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90. Psalm 90

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. 3Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. 4For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. 5Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. 6In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. 7For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. 8Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. 9For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. 10The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 11Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. 12So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. 13Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. 14O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. 16Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. 17And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

11. Who knoweth, the power of thy anger? Moses again returns to speak of the peculiar afflictions of the Israelites; for he had also on this occasion complained before of the common frailty and miseries of mankind. He justly exclaims that the power of God’s wrath is immeasurably great. So long as God withholds his hand, men wantonly leap about like runaway slaves, who are no longer afraid at the sight of their master; nor can their rebellious nature be reduced to obedience in any other way than by his striking them with the fear of his judgment. The meaning then is, that whilst God hides himself, and, so to speak, dissembles his displeasure, men are inflated with pride, and rush upon sin with reckless impetuosity; but when they are compelled to feel how dreadful his wrath is, they forget their loftiness, and are reduced to nothing. What follows, According to thy fear, so is thy wrath, is commonly explained as denoting that the more a man is inspired with reverence towards God, the more severely and sternly is he commonly dealt with; for “judgment begins at the house of God,” (1 Peter 4:17.) Whilst he pampers the reprobate with the good things of this life, he wastes his chosen ones with continual troubles; and in short, “whom he loveth he chasteneth,” (Hebrews 12:6.) It is then a true and profitable doctrine that he deals more roughly with those who serve him than with the reprobate. But Moses, I think, has here a different meaning, which is, that it is a holy awe of God, and that alone, which makes us truly and deeply feel his anger. We see that the reprobate, although they are severely punished, only chafe upon the bit, or kick against God, or become exasperated, or are stupified, as if they were hardened against all calamities; so far are they from being subdued. And though they are full of trouble, and cry aloud, yet the Divine anger does not so penetrate their hearts as to abate their pride and fierceness. The minds of the godly alone are wounded with the wrath of God; nor do they wait for his thunderbolts, to which the reprobate hold out their hard and iron necks, but they tremble the very moment when God moves only his little finger. This I consider to be the true meaning of the prophet. He had said that the human mind could not sufficiently comprehend the dreadfulness of the Divine wrath. And we see how, although God shakes heaven and earth, many notwithstanding, like the giants of old, treat this with derision, and are actuated by such brutish arrogance, that they despise him when he brandishes his bolts. But as the Psalmist is treating of a doctrine which properly belongs to true believers, he affirms that they have a strongly sensitive feeling of the wrath of God which makes them quietly submit themselves to his authority. Although to the wicked their own conscience is a tormentor which does not suffer them to enjoy repose, yet so far is this secret dread from teaching them to humble themselves, that it excites them to clamor against God with increasing frowardness. In short, the faithful alone are sensible of God’s wrath; and being subdued by it, they acknowledge that they are nothing, and with true humility devote themselves wholly to Him. This is wisdom to which the reprobate cannot attain, because they cannot lay aside the pride with which they are inflated. They are not touched with the feeling of God’s wrath, because they do not stand in awe of him.


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