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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Because of Your Great Love We are Not Consumed


"Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days." Psalm 90:14

Psalm 90 is a bit like when you’re in the car and the rain is falling hard where you are, but ahead you can see bright sunshine. And then it dawns on you that behind the car there must be a stunning rainbow.


This Psalm starts with bright sunshine, has a dismal middle, and ends with a gorgeous and stunning rainbow.


We’re taking a break from Mark’s gospel this week to turn our gaze on Easter. And you might be thinking this isn’t a very eastery text, - Psalm 22 is the Psalm you wanted to take us to - which is true at one level. But at another level it’s more - so much more - eastery than it appears on the surface. So, I want to try to direct our gaze easter-wards this morning with the help of this Psalm of Moses, even if this isn’t an explicitly Easter text.

This is probably the oldest of all the psalms which is fitting because ‘time’ forms a persistent theme throughout it. In fact, I count only 4 out of the 17 verses that don’t have a reference to ‘time’ in them.


The occasion for the Psalm could have been the golden calf incident at the foot of mount Sinai; it could have been the rebellions over food and water prior to that. We don’t really know. It doesn’t really matter. The Psalm isn’t so situationally critical. In one sense it could apply to all of Israel’s history, and in one sense it can apply to all of life - even ourlives.

Up top in the Psalm is the God of Moses and his people (v.1-2). Then the middle section (verses 3 to 11) is Moses turning the spotlight on the people God has made - what they are like and where they stand in relationship to their maker, God. And the final section (verses 12 to 17) is the climaxing prayer to God that solves the problem of the middle part of the Psalm.


So that’s how I want us to receive the Psalm this morning. Ultimate reality (God) - Massive existential problem (Humanity) - Prayer for a decisive solution (People to God).

So, in verse 1 - Moses isn’t turning the spotlight on people yet, when he says: ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations’. The point of saying ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling place’ is to say, ‘throughout all generations we have lived under the shelter of your care and grace’.

In other words, ‘we don’t live and move and have our being (to borrow words from the Apostle Paul in Acts) because of ourselves, we live and move and have our being because of you O Lord. Every generation of people is reliant on you. You’re the sovereign one. You’re the non-contingent one. We’re dependent - we need constant help and support and care and attention. You’re the opposite’.


So, Moses’ first word in the Psalm is to extol the worth and sufficiency and essentialness of God to people. In other words, he wants us to appreciate the reality of who God is. He wants us to lift our eyes up off the earth and see how important God is and how worthy he is of our appreciation.

Then, in verse 2 he adds to that emphasis by sketching the eternal nature of God. We live on an earth with features we cannot contend with. Like mountains that remain steadfast for all generations. No one can move them. Their roots are as old as the earth itself.

Or think of the earth in its orbit around the sun - who can shift it? No one.

The earth has attributes that make us look so limited. ‘But’, Moses is saying, ‘before the mountains even existed or the earth was formed, you God were there’ - ‘From everlasting to everlasting you are God’.

God is not limited by the ageless mountains. God is not limited by the earth in its orbit. He made them - Moses says that. We are limited - he’s not! He is eternal and greater than the earth and greater than us.

So, the first two verses show us the stunning reality of an independent and eternal God.

And none of that truth is any reason why people should be afraid of God. It’s massive reason why they should revere him, and honour him, and never conflate him with anything that’s been made. But it’s no reason to fear that he might turn around and squash us with all that transcendent power.

So, it’s meant to be alarming to us then, that in verse 3 Moses turns the Psalm to more sinister and foreboding tones.

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals”’.


Verse 4 contrasts verses 5 & 6 in terms of time. The way God views time and the way we view time are very different. We’re subject to time. But God is outside of time; so that all of time is in the present to him.

We flow with time; he sits above time. To him, a thousand years are like a day or, verse 4, like a watch in the night (like 4 hours).

In other words, time has no grip on God like it does on us. Peter says the same, ‘with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day’. He’s not subject to time like we are.


And the thing that makes us so enslaved to time is right there in verse 5 - death. ‘You sweep people away in the sleep of death - they are like new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered’.


So, it is with our lives. Time destroys our lives. We are like streams that endlessly and rapidly roll to an inevitable destiny. Birth is the source and death is the destination. And it happens quickly!


Not so with God though. He exists outside of time, unaffected by its power. He is no stream, with source and destination. He simply is! Just like he told Moses – ‘I am who I am’. So, there is a fundamental difference between us and God in terms of time and it has to do with death. We are mortal, but he is immortal.

Return to dust’ Moses says God commands the life of a mortal to do.


Moses wasn’t around when God told Adam that’s what would happen to people from then on. But Moses did record those fateful words of God, for God.

Moses wrote in Genesis 3:19, ‘By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return’.


Those are God’s words to the first man - Adam - that explain the consequences of his rejection of God.

