Psalm 90:17
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be on us: and establish you the work of our hands on us; yes, the work of our hands establish you it.
Jump to: BarnesBensonBICalvinCambridgeClarkeDarbyEllicottExpositor'sExp DctGaebeleinGSBGillGrayHaydockHastingsHomileticsJFBKDKellyKJTLangeMacLarenMHCMHCWParkerPoolePulpitSermonSCOTTBTODWESTSK
EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) Beauty.—Or, pleasantness. The Hebrew word, like the Greek χάρις, and our “grace,” seems to combine the ideas of “beauty” and “favour.”

Psalms

THE CRY OF THE MORTAL TO THE UNDYING

Psalm 90:17
.

If any reliance is to be placed upon the superscription of this psalm, it is one of the oldest, as it certainly is of the grandest, pieces of religious poetry in the world. It is said to be ‘A prayer of Moses, the man of God,’ and whether that be historically true or no, the tone of the psalm naturally suggests the great lawgiver, whose special task it was to write deep upon the conscience of the Jewish people the thought of the wages of sin as being death.

Hence the sombre magnificence and sad music of the psalm, which contemplates a thousand generations in succession as sliding away into the dreadful past, and sinking as beneath a flood. This thought of the fleeting years, dashed and troubled by many a sin, and by the righteous retribution of God, sent the Psalmist to his knees, and he found the only refuge from it in these prayers. These two petitions of our text, the closing words of the psalm, are the cry forced from a heart that has dared to look Death in the eyes, and has discovered that the world after all is a place of graves.

‘Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us.’ There are two thoughts there-the cry of the mortal for the beauty of the Eternal; and the cry of the worker in a perishable world for the perpetuity of his work. Look at these two thoughts briefly.

I. We have here, first, the yearning and longing cry of the mortal for the beauty of the Eternal.

The word translated ‘beauty’ in my text is, like the Greek equivalent in the New Testament, and like the English word ‘grace,’ which corresponds to them both susceptible of a double meaning. ‘Grace’ means both kindness and loveliness, or, as we might distinguish both graciousness and gracefulness. And that double idea is inherent in the word, as it is inherent in the attribute of God to which it refers. For that twofold meaning of the one word suggests the truth that God’s lovingkindness and communicating mercy is His beauty, and that the fairest thing about Him, notwithstanding the splendours that surround His character, and the flashing lights that come from His many-sided glory, is that He loves and pities and gives Himself. God is all fair, but the central and substantial beauty of the divine nature is that it is a stooping nature, which bows to weak and unworthy souls, and on them pours out the full abundance of its manifold gifts. So the ‘beauty of the Lord’ means, by no quibble or quirk, but by reason of the essential loveliness of His lovingkindness, both God’s loveliness and God’s goodness; God’s graciousness and God’s gracefulness {if I may use such a word}.

The prayer of the Psalmist that this beauty may be upon us conceives of it as given to us from above and as coming floating down from heaven, like that white Dove that fell upon Christ’s head, fair and meek, gentle and lovely, and resting on our anointed heads, like a diadem and an aureole of glory.

Now that communicating graciousness, with its large gifts and its resulting beauty, is the one thing that we need in view of mortality and sorrow and change and trouble. The psalm speaks about ‘all our years’ being ‘passed away in Thy wrath,’ about the very inmost recesses of our secret unworthiness being turned inside out, and made to look blacker than ever when the bright sunshine of His face falls upon them. From that thought of God’s wrath and omniscience the poet turns, as we must turn, to the other thought of His gentle longsuffering, of His forbearing love, of His infinite pity, of His communicating mercy. As a support in view both of our dreary and yet short years, and our certain mortality, and in the contemplation of the evils within and suffering from without, that harass us all, there is but one thing for us to do-namely, to fling ourselves into the arms of God, and in the spirit of this great petition, to ask that upon us there may fall the dewy benediction of His gentle beauty.

