You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Our secret sins.—Or, to keep the singular of the original, our secret (character).
The expression, “light of God’s countenance,” usually means “favour.” But here the word rendered light is not the usual one employed in that expression, but rather means a body of light: “the sun (or eye) of Thy countenance.” Comp.:
“Then Seeva opened on the accursed one
His eye of anger.”
SOUTHEY: Curse of Kehama,
Our secret sins - literally, "our secret;" or, that which was concealed or unknown. This may refer to the secret or hidden things of our lives, or to what has been concealed in our own bosoms; and the meaning may be, that God has judged in the case not by external appearances, or by what is seen by the world, but by what "he" has seen in the heart, and that he deals with us according to our real character. The reference is, indeed, to sin, but sin as concealed, hidden, forgotten; the sin of the heart; the sin which we have endeavored to hide from the world; the sin which has passed away from our own recollection.
troubled—literally, "confounded by terror" (Ps 2:5). Death is by sin (Ro 5:12). Though "secret," the light of God's countenance, as a candle, will bring sin to view (Pr 20:27; 1Co 4:5).
Our secret sins thou dost not only punish us for our notorious and scandalous sins, which thine honour may seem to oblige thee to do, but even for our secret lusts, the murmuring, and unbelief, and apostacy, and idolatry of our hearts; which though hid from the eyes of men, thou hast set before thine eyes, and brought them to light by thy judgments. Isaiah 38:17,
our secret sins in the light of thy countenance; the Targum and Jarchi interpret it of the sins of youth; the word is in the singular number, and may be rendered, "our secret sin" (f); which has led some to think of original sin, which is hidden from, and not taken notice of by, the greatest part of the world, though it is the source and spring of all sin. It is not unusual for the singular to be put for the plural, and may intend all such sins as are secretly committed, and not known by other men, and such as are unobserved by men themselves; as the evil thoughts of their hearts, the foolish words of their mouths, and many infirmities of life, that are not taken notice of as sins: these are all known to God, and will be brought to light and into judgment by him, and will be set in "the light of his countenance"; which denotes not a gracious forgiveness of them, but his clear and distinct knowledge of them, and what a full evidence they give against men, to their condemnation and death; and intends not only a future, but the present view the Lord has of them, and his dealings with men in life, and at death, according to them.Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)8. Instead of ‘hiding His face’ from their sins He sets them all before Him, and drags them all to light. Elsewhere ‘the light of God’s countenance’ denotes His favour; here a slightly different word, lit. the luminary of Thy face, is used to denote His Presence as a searching light from which nothing can be hid. Our secret [sin] is rather the inward sin of the heart unseen by man but known to God (Psalm 44:21, a cognate word), than sin of which the sinner is himself unconscious (Psalm 19:12), though this may be included.Verse 8. - Thou hast set our iniquities before thee. Instead of hiding his face from their iniquities, turning away from them and overlooking them, God has placed them steadily "before him," in the full searching and scorching light of his own purity and holiness. And not only has he done this with the sins which they know of, and whereof their consciences are afraid; but he has set their secret sins also in the light of his countenance. (On man's "secret sins," comp. Psalm 19:12, and the comment ad loc.) Exodus 15:17 and in Deuteronomy 3:24. He is so named here as the Lord ruling over human history with an exaltation ever the same. Human history runs on in דּר ודר, so that one period (περίοδος) with the men living contemporaneous with it goes and another comes; the expression is deuteronomic (Deuteronomy 32:7). Such a course of generations lies behind the poet; and in them all the Lord has been מעון to His church, out of the heart of which the poet discourses. This expression too is Deuteronomic (Deuteronomy 33:27). מעון signifies a habitation, dwelling-place (vid., on Psalm 26:8), more especially God's heavenly and earthly dwelling-place, then the dwelling-place which God Himself is to His saints, inasmuch as He takes up to Himself, conceals and protects, those who flee to Him from the wicked one and from evil, and turn in to Him (Psalm 71:3; Psalm 91:9). In order to express fuisti היית was indispensable; but just as fuisti comes from fuo, φύω, היה (הוה) signifies not a closed, shut up being, but a being that discloses itself, consequently it is fuisti in the sense of te exhibuisti. This historical self-manifestation of god is based upon the fact that He is אל, i.e., might absolutely, or the absolutely Mighty One; and He was this, as Psalm 90:2 says, even before the beginning of the history of the present world, and will be in the distant ages of the future as of the past. The foundation of this world's history is the creation. The combination ארץ ותבל shows that this is intended to be taken as the object. ותּחולל (with Metheg beside the e4 of the final syllable, which is deprived of its accent, vid., on Psalm 18:20) is the language of address (Rashi): that which is created is in a certain sense born from God (ילּד), and He brings it forth out of Himself; and this is here expressed by חולל (as in Deuteronomy 32:18, cf. Isaiah 51:2), creation being compared to travail which takes place amidst pains (Psychology, S. 114; tr. p. 137). If, after the example of the lxx and Targum, one reads as passive ותּחולל (Bttcher, Olshausen, Hitzig) from the Pulal חולל, Proverbs 8:24, - and this commends itself, since the pre-existence of God can be better dated back beyond facts than beyond the acts of God Himself, - then the conception remains essentially the same, since the Eternal and Absolute One is still to be thought of as מחולל. The fact that the mountains are mentioned first of all, harmonizes with Deuteronomy 33:15. The modus consecutivus is intended to say: before the mountains were brought forth and Thou wast in labour therewith.... The forming of the mountains consequently coincides with the creation of the earth, which is here as a body or mass called ארץ, and as a continent with the relief of mountains and lowlands is called תבל (cf. תבל ארץ, Proverbs 8:31; Job 37:12). To the double clause with טרם seq. praet. (cf. on the other hand seq. fut. Deuteronomy 31:21) is appended וּמעולם as a second definition of time: before the creation of the world, and from eternity to eternity. The Lord was God before the world was - that is the first assertion of Psalm 90:2; His divine existence reaches out of the unlimited past into the unlimited future - this is the second. אל is not vocative, which it sometimes, though rarely, is in the Psalms; it is a predicate, as e.g., in Deuteronomy 3:24.
