Lesson 43 –
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 NRSV
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
13 Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and prosper for us the work of our hands — O prosper the work of our hands!
This psalm is the “only psalm tied to Moses in its superscription.” According to W.H. Bellinger, Jr., the tie to Moses help readers recall an earlier time in history. Even more, the superscription (above in italicized green) transports readers (or hearers) to a time before the monarchy, before the temple, before the exodus. It reminds people to think about how far they have come. It is also a reminder that people have always found some way to seek the face of God. In your own devotional period, read Psalm 89 and Psalm 91. How does this passage square up against the psalms that sandwich it?
Today’s lesson will focus on asking God for balance. Read the scripture out loud together. Discuss with someone in your home. What are some faithful traditions you know of in your family? Have you started any new ones lately?
What’s happening during this passage?
Remember, the lectionary chooses certain verses to highlight. In this passage, note that there are verses not included. The writer of this passage calls on God as the “dwelling place,” and not just for the individual. The dwelling place has been such in “all generations.” The passage points to the majesty of creation. Even before these wonders like mountains were formed, God was God, from “everlasting to everlasting.” Time is relative for God, who can see one thousand years and “sweep them away” like a “dream.” Skipping some verses that do not appear in the lectionary selection, the writer then shifts tone drastically.
The writer wonders, “Turn, O Lord! How long?! Have compassion on your servants.” The psalm transitions from a psalm of praise and wonder to one about accountability. The passage ends with the writer asking to be “satisfied with love,” to be made glad as many days as” God has afflicted them, and to let the Lord’s “work be manifest.”
What’s with the stark contrast?
The writer in the beginning of this passage sounds like a completely different person than the person at the end of the passage. In the beginning, we have a vision of a God who is full of wonder, majesty, awe, creativity. This God is massive, larger than time, more expansive than human imagination. But the end of the passage features the writing of someone who could be doing more but isn’t. The writer wants balance. Give us glad days as “many days as you have afflicted us,” they say! The end of the passage comes off as a list of demands to a God who can do and be more for the people. After all, the writer is asking for “compassions on your servants.” This is not a stranger asking for kindness from another stranger. But instead, this is an intimate relationship between People and Their God.
Can you really talk to God like that?
Given what the people have been through, it is normal and natural for the people to have demands of God. It is part of the tradition at this time to express raw and unfiltered human emotion. While some will argue that we “ought not question God,” here we have evidence of people making asks of God. At the very least, the writer asks for as many glad days as afflicted days. “If I must endure the pain of these days,” the writer essentially says, “then may I have just as many days of joy?”
What is the difference between a “dwelling place” and a “home?”
The word “dwelling” is used many times in the Old Testament. It comes with the connotation of “refuge,” more than static and permanent home. It is used to describe the abode of God, humans, or animals. It is a “retreat,” a safe place. God is, and should always be, a safe place to seek refuge in the middle of turmoil.
Consider the song, “Praise Him” –
God is our rock,
Hope of salvation,
A strong deliverer,
In Him will I always trust.
You may not have a permanent address, but God can still be your dwelling place. God still gets prayer mail and hears your concerns, even if your postal mail is being forwarded to a cousin’s house.
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
Connection to Today’s World
Indhira Udofia is a clinician and a student in the joint PhD Program of Social Work at North Carolina A&T University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In her own words, she is dedicated to “helping others live toward full affirmation.” She places particular emphasis on queer and trans communities of color as she seeks to assist people and communities attempting to “address spiritual trauma in faith spaces.”
In other words, what does one do when religious leaders have tainted the idea of God being a refuge? How do you pick up the pieces after religious abuse, after spiritual manipulation and malpractice? Using a trauma-informed and spiritually sensitive lens, Udofia walks with people who are hoping to reclaim wholeness. Through her program, Sanctuary of the Seeking, she provides consultations, trainings, workshops, peer support and coaching, spiritual counseling, and advice on spiritual retreats.
Consider, for example, how this resource may support Black people who grew up believing God loved them less than White folk. Consider how this resource may help cash-poor folks (who are often manipulated by prosperity preachers) articulate a more accessible theology of giving? Udofia’s work amplifies the hope to make the good days as numerous as the bad days. For more, Check out https://www.sanctuaryoftheseeking.org/
Journal: Can you see your own experience in this psalm? Where, if so?
Closing: Read Isaac Watts’ 1719 hymn, a paraphrase of Psalm 90.
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast
and our eternal home.
Be thou our guard while life shall last,
and our eternal home.
Here is a more contemporary prayer:
You are the memory of where we have been and the anticipation of where we are going.
Though we are not yet in possession of all we have been promised, here and there along the way we catch glimpses of our eternal home. O Lord, you are our home along the way and at the end of the journey. For traveling with us, for rescuing us when we are lost, and for calling us into your holy place, thanks be to you, O God, our eternal home.
You are bigger than our imagination. You are beyond time, even though you enter into time. You are more generous than our human limitation. You are kinder than we can attempt to be.
We need your vastness in this season, especially. We need your eternal wisdom, your generosity, your kindness, your compassion. As Nigerian citizens continue to be pummeled by violent forces and the United States faces increasing unrest, we need to know that you are with us and on our side. We need to know that you will give us more delight and safety than pain and suffering.
God, we ask for your love, your mercy, your justice, your Goodness. We thank you for all the good you have done that we haven’t even noticed thus far.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.