That longing is meant to be kindled in our hearts by all the discipline of life. Life is not worth living unless it does that for us; and there is no value nor meaning either in our joys or in our sorrows, unless both the one and the other send us to Him. Our gladness and our disappointments, our hopes fulfilled and our hopes dissipated and unanswered are but, as it were, the two wings by which, on either side, our spirits are to be lifted to God. The solemn pathos of the earlier portion of this psalm-the funeral march of generations-leads up to the prayerful confidence of these closing petitions, in which the sadness of the minor key in which it began has passed into a brighter strain. The thought of the fleeting years swept away as with a flood, and of the generations that blossom for a day and are mown down and wither when their swift night falls, is saddening and paralysing unless it suggests by contrast the thought of Him who, Himself unmoved, moves the rolling years, and is the dwelling-place of each succeeding generation. Such contemplations are wholesome and religious only when they drive us to the eternal God, that in Him we may find the stable foundation which imparts its own perpetuity to every life built upon it. We have experienced so many things in vain, and we are of the ‘fools’ that, being ‘brayed in a mortar,’ are only brayed fools after all, unless life, with its sorrows and its changes, has blown us, as with a hurricane, right into the centre of rest, and unless its sorrows and changes have taught us this as the one aspiration of our souls: ‘Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,’ and then, let what may come, come, let what can pass, pass, we shall have all that we need for life and peace.

And then, note further, that this gracious gentleness and long-suffering, giving mercy of God, when it comes down upon a man, makes him, too, beautiful with a reflected beauty. If the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, it will cover over our foulness and deformity. For whosoever possesses in any real fashion God’s great mercy will have his spirit moulded into the likeness of that mercy. We cannot have it without reflecting it, we cannot possess it without being assimilated to it. Therefore, to have the grace of God makes us both gracious and graceful. And the true refining influence for a character is that into it there shall come the gift of that endless pity and patient love, which will transfigure us into some faint likeness of itself, so that we shall walk among men, able, in some poor measure, after the manner of our Master, to say, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.’ He said it in a sense and in a measure which we cannot reach, but the assimilation to and reflection of the divine character is our aim, or ought to be, if we are Christians. ‘Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,’ and ‘change us into the same image from glory to glory.’

II. We have here the cry of the worker in a fleeting world for the perpetuity of his work.

‘Establish,’ or make firm, ‘the work of our hands upon us, yea the work of our hands establish Thou it.’ The thought that everything is passing away so swiftly and inevitably, as the earlier part of the psalm suggests, might lead a man to say, ‘What is the use of my doing anything? I may just as well sit down here, and let things slide, if they are all going to be swallowed up in the black bottomless gulf of forgetfulness.’ The contemplation has actually produced two opposite effects, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,’ is quite as fair an inference from the fact as is ‘Awake to righteousness and sin not,’ if the fact itself only be taken into account. There is nothing religious in the clearest conviction of mortality, if it stands alone. It may be the ally of profligate and cynical sensuality quite as easily as it may be the preacher of asceticism. It may make men inactive, from their sense of the insignificant and fleeting nature of all human works, or it may stimulate to intensest effort, from the thought, ‘I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day. The night cometh.’ All depends on whether we link the conviction of mortality with that of eternity, and think of our perishable selves as in relationship with the unchanging God.

This prayer expresses a deep longing, natural to all men, and which yet seems incompatible with the stern facts of mortality and decay. We should all like to have our work exempted from the common lot. What pathetically futile attempts to secure this are pyramids, and rock-inscriptions, and storied tombs, and posthumous memoirs, and rich men’s wills! Why should any of us expect that the laws of nature should be suspended for our benefit, and our work made lasting while everything beside changes like the shadows of the clouds? Is there any way by which such exceptional permanence can be secured for our poor deeds? Yes, certainly. Let us commit them to God, praying this prayer, ‘Establish Thou the work of our hands upon us.’

Our work will be established if it is His work. This prayer in our text follows another prayer {Psalm 90:16}-namely, ‘Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants.’ That is to say, My work will be perpetual when the work of my hands is God’s work done through me. When you bring your wills into harmony with God’s will, and so all your effort, even about the little things of daily life, is in consonance with His will, and in the line of His purpose, then your work will stand. If otherwise, it will be like some slow-moving and frail carriage going in the one direction and meeting an express train thundering in the other. When the crash comes, the opposing motion of the weaker will be stopped, reversed, and the frail thing will be smashed to atoms. So, all work which is man’s and not God’s will sooner or later be reduced to impotence and either annihilated or reversed, and made to run in the opposite direction. But if our work runs parallel with God’s, then the rushing impetus of His work will catch up our little deeds into the swiftness of its own motion, and will carry them along with itself, as a railway train will lift straws and bits of paper that are lying by the rails, and give them motion for a while. If my will runs in the line of His, and if the work of my hands is ‘Thy work,’ it is not in vain that we shall cry ‘Establish it upon us,’ for it will last as long as He does.

