Two traditions go along with Psalm 90. First, authorship of the Psalm is ascribed to Moses (also the author of the first five books of the Bible, including Genesis). Second, the Psalm is a song of Adam, the first human being.
Adam begins by singing to the Creator-God, Who was eternally God before the Creation. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God” (90:2). This is in accord with Paul’s teaching that the Creation should point us to the eternal God: “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). This is Adam’s reflection on the Creation, written through Moses in Genesis 1-2. We know from experience, however, that there is a Genesis 3. Adam’s song continues to reflect this reality.
“You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’” (90:3).
“For we are brought to an end by Your anger; by Your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence. For all our days pass away under Your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. 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” (90:7-10).
This is the curse of Adam and all those in Adam:
- “And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return’” (Genesis 3:17-19).
- “...sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned...many died through one man’s trespass...because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man...one trespass led to condemnation for all men...by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:12-21).
- “...by a man came death...in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:21,22).
- “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust...as was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust...we have borne the image of the man of dust” (1 Corinthians 15:47-59).
As Adam’s Psalm sings, we are familiar with God’s wrath and we are acquainted with the shortness of our lives before we return to the dust as a result of that wrath. We also have in this Psalm testimony to Adam’s post-Fall faith in the promise of salvation through Christ, however. It involves a repentant reflection on sin and the deserved wrath, but looks forward by faith to the fulfillment of the promised curse of the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). The woman’s “offspring” (literally, “seed”) is the promised Christ Who came into the world the first Advent through the virgin (Luke 1:28-37) to destroy the works of the serpent (1 John 3:8). From Noah’s father (Genesis 5:28,29) to Simeon (Luke 2:25), God’s elect awaited the coming of this serpent-crusher.
Adam, along with his repentant consideration of his sin before an offended God (Psalm 90), made a confession of faith in the promise of Genesis 3:15 in the naming of his wife: “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). She cannot be said to be the “mother of all living” in a merely biological sense because both he and she were under a sentence of death (Genesis 2:16,17; consider also the repetition of “and he died” in chapter 5). Adam’s naming of his wife is a statement of faith in the promise of a Savior coming through her seed Who would bring life to God’s people. Psalm 90 also shows this faith in the coming One: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on Your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love [חסד, or covenant-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” (90:12-15).
Man was created to work (Genesis 1:28); contrary to the view of our culture, in fact, the commission to work is introduced by the verb “blessed.” Adam still had this understanding, and it is reflected in his song: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (90:17). This same attitude of seeing God’s favor and blessing in daily work is also seen in Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12,13,22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8,9. Sadly, it would not take long for humanity to stop singing a prayer for God’s blessing over daily labor. Soon they would begin worshiping the work of their hands (Deuteronomy 4:28; 2 Kings 19:18; 22:17; 2 Chronicles 32:19; Psalm 115:4; 135:15; Isaiah 2:8; 37:19; Jeremiah 25:6; Hosea 14:3; Micah 5:13; Revelation 9:20). And they haven’t stopped.
Psalm 90 is the song of Adam, which Moses was inspired by the Holy Spirit to record for us. This is not the end of this story, however, for there is another Adam, and He, too, has a song: Psalm 91.
The apostle Paul describes Christ, the serpent-crushing seed of the woman, as the second Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:45). Psalm 91 is the song of the second Adam. The serpent knew this as he tempted the second Adam, not in a garden, but in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11//Luke 4:1-13). The serpent mis-applies Psalm 91:11,12 (after all, twisting Scripture worked the first time – Genesis 3:1-6). It is about Christ, but the serpent’s application of it – God’s protection means a life with no trauma – is faulty, and Christ sees right through it.
“Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written [in Psalm 90:11,12], “‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written [in Deuteronomy 6:16], “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”’” (Matthew 4:5-7).
So how are we to apply Psalm 91? Applying it immediately to ourselves falls quickly into the serpent’s way of application, for God’s people do experience difficulty and trial in this world. In fact, we are promised this tribulation (John 15:19,20; 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 8:36; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12)! Claiming Psalm 91 for ourselves will lead us into conflict with the words of Jesus and the apostles.
Psalm 91 is the song of the second Adam. In the verse immediately following the ones the serpent mis-applied, we have the Singer identified in connection with the original Gospel promise of the first Adam’s faith: “...the serpent You will trample underfoot” (91:13).
It is the song of One Who eternally was one with the Father, enjoying His presence. In this world it was Christ’s focus – returning to the presence of the Father, even if it was through the cross: “Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
The Singer of Psalm 91, the second Adam, rejoices in this eternal fellowship and Presence as a Person of the Trinity: “He Who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and My fortress, My God, in Whom I trust’...You have made the LORD Your dwelling place - the Most High, Who is My refuge” (91:1,2,9).
In return, God promises the Singer deliverance: “For He will deliver You from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover You with His pinions, and under His wings You will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at Your side, ten thousand at Your right hand, but it will not come near You. You will only look with Your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked...no evil shall be allowed to befall You, no plague come near Your tent. For He will command His angels concerning You to guard You in all Your ways. On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent You will trample underfoot” (91:3-8,10-13).
Reading the prayer of the grieved Soul in the
the torture and crucifixion, it may seem that the song was sung in vain. He
wasn’t rescued or preserved, it seems. garden
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46//Mark 15:34). Another song of Christ (Psalm 22:1). After hearing Him sing this one through split lips with ragged breath, how can we believe that He sings Psalm 91, as well? How can we reconcile these two? The writer of Hebrews brings it together for us. “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). “He was heard”? Is this mockery? He prayed for deliverance from death and still died! How can the writer say that Christ’s prayer for deliverance “was heard”?
Because of the resurrection. The apostle Peter tells us that David pens another Psalm which prophetically saw the resurrection: “...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says concerning Him [in Psalm 16:8-11], ‘I saw the Lord always before Me, for He is at My right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore My heart was glad, and My tongue rejoiced; My flesh also will dwell in hope. For You will not abandon My soul to Hades, or let Your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to Me the paths of life; You will make Me full of gladness with Your presence.’ Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that He would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God...” (Acts 2:23-33).
This is not the song of a problem-free life, but the song of the eternal Son of God Who added humanity to His eternal deity and became the promised serpent-crusher, the Awaited One. This is not the song of health and wealth in this broken world, but the song of the One Whose heel was bruised by the serpent even as He crushed that serpent’s head. This is not the song of terrestrial utopia, but of a passing through death into eternal life in the presence of Joy Himself.
“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him” (Romans 6:9).
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:17,18).
Psalm 91 is the song of the second Adam, Who enters the world to save us from the curse through His death and returns to the presence of God after the resurrection: “Because He holds fast to Me in love, I will deliver Him; I will protect Him, because He knows My name. When He calls to Me, I will answer Him; I will be with Him in trouble; I will rescue Him and honor Him. With long life I will satisfy Him and show Him My salvation” (91:14-16).
Sing Psalm 90, Church. In repentance sing of the curse of a temporary life under wrath that soon enough will return to dust. Sing of the gracious mercy of the covenant-God, Who calls us to faith in Him the days of the labor and toil which He has given us.
Sing Psalm 91, Church. Sing of the One Who left the eternal Presence of God and came to crush the serpent’s head. Sing of the One Who did not yield to a world-loving mis-application of Scripture, but kept His faith placed on God alone even through death unto resurrection. Put your faith in Him alone for your salvation, for He does not go to the Presence of God for Himself alone. He goes to lead us home. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Sing the songs of Adam, Church.