This is also to be seen from Psalm 90:3, Psalm 90:4, when Psalm 90:3 now more definitely affirms the omnipotence of God, and Psalm 90:4 the supra-temporality of God or the omnipresence of God in time. The lxx misses the meaning when it brings over אל from Psalm 90:2, and reads אל־תּשׁב. The shorter future form תּשׁב for תּשׁיב stands poetically instead of the longer, as e.g., in Psalm 11:6; Psalm 26:9; cf. the same thing in the inf. constr. in Deuteronomy 26:12, and both instances together in Deuteronomy 32:8. The poet intentionally calls the generation that is dying away אנושׁ, which denotes man from the side of his frailty or perishableness; and the new generation בּני־אדם, with which is combined the idea of entrance upon life. It is clear that השׁיב עד־דּכּא is intended to be understood according to Genesis 3:19; but it is a question whether דּכּא is conceived of as an adjective (with mutable aa), as in Psalm 34:19, Isaiah 57:15 : Thou puttest men back into the condition of crushed ones (cf. on the construction Numbers 24:24), or whether as a neutral feminine from דּך ( equals דּכּה): Thou changest them into that which is crushed equals dust, or whether as an abstract substantive like דּכּה, or according to another reading (cf. Psalm 127:2) דּכּא, in Deuteronomy 23:2 : to crushing. This last is the simplest way of taking it, but it comes to one and the same thing with the second, since דּכּא signifies crushing in the neuter sense. A fut. consec. follows. The fact that God causes one generation to die off has as its consequence that He calls another into being (cf. the Arabic epithet of God el-mu‛ı̂d equals המשׁיב, the Resuscitator). Hofmann and Hitzig take תּשׁב as imperfect on account of the following ותּאמר: Thou didst decree mortality for men; but the fut. consec. frequently only expresses the sequence of the thoughts or the connection of the matter, e.g., after a future that refers to that which is constantly taking place, Job 14:10. God causes men to die without letting them die out; for - so it continues in Psalm 90:4 - a thousand years is to Him a very short period, not to be at all taken into account. What now is the connection between that which confirms and that which is confirmed here? It is not so much Psalm 90:3 that is confirmed as Psalm 90:2, to which the former serves for explanation, viz., this, that God as the Almighty (אל), in the midst of this change of generations, which is His work, remains Himself eternally the same. This ever the same, absolute existence has its ground herein, that time, although God fills it up with His working, is no limitation to Him. A thousand years, which would make any man who might live through them weary of life, are to Him like a vanishing point. The proposition, as 2 Peter 3:8 shows, is also true when reversed: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years." He is however exalted above all time, inasmuch as the longest period appears to Him very short, and in the shortest period the greatest work can be executed by Him. The standpoint of the first comparison, "as yesterday," is taken towards the end of the thousand of years. A whole millennium appears to God, when He glances over it, just as the yesterday does to us when (כּי) it is passing by (יעבר), and we, standing on the border of the opening day, look back upon the day that is gone. The second comparison is an advance upon the first, and an advance also in form, from the fact that the Caph similitudinis is wanting: a thousand years are to God a watch in the night. אשׁמוּרה is a night-watch, of which the Israelites reckoned three, viz., the first, the middle, and the morning watch (vid., Winer's Realwrterbuch s. v. Nachtwache). It is certainly not without design that the poet says אשׁמוּרה בלּילה instead of אשׁמרת הלּילה. The night-time is the time for sleep; a watch in the night is one that is slept away, or at any rate passed in a sort of half-sleep. A day that is past, as we stand on the end of it, still produces upon us the impression of a course of time by reason of the events which we can recall; but a night passed in sleep, and now even a fragment of the night, is devoid of all trace to us, and is therefore as it were timeless. Thus is it to God with a thousand years: they do not last long to Him; they do not affect Him; at the close of them, as at the beginning, He is the Absolute One (אל). Time is as nothing to Him, the Eternal One. The changes of time are to Him no barrier restraining the realization of His counsel - a truth which has a terrible and a consolatory side. The poet dwells upon the fear which it produces.
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