In like manner, all work will be perpetual that is done with ‘the beauty of the Lord our God’ upon the doers of it. Whosoever has that grace in his heart, whosoever is in contact with the communicating mercy of God, and has had his character in some measure refined and ennobled and beautified by possession thereof, will do work that has in it the element of perpetuity.

And our work will stand if we quietly leave it in His hands. Quietly do it to Him, never mind about results, but look after motives. You cannot influence results, let God look after them; you can influence motives. Be sure that they are right, and if they are, the work will be eternal.

‘Eternal? What do you mean by eternal? how can a man’s work be that?’ Part of the answer is that it may be made permanent in its issues by being taken up into the great whole of God’s working through His servants, which results at last in the establishment of His eternal kingdom. Just as a drop of water that falls upon the moor finds its way into the brook, and goes down the glen and on into the river, and then into the sea, and is there, though undistinguishable, so in the great summing up of everything at the end, the tiniest deed that was done for God, though it was done far away up amongst the mountain solitudes where no eye saw, shall live and be represented, in its effects on others and in its glad issues to the doer.

In the highest fashion the Psalmist’s cry for the perpetuity of the fleeting deeds of dying generations will be answered in that region in which his dimmer eye saw little but the sullen flood that swept away youth and strength and wisdom, but in which we can see the solid land beyond the river, and the happy company who rejoice with the joy of harvest, and bear with them the sheaves, whereof the seed was sown on this bank, in tears and fears. ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. Their works do follow them.’ ‘The world passeth away, and the fashion thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’90:12-17 Those who would learn true wisdom, must pray for Divine instruction, must beg to be taught by the Holy Spirit; and for comfort and joy in the returns of God's favour. They pray for the mercy of God, for they pretend not to plead any merit of their own. His favour would be a full fountain of future joys. It would be a sufficient balance to former griefs. Let the grace of God in us produce the light of good works. And let Divine consolations put gladness into our hearts, and a lustre upon our countenances. The work of our hands, establish thou it; and, in order to that, establish us in it. Instead of wasting our precious, fleeting days in pursuing fancies, which leave the possessors for ever poor, let us seek the forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance in heaven. Let us pray that the work of the Holy Spirit may appear in converting our hearts, and that the beauty of holiness may be seen in our conduct.And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us - The word translated "beauty" - נעם nô‛am - means properly "pleasantness;" then, beauty, splendor; then grace or layout. The Septuagint renders it here, λαμπρότης lamprotēs, "splendor;" and so the Latin Vulgate. The wish is clearly that all that there is, in the divine character, which is "beautiful," which is suited to win the hearts of people to admiration, gratitude, and love - might be so manifested to them, or that they might so see the excellency of his character, and that his dealings with them might be such, as to keep the beauty, the loveliness, of that character constantly before them.

And establish thou the work of our hands upon us - What we are endeavoring to do. Enable us to carry out our plans, and to accomplish our purposes.

Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it - The repetition of the prayer here is emphatic. It indicates an intense desire that God would enable them to carry out their plans. If this was written by Moses, we may suppose that it is expressive of an earnest desire that they might reach the promised land; that they might not all be cut down and perish by the way; that the great object of their march through the wilderness might be accomplished; and that they might be permanently established in the land to which they were going. At the same time it is a prayer which it is proper to offer at any time, that God would enable us to carry out our purposes, and that we may be permanently established in his favor.

17. let the beauty—or sum of His gracious acts, in their harmony, be illustrated in us, and favor our enterprise. The beauty of the Lord, i.e. his favourable countenance, and gracious influence, and glorious presence.