Adam’s eating of the fruit is not just disobedience, it’s corrupt preference. It’s choosing the less good in the place of the more good. It’s a turning of his back on everything that is eternally good and satisfying for his soul, in favour of a moment of prohibited pleasure. And God says: ‘To dust you will return, mortal!’

Between the sin and the curse, God’s posture towards humanity changes. Before the sin he was for them - after it, he’s against them. That’s what we see now in verses 7 & 8.


God turning people back to dust in verse 3 is the outworking - the manifestation - of his posture that Moses highlights for us in verses 7 & 8.


God’s posture towards people is overwhelming. Listen carefully to verse 7, ‘We are consumed by your anger and terrified in your indignation’.


Moses is saying God’s anger eternally burns against the children of men. And the reason is because of what the central verse of the Psalm says - verse 8: ‘You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence’.


Our sins are of such a nature that God has chosen to place them before himself - within his own gaze - so that they will never be overlooked. So that his anger will never diminish or fade.


There is something about our sin that means that God is determined to be angry with sinners. There is something about our sins which so strikes at the core of who God is that if he were to relent; if he were to forget them, he would have to cease to be God.


Hebrews 4:13 says, ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before him to whom we must give an account’.


God has made sure that when people stand before him that he will be able show them the evidence of his accusations against them and sanction his just and righteous anger on them.


This must happen – nothing less than God’s righteousness is at stake.

Put simply, if God were not to punish sin, he would not be a good God. He would be a God who endorsed evil. God is worthy of all honour and to endorse people who dishonour him by turning a blind eye to their dishonouring would be to endorse evil. And that would make him evil. And God cannot be evil, or he would cease to be God!


So, God, must uphold the value of his honour which is what is the essence of his righteousness.

And sin is the opposite of that. So, God has set people’s sin before him - in the light of his own presence for the purposes of holding people to account for them and satisfying his righteous anger on them.

Hence: verse 7, ‘we are consumed by his anger and terrified by his indignation’.

Hence: verse 9, ‘All our days pass away under his wrath; and we finish our years with a moan’.

Hence: verse 10, ‘Our days may come to seventy, or eighty, if our strength endures, yet even the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass and we fly away’ – fly away to give a damnableaccount of ourselves to a wronged and angry God.


Sin is not a minor issue; it’s not an inconvenient unmentionable. Sin is not subject to the prevailing views of our time where you can rename it and make it disappear. Sin is a fixed feature in the presence of almighty God that he will have satisfaction for.

I wonder if we have become altogether too comfortable with the idea of sin. Moses is demanding that we see sin in all its deepest, darkest, deadliest, hues.

And that we know how God feels about it. That we fear a God who is no longer for us but against us. Who says, ‘return to dust you mortal’, on account of our sin.

Now, if we emerge from this middle part of the Psalm feeling very troubled and very hopeless, then I think we are where Moses wants his audience to be.


Verse 11 confirms his desire for his readers - that they know the reality of God’s anger. He says, ‘If only we knew the power of your anger.


In the mind of Moses, the main issue with people is that they soothe and pacify their own minds and hearts with respect to sin, and with respect to God’s anger with them for it.


What we need, according to Moses, is a healthy sense of God’s anger against sin. But not only his anger, also the power of his anger. Do you see that in the verse? His anger is powerful.

His anger is effective, unquenchable, irresistible, unimaginable, consuming, and terrifying.

Moses says, if only we knew the reality of it - that would change things.

Here’s how to understand God’s anger: It’s as fearsome as the respect that is due to his name.

Moses says, ‘your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due’ (v.11).


In other words, the respect and honour that belong to God because of who he is by nature, is equivalent to the wrath that God will kindle against anybody who dishonours him.


The question then is: how big is the honour that is due to God? Answer: since he is an infinite God, the honour is an infinite honour. So then, we know how great his wrath is against sinners - it’s infinite!

It’s no wonder Moses teaches us how to begin to pray! Verse 12 is a prayer: ‘Teach us, God, to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom’.

This sin problem is so massive, so consequential, so eternal, so meaningful that we need to see it for what it really is. And to do that we need a heart of wisdom.


Our hearts will take the spiritual opium forever unless we are given a heart of wisdom. The heart of wisdom says, ‘Our days are like the mist on a cold morning, or like new grass in the morning’ - as soon as they are born, they are gone.

And we will fly away and face God in the heavenly places with all our sin piled up, and looking down the barrel of God’s fierce hot anger.

So, prayer number 1 is: ‘teach us Lord to not live like we’re going to live forever’. ‘Teach us lord to live like today could be our last, and to face up to our sin problem and to face up to your disposition towards us because of it’.


Because in that state of alertness there is only one possible way to proceed.

It is not to try to fix the situation.

You can’t get at the sins that God has already whisked away and piled up in the light of his presence to brood over until the day you stand before him. You’re here and he’s there. You can’t do anything about those sins. You can’t do anything about his anger.

Fixing it won’t work.


