentators say – four parts. So three or four hours is what our life amounts to from a divine perspective. How different then is our sense of time relative to God’s! In reality we really do not live long at all.

Like a flood sweeping over the earth, God takes away the lives of men. Death does not discriminate. It does not distinguish between how smart we are, how wealthy, how nice, how good looking, how heroic, how fit or how strong but, like a flood, it just destroys. We are effectively no different from grass, and Isaiah observes that “all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it” (40:6,7). We are repeatedly reminded of the frailty of our life. Moses’ message over those first five or six verses is that death is a huge problem, the ultimate problem for humanity in fact, without exception.

We might say – as Christadelphians – surely this should not be a problem for us. After all, we have the hope of the resurrection and immortality at our fingertips. However, in reality we do have a difficulty. We quite often do not, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day actually behave as if we really believe that. We continually find ourselves lapsing into sin, as though the termination of our life were not really true at all. We sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that our life will last so long and so indulging in a bit of sin here or there is not really a huge problem. That mistake was one which Moses saw the children of Israel make en masse! He declared they are “a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut 32:28-29).

But they did not, and would not consider their latter end! Many did not, not in the wilderness, nor during the time of the Judges or the Kings, nor the exile, nor beyond, nor even to this very day but then, neither sometimes do we. Our view on life and resistance to sin is continually compromised by the illusion that our tomorrows will never stop coming. That is why, at the end of his bitter life, the wisest man in the then-known world concluded, “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart” (Eccl 7:2).

Have we ever noticed how often in Proverbs Solomon commends to us the need to “get wisdom” and wonders how, in practical terms we can actually do that? Well here, many years later, he answers that inferred question to himself when writing Ecclesiastes. He implores us to take ourselves to the house of mourning which equates to a funeral and there lay to heart the issue of our mortality, the end of all men. Have we ever noticed how marketing experts of the modern world do not use funerals to sell their products? Instead they prefer fun in the sun in a beach setting, a beautiful home or sophisticated office scenes. Funeral settings with grim-faced, weeping people in attendance would not help to sell things so well because the natural man does not want to go there. He does not want to confront his inevitable end.

Moses prays that we might “number our days, that we may apply our heart unto wisdom” (v12). We need to see our end as God does, to number our days and let it influence our actions for good. This – Moses and Solomon alike say – is how we gain the wisdom we so desperately need but which can be so difficult to gain in practice.

The Illusion that Secret Sins Lack Consequence

The children of Israel had sinned terribly at various times in the wilderness and this – in the language of verses 7 and 9 – incurred the wrath of God: “For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.” These were sins which they thought – on a subconscious level at least – would not register with God, or would be secret. Of course they were anything but secret, being set before the very light of the countenance of Almighty God in all their detail (v8).

This is a problem for us as well. We may like to pretend to ourselves that our sins will somehow fly under God’s radar because they are not all that bad or because we have some pseudo-justification in our mind. That has been happening ever since Adam and Eve wore fig leaves in Eden even though we know we can never deceive an all-knowing God. Solomon found this out the hard way, summing up the sentiment in Ecclesiastes: “For God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (12:14).

So here is another illusion which continually clouds our judgment, one which subconsciously says that if we keep our sins secret or give God less than our best effort, nobody will know and nothing bad will happen. When in fact, everybody will know in due time and everything bad will happen at the Judgment Seat, if not before. Given our lifespan of seventy years and limited strength, sadly we ex­perience “labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath” (v10-11). That divine wrath, ultimately seen in the cutting off of their very life, was the undoing of the children of Israel, as it can be for us, if we follow the same path.

When we Fail we must Run to God our Refuge

What, in practical terms can we do when we in­evitably fail and stray into sin? The only solution is in returning to our God: “Return, O LORD, how long? And let it repent thee concerning thy serv­ants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days! Make us glad ac­cording to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil” (v13-15).

Here then we see Moses’ solution to end their affliction. He effectively fell on his knees and begged that God would forgive them and show His mercy in due time. They had indeed seen great evil, suf­fering and affliction because of their inability to see beyond the here and now and behave as God wanted them to. In the end, however, there was only one solution and that was to turn to the refuge that is in Almighty God and pray to Him. This then is the only credible, lasting solution when we find ourselves downtrodden and afflicted because of our mistakes. We have to go looking for God’s forgiveness and ask Him, sometimes even beg Him, that He will help us improve. Moses knew that and he knew how important it was to recognise and appreciate this. He concludes: “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us: yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (v16,17).

Moses asked that he and his brothers and sisters would in time see God’s glory, the ultimate mani­festation of which he knew would be entry into the Promised Land, not just literally there and then, but in its eternal manifestation. This would be a place where all the good things they had done would be established forever (v17) and mortality would play a dreaded part no more.

Moses – like us – was looking for a safe haven beyond the wilderness of life and beyond the treach­eries of sin and death. He longed for the dwelling place where God dwelt (v1). In a similar vein he said to the children of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, Destroy!” (Deut 33:27). God is our refuge. Let us reach out and hold onto our God when we realise we have made a mistake and appeal to His mercy from the bottom of our heart. If we express our desire to be close to Him and in due time gain His Kingdom, we will be so much better off.

Conclusion

So let us then turn our attention firmly to Christ and the emblems. Psalm 90 has some challenging, yet at the same time encour­aging messages for us. On one hand, Moses sets forth a challenge to resist the deceptiveness of our sins and their consequences, to resist the illusion that life will just keep on going and the illusion that our sins and our apathy towards God and His people are inconsequential. However, on the other hand, we need to face the challenge to embrace our God when we inevitably fail and take refuge in His loving arms. We can take comfort from knowing that He wants us in His Kingdom and from knowing that the Kingdom is so very close. Pray God it will be through His mercy that we will be there!