Our Eternal God
(H) A prayer of Moses, the man of God. (1) Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. (2) Before the mountains were born or ever you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (3) You return man to dust and say, “Return, children of men,” (4) for a thousand years in your eyes are like yesterday when it is past or like a watch in the night. (5) You sweep them away like a flood. They are like a dream, like grass that sprouts up in the morning. (6) In the morning it flourishes and sprouts. In the evening it is cut down and withers.
This is the only chapter in the Book of Psalms directly attributed to Moses, and as such it is most likely the oldest psalm of all. Writing during Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses used several fitting expressions to contrast the eternality of God with the temporality of human beings. He called God “our dwelling place in all generations,” the creator who brought forth all that exists. He is the eternally existent One who is “from everlasting to everlasting.”
In contrast, we human beings, trapped in time and space, find ourselves “returned to dust” in an endless series of births and deaths. We are, as it were, swept away like a flood by the inevitable aging and physical decline of our earthly bodies. We fade away like a dream after a long night’s sleep. We sprout up and wither just like the grass of the field sprouts and withers.
The vast difference between God’s eternality and our temporality is powerfully reinforced by the time scale set forth in the fourth verse. A thousand years in the reckoning of human history is to God like the passing of a day, like a few hours’ watch in the night. Time is one area where we can readily grasp how great a gap exists between us human beings and our immortal God. This strikes us at a point of vulnerability where we are constantly reminded of our frailty and mortality.
I. Divine eternality: from everlasting to everlasting (1 & 2)
II. Human temporality: here today and gone tomorrow (3-6)
When we consider God’s eternality, we feel overwhelmed by the sense of his immensity and the brevity of our lives.
Worship has become an area of increased interest and concern in the evangelical world over the past few decades. Many books have been written on the subject. Many sermons have been preached exhorting us to worship God in ways that honor him with our praise. Moses, the only person of his generation who had actually met God face to face, begins this psalm by insisting that we human beings cannot appreciate the glory of the God we worship unless we understand the distance that separates the creature from the creator. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness serving as the leader of God’s contentious and stiff-necked people gave Moses an extended period of time to meditate on God’s eternality. While half a lifetime for most of us, forty years is like the blink of an eye to Yahweh.
Contemplating the vast chasm between our temporality and God’s eternality is a powerful way to prepare our hearts for worship. The phrase, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10), commands us to cease from activity, to calm our agitated hearts, to banish from our troubled minds all pressing concerns, and to focus our attention completely on the awesome greatness of our everlasting God. When we learn to do this well, and it takes discipline and practice, we essentially move in our focus from the realm of time which we inhabit into the realm of eternity where God dwells. By entering into God’s presence, we gradually grow to understand how great he is, how small we are, and how awesome it is to be in a personal relationship with the one who created us for the ultimate reward, fellowship with himself forever.