So, all there is left to try is an appeal to God himself. And that’s what Moses shows us is the way forward.


It’s time to behold the rainbow in the rear-view mirror now.

All that dark and terrible backdrop is not for nothing. To use the words of the apostle Paul, what if all of this is ‘to make the riches of God’s gloryknown to the objects of his mercy?


Moses supposes in verse 13 that there will be a time when God will relent in his anger. He says, ‘How long will it be Lord?

Moses supposes in verse 14 that after the long night of darkness there will be a ‘morning of unfailing love’.

And he supposes in verse 14 that all the days of trouble and sorrow seen in verse 10, will give way to ‘days of gladness’ and ‘songs of joy’.


Moses seems to see a change in God’s posture suddenly. He sees God being for his people again and not against them anymore.

So much so that we can ask him for it.


Verse 13, ‘Relent Lord’ from your anger.

Verse 14, ‘Satisfy us’ with your love. Restore what was lost in the garden.

Verse 15, ‘Make us glad’.


And the effect is an eternal one.

Moses sees that God is willing to make us glad in him for ‘as many days as the number that he has afflicted us with sorrow and trouble’.

For ‘as many years as we have seen trouble’.

Well, according to verse 10, those years of trouble represent our wholeearthly lives!


So, what is Moses seeing here? Except another period of time in which we receive the gladness. A time after these earthly days. ‘Satisfy us in the morning’ has an earthly, time-oriented frame, but that’s like the foretaste of something that lasts forever - beyond this life.

Moses isn’t saying in verse 15 make the number of days or years equal - suffering for gladness.

He’s saying erase all the days of suffering by replacing every one of them with gladness.

So, there’s an eternal dimension to these prayers and these expectations.

What gives him such confidence? It’s to do with the connection between God’s deeds of verse 16 and his favour in verse 17.


God has done a deed on behalf of his people who stand condemned, and it is marvelous in their sight!


What is it? Galatians 4:4 reveals the moment Moses anticipated in verse 13. ‘How long will it be?’ Paul says, ‘When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship’.

God, who is over time, intervened in time by sending his Son at the appointed time, to redeem people from the rule of sin and death.

That’s the deed that God performed - that Moses anticipated. It’s the deed that is shown to us.

It’s the deed, the splendour of which, speaks to us. And the execution of which, brings gladness to us.

And the intervention of which, satisfies us.

And the supply of which, is God’s compassion to us. And the provision of which, is God’s unfailing love to us. And which causes us to sing with joy!


Oh, let’s not be dead to the words we sing in our hymns on Sunday morning - let the joy of what we have seen ring out to the glory of God’s deeds done for us in his son! He is for and not against us!

So, does that mean that God has simply swept all those sins away from the light of his presence?

It would seem so – ‘he cast our sins as far away as the east is from the west’.

So that’s it. Simple. He forgets our sins, his anger is turned away. His son came for us and we’re adopted into his family forever. Happy forever! Right? Wrong!

If he does that, he’s totally unrighteous! If he does that, he does nothing to uphold his value and the worth of his honour. In that case his holy justice is not satisfied.


God needs satisfaction! John puts it like this in 1 John 4: ‘This is love(unfailing love - v.14): not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son (just like Galatians said) as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’.


There it is: ‘an atoning sacrifice’.

The sins are not forgotten about!

The sin is transferred. They are all transferred to the sacrificial lamb.

Transferred, so that all God’s righteous wrath and anger can be satisfied and executed - on the lamb. On the lamb! Instead of on us!

This is where love and justice meet. Love to us and justice to God. It’s where love and righteousness meet.


God makes Jesus our redeemer by making him his satisfaction. The pent-up anger; wrath; and indignation, against his people, he poured it out in one go - full strength - on his perfect, innocent son so that his anger would be turned away from his people forever. And so that they would enjoy the compassion of God Almighty - infinitely offended; infinitely appeased!

Romans 3 has it clearest of all: ‘God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood - to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one justifies those who have faith in Jesus’.


Is it any wonder John in his gospel says, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them’.


Verse 17 is a prayer that God’s favour might rest on us. And John says, whoever believes in God’s Son, God’s favour rests on them – his wrath doesn’t remain on them anymore!

But Moses is not satisfied that our sins be dealt with alone. He wants to see God establish in us works that testify to this grace.

Works, done with our sin-sick hands, that testify to the grace of God in our lives.

His final prayer is, ‘establish the work of our hands’.

‘O Lord, we’re so sinful, everything is tainted, but if you, in your grace take the works we do by faith and establish them - purging the dross and fortifying the silver - then the glory of your grace will be seen and the glory will be yours not ours!’. Here’s Paul:

By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me’.

The cross is the rainbow Moses was viewing in the rear-view mirror.

Let’s all view this easter against the black-sky backdrop of our sin, andmarvel -stunned all over again - at the wonders God has wrought on our behalf!


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