Psalm 90: A Psalm of Punishment and Hope

Do me a favor and please read Psalm 90.

Psalm 90 to 106 are considered the “Numbers” psalms in that they speak of the Kingdom of Israel in relation to her neighbors – and hopefully one “theme” you’ll see throughout these 17 psalms is the blessings of God TOWARDS his people as well as his steadfastness and faithfulness.

The common belief is that this is, like the subscript says in our bibles, a prayer of Moses. And if that is the case this is the oldest psalm we have. And as we read this text we get the feeling that something is going on between God and his people that is causing them pains. While there is this praise of just how mighty and above all things God is – there is also the reality of that truth that doesn’t sit well with Moses. Numerous times we see this reference to God being above “time” and thus 70 years of a human life is really nothing in comparison to God’s time. So where does that leave us? Enter Canaan (Numbers 13-14). Scratch that…go back to the desert instead now.

This psalm, this prayer, this reflection by Moses is in response to their failure as God’s chosen people to enter into the Promised Land early on (after Egypt). And BECAUSE they did not obey, because they feared the people instead of God, because they doubted the strength God had in them (and then doubting God himself) they are being punished. Wanderings in the desert, reflections on the frailty of life and the hope of one day seeing that Promised Land are all but pipe dreams to most of them. Now, because of their blatant disobedience (all but Caleb that is) they deal with the punishment handed down by God.

I don’t think any of us ever like to be punished. As a kid THE WORST punishment for me was to simply send me to my room. Endless hours of sitting there and having to be by myself? THE WORST. I recall even asking to be spanked or slapped just so I didn’t have to play by myself (it sounds weird to desire corporal punishment over solitary confinement…but I think I’d still take that to this day). And it wasn’t fair either because my sister would get punished and be sent to her room and she’d thrive! Playing with her toys and using her imagination was something she was good at. I was good at that too – but only when it involved other people playing with me (in full disclosure – I can really only recall a handful of times my sister was sent to her room because she did something bad…in most cases it was me who did something, or at least maybe it felt like it was always me because the solitude was excruciating and apparently scarring).

I don’t know what it is about being punished – but whatever it is in that moment the world seems to stop. Anything is better than this moment. Maybe it’s the reflections that took place that put us there? Maybe it’s the swimming in our own sadness or even feeling that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Regardless of where we find ourselves there definitely is this feeling that this punishment will never end.

Moses realizes the mistake that they have made: they didn’t trust God. God told them what to do and where to go. He constantly had watched over them, fought for them, encouraged and protected them up until this moment and yet they got scared and took their eyes off God and placed them on the very large groupings of people that were in the territory. Instead of listening, focusing, and following the Almighty, they flat-out disobeyed, disrespected, rebelled, and ignored him. So here they sit, in their room, by themselves, simply wanting God to take it all away. “Come tell me I can leave my room and go play with my friends! Spank me so that this punishment will be over, please!? I’ve been in here FOREVER and thinking about what I’ve done and I’m sorry.

We know how this story plays out because we have the whole rest of the Bible at our fingertips. That while God IS above time and space and our lifetime is but a breath of a breath in his…his anger does relent. The people wander for a while and then find rest. They disobey lots more times too but God never is what Moses feels God is in this moment. Numerous times in this text we get this sense that Moses feels that God is VERY angry. That he yells out “Return to dust, you mortals!” (vs 3) and then his anger consumes and brings terror upon the people (vs 7). And while these are true (we do return to dust and we should be terrified of God’s anger) never does God allow those things to get the best of us. And we know this because WE KNOW THE STORY AND HAVE THE REST OF THE BIBLE AT OUR FINGERTIPS! God’s love doesn’t relent. God’s forgiveness never wanes. Yes God is outside of our “time” but he steps INTO our time as well. Both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit step into our time and bring peace, love, harmony, joy, hope, and life. While yes our days may come to “seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures” but because of God’s love, because of God’s covenant, because of his redeeming our sinful lives it doesn’t end there. Yes we toil and struggle and have pains during those 70-80 years on this earth but this too is but a breath of a breath in the life to come! Because if God is “outside of time” that too becomes OUR reality because as redeemed children of God we are also heirs. By what Christ has done we are given eternity with him in the New Heaven and New Earth. God does not allow us to stay locked up in our rooms for eternity because of the sins we commit. And in truth? The punishment we receive DOES NOT match the sins we commit – because we are actually given hope and life when we deserve death and destruction… but that’s a whole other blog.

Psalm 90 is a timeless psalm that draws me to a place of hope, a place of restoration and a place of love. Maybe it’s just me but I’m reminded of all that God could do and that I deserve and yet I’m brought to peace by what he has done, continues to do, and gives me anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s