Dust and Grass
(13) As a father has compassion on his children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him, (14) for he knows our frame. He remembers that we are but dust. (15) As for man, his days (are) like grass. Like a flower of the field he flourishes, (16) for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. (17) But the steadfast love of Yahweh (is) from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him and his righteousness to children’s children, (18) to those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
Three times in these verses, key words are immediately repeated for emphasis. First, “compassion” is found twice (vs. 13). Then “everlasting” is emphasized in the phrase, “from everlasting to everlasting” (vs. 17). Finally, in the same verse “children,” occurring first in verse 13, is used twice in the phrase “children's children” (vs. 17). We also encounter “on those who fear him” twice (vss. 13 & 17) as in the previous segment (vs. 11). Here we find the final use of “steadfast love” in the psalm (vs. 17), a word found three times previously (vss. 4, 8, & 11). These repetitions provide us with the crux of David’s message.
I. The fatherly compassion of Yahweh for his children (13)
II. Our temporality contrasted with the eternality of Yahweh’s love (14-18)
Yahweh, our compassionate God, manifests his eternal love to those who fear him no matter how ephemeral we may seem.
None of us enjoys being reminded of our mortality. We all know people who are so afraid to hear bad news from a doctor that they refuse to go for a checkup even when they know they need medical attention. Likewise we also know folks who shun funerals lest they be confronted with the grim reality that all of us will someday die.
In the German Lutheran tradition, congregations would occasionally sing the following hymn, written by Johann Georg Albinus (1652) and translated by Catherine Winkworth (1863), to be reminded of their temporality and the glory that will follow: “Hark! a voice saith, ‘All are mortal. Yea, all flesh must fade as grass.’ / Only through death’s gloomy portal to a better life we pass. // And this body, formed of clay, here must languish and decay / ere it rise in glorious might, fit to dwell with saints in light.”
A prayer found in Psalm 39 seems quite appropriate for today’s study: “Yahweh, make me know my end and the measure of my days. Let me know how transient I am” (Ps. 39:4). Only when we embrace our mortality will we fully appreciate and rejoice in the immortality and spiritual vitality promised us in Christ by a heavenly Father whose everlasting love never fails us.