As the longest book in the Bible, and one that we often resort to in times of adversity, it is worth considering how we might get to grips with a Psalm. Below are some general and specific points (on Psalm 90) that may help us in our study.
P - POSITION
The book of the Psalms belongs to the poetic part of the Old Testament and some contextual points should be noted.
Spiritual Songs: The word "Psalm" signifies music accompanied by stringed instruments. The book is a collection of hymns for Israel to praise Jehovah (see Ps 145). It is therefore limited in its teaching for believers today for example, specific instruction on "church truth" is absent.
Poetic Pentateuch: The book has a five-fold division with parallels to the introductory books of the Bible. Psalm 90, for example, commences the fourth section and, with an overall emphasis on wandering (as in the book of Numbers), it ends appropriately with Psalm 106. In studying individual Psalms, it is important to keep in mind their position relative to the overall book.
Human Hearts: The Psalms span a significant period of history for Israel. From Moses (Ps 90) through to the kings and beyond, they reflect the innermost thoughts of Israel and their leaders. The Psalms are thus ideal material to help us prepare for worship and thanksgiving.
Messianic Ministry: We should remember that certain Psalms can only be interpreted in light of the Lord Jesus (Ps 2,8,16,22,24,40,41,45,68,69, 72,89,91,102,110 and 118). "The Messianic Psalms deserve sincere and serious study" (What the Bible Teaches Psalms; J M Flanigan; John Ritchie Ltd, 2001).
S - STRUCTURE
Individual Psalms have their own unique structure and a suggested division of Psalm 90 is outlined below.
Man and His Maker (vv.1-6): Whereas the Lord is eternal (and Creator, v.2), man is mortal and part of creation (v.3). The section presents a sharp distinction between the timeless character of Jehovah (v.4) and the temporary abode of humans on earth (v.5).
Sin and its Sentence (vv.7-11): All sin is known to Jehovah (v.8) and it brings certain judgment upon the perpetrators (vv.7, 9-11). The time-bounded span of life was of relevance to the Israelites, particularly with the destruction of the older generation in the wilderness (cp Num 14.29-34).
Prayer and its Petition (vv.12-17): This section of the Psalm deals with the request of Moses for wisdom, joy and fellowship with Jehovah.
A - AUTHOR
Aside from the divine Author (2 Tim 3.16), certain Psalms have an attributed human author (Moses in the case of Ps 90). What then do we know of Moses from this Psalm?
Importance: Moses is described as the "man of God" (cp Deut 33.1). This is a designation reserved for a select few in Scripture and reflects the prophetic office held by Moses. The New Testament believer can grow into a state of spiritual maturity by following the instruction of Scripture (1 Tim 6.11-12; 2 Tim 3.16-17).
Reverence: Moses begins and concludes his prayer by addressing Jehovah as "Lord" (vv.1,17), which is a display of reverence. The believer today is privileged to know God as "Father" (Mt 6.9), but, as with Moses, we need to be reverent as we address Him in prayer.
Eloquence: The man who was "mighty in words" (Acts 7.22) was equally able to strike lofty notes of praise. In terms of worship, Moses is a good example for us to follow.
Intelligence: Moses knew that man is mortal (v.3 translates a Hebrew word for "man" which means frail or weak). The less we think of ourselves the better we are in the sight of God.
Persistence: The Psalm is not the only insight into the prayer life of Moses. Study of this Psalm should lead us to consider other incidents when the "man of God" prayed (eg Ex 32.11-13; Num 14.13-19).
L - LORD
Each Psalm carries important instruction about Jehovah. For example, in Ps 90 we learn the following:
Habitation: Moses spoke of the Lord as the refuge for His people (v.1). The Tabernacle has come and gone but the New Testament believer is no less privileged (cp 1 Tim 3.15).
Exaltation: The opening two verses of the Psalm are rich in their understanding of God. In a Psalm that unfolds the power of the Lord, consider how He is eternal (v.2) and therefore without comparison.
Satisfaction: Despite the judgment in the Psalm, Moses desired times when he would be satisfied with the Lords loving-kindness (v.14). Has that been our experience today?
Manifestation: The prayer of Moses concludes with a sublime request that the people of God would reflect the beauty of God (v.17). Do we manifest this divine character to others (2 Cor 4.11)?
M - MINISTRY
Each Psalm has its own specific line of teaching. Psalm 90 presents some basic principles to help improve our prayer life. For example, consider the following features:
Necessity: If Moses considered it vital to supplicate heaven then the same holds for believers today. We should each echo the desire of the disciples in Lk 11.1 "Lord, teach us to pray".
Spirituality: Notice the sequence in the prayer of Moses it begins with praise (vv.1-11) before moving to petition (vv.12-17). A necessary element of prayer (including intercessory prayer) is praise and thanksgiving (Phil 4.6).
Humility: Moses lived under the all-seeing eye of Jehovah (v.8) and he took the low place before Him (consider, for example, the similes Moses used for mankind in vv.5-6).
Specificity: Moses had a clear view of what he wanted for himself and the nation each phrase between v.12 and v.17 contains a specific request.
Brevity: Not to limit the time we spend in the Sanctuary, but this prayer of Moses takes around 2 minutes to read!
To be continued.