Upon us; or, in us. Do not only work for us, but in us. And because the glorious work of thy hands is hindered by the evil works of our hands, be thou pleased by thy Holy Spirit to direct or establish (for this Hebrew word signifies both)

the works of our hands, that we may cease to do evil, and learn to do well, and turn and constantly cleave unto thee, and not revolt and draw back from thee, as we have frequently done to our own undoing. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,.... Either the grace and favour of God, his gracious presence vouchsafed in his ordinances, which makes his tabernacles amiable and lovely, and his ways of pleasantness; or the righteousness of Christ, which is that comeliness he puts upon his people, whereby they become a perfection of beauty; or the beauty of holiness, which appears on them, when renewed and sanctified by the Spirit; every grace is beautiful and ornamental: or Christ himself may be meant; for the words may be rendered, "let the beauty of the Lord be with us" (k); he who is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand altogether lovely, fairer than the children of men, let him appear as the Immanuel, God with us:

and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it; or "direct it" (l); though God works all works of grace for us, and in us, yet there is a work of duty and obedience to him for us to do; nor should we be slothful and inactive, but be the rather animated to it by what he has done for us: our hands should be continually employed in service for his honour and glory; and, whatever we find to do, do it with all the might of grace we have; and in which we need divine direction and strength, and also establishment, that we may be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord: and this petition is repeated, to show the sense he had of the necessity of it, and of the vehemence and strength of desire after it. Jarchi interprets this of the work of the tabernacle, in which the hands of the Israelites were employed in the wilderness; so Arama of the tabernacle of Bezaleel.

(k) "adsis nobis", Tigurine version, Junius & Tremellius; Heb. "sit apud nos", Piscator; "super nobis et apud nos", Michaelis. (l) Sept. "dirige", V. L. Musculus; "dirige et confirma", Michaelis.

And let the {p} beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and {q} establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

(p) Meaning, that is was obscured when he ceases to do good to his Church.

(q) For unless you guide us with your Holy Spirit, our enterprises cannot succeed.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. the beauty] Or, pleasantness: the gracious kindliness of Jehovah. Cp. Psalm 27:4; Proverbs 3:17.

the work of our hands] A phrase characteristic of Deuteronomy, where it occurs seven times. All the ordinary undertakings of daily life are meant, not necessarily any particular enterprise.

The Psalmist’s prayer is for the restoration of Israel. In the renewed life of the nation (Lamentations 5:21) the servants of God will recover the gladness of their individual lives, now quenched and dead. The time had not yet come when the hope of personal immortality could be appealed to as the consolation of sorrow and the consecration of effort (1 Corinthians 15:58).Verse 17. - And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us (comp. Psalm 45:24, "Thou art fairer than the children of men;" Psalm 27:4, "To behold the beauty of the Lord;" Isaiah 33:17, "Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty"). The "beauty of God" is upon us when we see and realize the loveliness of his character. And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. The repetition adds nothing, except it be emphasis. God is asked, finally, to "establish the work" in which his servants are engaged - to bless it; that is, to advance it and prosper it. The nature of the "work" is not mentioned.



After the transitoriness of men has now been confirmed in Psalm 90:6. out of the special experience of Israel, the fact that this particular experience has its ground in a divine decree of wrath is more definitely confirmed from the facts of this experience, which, as Psalm 90:11. complain, unfortunately have done so little to urge them on to the fear of God, which is the condition and the beginning of wisdom. In Psalm 90:9 we distinctly hear the Israel of the desert speaking. That was a generation that fell a prey to the wrath of God (דּור עברתו, Jeremiah 7:29). עברה is wrath that passes over, breaks through the bounds of subjectivity. All their days (cf. Psalm 103:15) are passed away (פּנה, to turn one's self, to turn, e.g., Deuteronomy 1:24) in such wrath, i.e., thoroughly pervaded by it. They have spent their years like a sound (כּמו־הגה), which has hardly gone forth before it has passed away, leaving no trace behind it; the noun signifies a gentle dull sound, whether a murmur (Job 37:2) or a groan (Ezekiel 2:10). With בּהם in Psalm 90:10 the sum is stated: there are comprehended therein seventy years; they include, run up to so many. Hitzig renders: the days wherein (בהם) our years consist are seventy years; but שׁנותינו side by side with ימי must be regarded as its more minute genitival definition, and the accentuation cannot be objected to. Beside the plural שׁנים the poetic plural שׁנות appears here, and it also occurs in Deuteronomy 32:7 (and nowhere else in the Pentateuch). That of which the sum is to be stated stands first of all as a casus absol. Luther's rendering: Siebenzig Jar, wens hoch kompt so sinds achtzig (seventy years, or at the furthest eighty years), as Symmachus also meant by his ἐν παραδόξῳ (in Chrysostom), is confirmed by the Talmudic הגיע לגבורות, "to attain to extreme old age" (B. Moכd katan, 28a), and rightly approved of by Hitzig and Olshausen. גבוּרת signifies in Psalm 71:16 full strength, here full measure. Seventy, or at most eighty years, were the average sum of the extreme term of life to which the generation dying out in the wilderness attained. ורהבּם the lxx renders τὸ πλεῖον αὐτῶν, but רהבּם is not equivalent to רבּם. The verb רהב signifies to behave violently, e.g., of importunate entreaty, Proverbs 6:3, of insolent treatment, Isaiah 3:5, whence רהב (here רהב), violence, impetuosity, and more especially a boastful vaunting appearance or coming forward, Job 9:13; Isaiah 30:7. The poet means to say that everything of which our life is proud (riches, outward appearance, luxury, beauty, etc.), when regarded in the right light, is after all only עמל, inasmuch as it causes us trouble and toil, and און, because without any true intrinsic merit and worth. To this second predicate is appended the confirmatory clause. חישׁ is infin. adverb. from חוּשׁ, הישׁ, Deuteronomy 32:35 : speedily, swiftly (Symmachus, the Quinta, and Jerome). The verb גּוּז signifies transire in all the Semitic dialects; and following this signification, which is applied transitively in Numbers 11:31, the Jewish expositors and Schultens correctly render: nam transit velocissime. Following upon the perfect גּז, the modus consecutivus ונּעפה maintains its retrospective signification. The strengthening of this mood by means of the intentional ah is more usual with the 1st pers. sing., e.g., Genesis 32:6, than with the 1st pers. plur., as here and in Genesis 41:11; Ew. 232, g. The poet glances back from the end of life to the course of life. And life, with all of which it had been proud, appears as an empty burden; for it passed swiftly by and we fled away, we were borne away with rapid flight upon the wings of the past.

