OBSERVING RESTORATION Psalms 90–98
“You make me glad by Your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of Your hands” (Ps. 92:4).Book IV suggests a collection date near Judah’s return from Exile. The first psalms remind us that every experience of God’s blessing teaches us more about the character of our Lord, and deepens our appreciation of His great love.
A prayer of Moses for restoration (Ps. 90) is followed by psalms celebrating the joys of dwelling in God and proclaiming His love (Pss. 91–92). The following psalms hold God up as Ruler (Ps. 93) and Judge (Ps. 94). God is also celebrated for His voice (Ps. 95), His imminent coming (Ps. 96), His righteousness (Ps. 97) and His salvation (Ps. 98).
Understanding the Text
Psalm 90: A Prayer for Restoration. Moses reflected on the fragility of life, and appealed to God to “make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us.” “From everlasting to everlasting” Ps. 90:1–6. God’s eternal nature stands in awesome contrast to the brevity and fragility of human life. He is the only stable element in reality, beside whom the universe itself is young. “Teach us to number our days” Ps. 90:7–15. The Exodus generation knew God’s anger as their sins were exposed. Moses yearned for his people to learn the lesson taught by God’s wrath, that the people might experience His compassion and be made “glad” for as many years as they had seen trouble. How those who returned to their ruined homeland after decades of exile in Babylon must have identified with this psalm! How appropriate that it launches this book of psalms, which most view as liturgy used in public worship by the postexilic community. Psalm 91: Dwelling in God. This psalm is the Old Testament’s corollary to Jesus’ call to the believer to “abide in Me.” “Rest in the shadow of the Almighty” Ps. 91:1–2. Safety is found in closeness to the Lord, represented here as “dwelling in the shadow of the Almighty.” “Surely He will save you” Ps. 91:3–13. Christ is the example of One who dwells in God’s very shadow. When tempted, Jesus had no need to prove God’s loving care by leaping from the temple’s highest point. He knew, without any need to test God, that the Lord had commanded “His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (v. 11). “I will rescue him” Ps. 91:14–16. These last, magnificent verses define what it means to dwell in God’s shadow. It means to love Him, and to acknowledge His name. When you and I do love the Lord, and acknowledge Him in our daily lives, we can claim this promise: “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation.” Psalm 92: Proclaiming God’s Love. We too can exalt God, and sing for joy as we contemplate God’s works and His thoughts. “The righteous will flourish” Ps. 92:1–15. This too is a psalm with a promise. The “senseless man” cannot know God. But we who praise Him are filled with joy as we consider what He has done. With that joy comes assurance for the future. We have God’s promise. Planted in the house of the Lord we will flourish forever, ever proclaiming and praising the Lord. Psalm 93: God Reigns. God’s throne was established in eternity. He is the one and only stable element in the universe. Psalm 94: God Is Judge. God is moral Judge of His universe. The anxious person can find comfort in the love of a righteous God. “O God who avenges, shine forth” Ps. 94:1–7. The oppressed believer cries out for God to judge, while the wicked man laughs at the notion God sees or cares. “Take heed . . . you fools” Ps. 94:8–11. How senseless to suppose that a God who designed the ear cannot hear, and the eye cannot see! God does know—and will punish the wicked. “Blessed is the man You discipline” Ps. 94:12–15. As Judge, God has given man His Law, in order to teach us His ways. The upright in heart follow it and are blessed. “Your love, O Lord, supported me” Ps. 94:16–19. As Judge, God helps His own against the wicked, supporting them with love when they become anxious. “He will repay” Ps. 94:20–23. As Judge, the God who is our present refuge will one day destroy the wicked and repay them for their sins. If you or I become victims of the wicked, we too can celebrate God as Judge. He does see. He guides us with His Word, supports us with His love, and in the future God will repay. Psalm 95: God’s Voice. God is our King. We are to hear, and respond to His voice. “Today, if you hear His voice” Ps. 95:1–11. The writer of Hebrews returns to this psalm two times, quoting or alluding to it in 3:7–11, 15, and 4:3, 5–11. The psalm recalls Israel’s refusal during the Exodus to obey God and enter the Promised Land. That failure to obey led to 40 years of wandering in a wilderness until an entire generation died. This psalm celebrates God as the great King. We acknowledge His lordship by responding when we hear His voice. Only by showing respect to God as King and Lord, and obeying His voice, can we find rest. Psalm 96: God Approaches. This psalm is vibrant with shouts of joy as God approaches to “judge the world in righteousness.” (See DEVOTIONAL.) Psalm 97: God’s Righteousness. The foundation of God’s rule is justice and righteousness. “Let those who love the Lord hate evil” Ps. 97:1–12. This psalm too is vibrant with a sense of awe at God’s greatness. That greatness is displayed in a righteousness which establishes justice, punishes the wicked, and delivers the upright who hate evil. If you and I live a righteous life, we are promised both light to guide us and joy to accompany us (vv. 11–12). Psalm 98: God’s Salvation. The whole universe joins the believer in singing praise to God for His salvation. “Sing to the Lord” Ps. 98:1–3. The song of salvation celebrates the marvel of God’s love, faithfulness, and righteousness, which bond together to win glory for “the ends of the earth.” “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth” Ps. 98:4–9. The phrase “all the earth” generally means all people of earth. But here it seems to have a different focus. The chorus is joined by the sea and all in it, the world and all living things in it, the rivers and mountains as well. The psalm reminds us that nature too is warped from its original shape by Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:17). Paul pictures the creation as “subjected to frustration” and waiting to be “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20–21). When God’s salvation appears, you and I, and creation itself, will at last be set free.
Line the Streets(Ps. 96)
What would you do if you were walking through a dark alley, and suddenly met God? This seems like a strange question. Yet it seemed the best way to express something I found some years ago when I did research on a class of children in a Christian school. I wanted to find out how eighth-graders in our local Christian school really felt about God, and how those feelings related to what they knew about Him. Briefly, a number of the boys and girls had a sense of warm, close, personal relationship with the Lord. But several felt uncertain, strained, and even distant. The immediate reaction of the first group, if they met God in a dark alley, would have been to run to Him with arms open, shouting out for joy. But the reaction of the second group would have been to draw back, and very possibly to slink away. Remembering that research, I’m tempted to title Psalm 96 the Psalm of the Joyous Children. It is a shout of joy. It is a portrait of God’s children lining the streets, with arms open, jumping up and down in excitement as the Lord approaches. If our own relationship with the Lord is warm and close, this psalm will excite us too. The Lord is near! And we are lining the street, eager to meet Him and filled with a great joy.
Think of Christ’s coming, and let the prospect fill your heart with joy.