Such experience as this ought to urge one on to the fear of God; but how rarely does this happen! and yet the fear of God is the condition (stipulation) and the beginning of wisdom. The verb ידע in Psalm 90:11, just as it in general denotes not merely notional but practically living and efficient knowledge, is here used of a knowledge which makes that which is known conduce to salvation. The meaning of וּכיראתך is determined in accordance with this. The suffix is here either gen. subj.: according to Thy fearfulness (יראה as in Ezekiel 1:18), or gen. obj.: according to the fear that is due to Thee, which in itself is at once (cf. Psalm 5:8; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 2:25) more natural, and here designates the knowledge which is so rarely found, as that which is determined by the fear of God, as a truly religious knowledge. Such knowledge Moses supplicates for himself and for Israel: to number our days teach us rightly to understand. 1 Samuel 23:17, where כּן ידע signifies "he does not know it to be otherwise, he is well aware of it," shows how כּן is meant. Hitzig, contrary to the accentuation, draws it to למנות ימינו; but "to number our days" is in itself equivalent to "hourly to contemplate the fleeting character and brevity of our lifetime;" and כּן הודע prays for a true qualification for this, and one that accords with experience. The future that follows is well adapted to the call, as frequently aim and result. But הביא is not to be taken, with Ewald and Hitzig, in the signification of bringing as an offering, a meaning this verb cannot have of itself alone (why should it not have been ונקריב?). Bttcher also erroneously renders it after the analogy of Proverbs 2:10 : "that we may bring wisdom into the heart," which ought to be בּלב. הביא, deriving its meaning from agriculture, signifies "to carry off, obtain, gain, prop. to bring in," viz., into the barn, 2 Samuel 9:10, Hagg. Psa 1:6; the produce of the field, and in a general way gain or profit, is hence called תּבוּאה. A wise heart is the fruit which one reaps or garners in from such numbering of the days, the gain which one carries off from so constantly reminding one's self of the end. לבב חכמה is a poetically intensified expression for לב חכם, just as לב מרפּא in Proverbs 14:30 signifies a calm easy heart.

Links
Psalm 90:17 Interlinear
Psalm 90:17 Parallel Texts


Psalm 90:17 NIV
Psalm 90:17 NLT
Psalm 90:17 ESV
Psalm 90:17 NASB
Psalm 90:17 KJV

Psalm 90:17 Bible Apps
Psalm 90:17 Parallel
Psalm 90:17 Biblia Paralela
Psalm 90:17 Chinese Bible
Psalm 90:17 French Bible
Psalm 90:17 German Bible

Bible Hub






Psalm 90:16
Top of Page
Top of Page