Our Dwelling Place, Psalms 90-91

The Samaritan House, at which many of us serve food every week, is an awesome place, a place where people, who would not otherwise be, are safe and feed and taken care of for a while so they can find jobs and housing. We have some here this morning from the Samaritan House.

There is another place, another shelter, another refuge in which many of us here live. I live there. And in this shelter there is room for all and all are welcome. And it doesn’t have to be a place of just temporary residence. You can stay there as long as you want. I hope that anyone here who is not living in this shelter will move in with us today.

Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms…” God is a dwelling place, a shelter, a refuge, with room for all. Maybe you can recall some the teachings of Jesus in John 15 and teachings in the letter of I John about abiding in the Son and abiding in the Father. We can move in to God, take shelter in God and abide there, live there. The Thessalonian letters in the New Testament both begin the same way. They both start off like this, “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Thessalonian Christians dwelled in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the place in which they lived.

But is God your dwelling place? Is He your shelter?

There is a sense in which we could say that God is the dwelling place of everybody. Everybody lives in God in a sense. Remember Paul, preaching to the pagans in Athens in Acts 17, said to them about the God who made the world and all things in it, “He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our very being…” Everybody lives in God in the sense that He’s omnipresent, He’s everywhere at the same time all the time and ruling over all things everywhere at the same time.

But there is also a sense in which God is not everybody’s dwelling place. Our dwelling places physically are our houses or apartments with insulated walls and locks on the doors, and conveniences like running water and electricity, and comfortable seats and beds, and we have our food and medicine and things we need there. And we live there for protection from weather and heat and cold and bugs and animals and bad people and other things outside. And we live there for our health and comfort and well being. Not everybody has a relationship with God where God is like that to them. Yes, everybody lives in the omnipresence of God. But only some people make God their dwelling place in the sense of like their home, their refuge, their fortress in which they’re safe and protected and blessed. When we talk about dwelling in God this morning, we’re talking about having a relationship with God where He is our safe haven.

We’re going to be mostly in Psalm 90 this morning, if you’d like to be turning there in your Bibles. And we’ll be in Psalm 91 a little bit too. A theme of both of Psalm 90 and 91 is that we need to make the Lord our dwelling place, our shelter, our refuge. And we’re going to answer 2 questions from these Psalms – why and how? Why would we want to take shelter in God? We can maybe build up for ourselves a shelter of money and possessions and friends and family and a good job and good insurance and a strong house in a good neighborhood and so forth. When we can have ourselves “covered” by all of that, why would we want to take shelter in the Lord? And how would we do that if we wanted to? How do you move in and live in God?

Why make the Lord your dwelling place

Psalm 90 is probably the oldest Psalm in the book of Psalms. The ancient superscription above this Psalm attributes it to Moses. “A prayer of Moses, the man of God,” it says. And we don’t have any reason to doubt that that’s what this Psalm was. This is the only Psalm attributed to Moses. And Moses of course lived way before David and Asaph and Solomon and the other authors of the Psalms. So this is probably the oldest one in the book.

v1 says, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.” I think Moses is speaking there on behalf of all of God’s servants in generations past and present. He’s speaking on behalf of people like him, people like Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Joseph and Joshua and Caleb. People of God through all the ages have had God as their dwelling place, their shelter. And then in the rest of the Psalm Moses explains why they have taken shelter in the Lord; why you and I would want to do the same. I see 4 reasons.

#1, from everlasting to everlasting, He is mighty.

That’s v2, “Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” The word translated “God” is el in the Hebrew text. It means mighty one, powerful one.

He is not like any other shelter. His foundations never crack. His rafters never sage. His boards never rot. His windows never break. He’s literally older than the hills and older than dirt. And yet He is in no way worn or deteriorated or weakened. No force in the universe has been able in even the smallest way to diminish His strength and power. In beginning He gave birth to the earth and the world. In the beginning He was God, el, the mighty one. And Moses knew that He was still just as mighty in his day. Moses had witnessed God bring the plagues on Egypt and the part of the Red Sea and the feed and water a nation of at least 2 million out in a barren wilderness and other mighty deeds. And Moses knew that God will always be as mighty as He ever was. From everlasting to everlasting, He is God.

Your security in a dwelling place only lasts as long as it’s only weaker forces that come up against your dwelling place. But once stronger forces come that you’re dwelling place can’t handle, you’re no longer safe. You can shelter yourself with all the money and friends and family and insurance and body guards and military power in the world, but that shelter is just a straw house to forces like Satan and death and the judgment to come. There are greater forces that will blow right through any shelter you can build for yourself. There is only one dwelling place, one shelter that is everlasting and mighty to save from those greater forces. It’s the one who gave birth to the earth and the world.

#2, we want to make the Lord our dwelling place, because this life we experience on earth is barely taste of eternity.

That’s v3-6. Now, I think Moses has in mind here events that we read of in the first 7 chapters of the book of Genesis, which Moses also wrote. I see here several allusions to what we read in the early chapters of Genesis. In v2 he alluded to the creation account where God gave birth to the earth and the world. In v3 where he says, “You turn man back into dust And say, ‘Return, O children of men,” he’s alluding to the curse on mankind because of the sin of Adam and Eve in Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:19, to Adam after his disobedience in the Garden, God said, “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” In v4 here where he says, “For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by…” I think there’s an allusion to Genesis ch5. In the genealogy in Genesis 5 before the flood of Noah’s day, do you remember how long it says that people were living? Almost 1000 years. Most those listed in the Genesis 5 genealogy lived 900 and something years. Methuselah it says lived 969 years. And I think Moses has that in mind when he says that even that is a very small amount of time to God who is from everlasting to everlasting. And v5 literally reads “You flooded them away, they are asleep.” I think Moses has in mind the great deluge of Noah’s day that he wrote about in Genesis 6-7. Those people living almost a thousand years, God flooded them away.

v3-6 is saying that even if we could live a thousand years like the pre-flood people, even that would be nothing compared to eternity. A thousand years to the One who is from everlasting to everlasting is like what yesterday or a watch in the night is to us. Now, think about 1,000 years. Think of all of the history that has occurred in the past 1,000 years! On this coming July 4 America will be 239 years old. Columbus discovered this land just a little over 520 years ago, just a little over half of 1,000 years ago. It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around 1,000 years. You know that the older you get the shorter the days and the years seem to be. I’m not near as old as some of you, but I’ve noticed that. When you’re 5 years old each year is 20% of your life. And so a year seems long and significant. When you’re 50 years old, each year is only 2% of your life, and seems not so long. When you get to be Nita’s age, each year is only 1% of your life, and a year seems like a much smaller increment of time. Well, when you’re God’s age, 1,000 years is nothing. It’s like yesterday. It’s like a watch in the night.

And then another image for the way God sees 1000 years is in v5-6. He’s still using in v5-6 the 3rd person pronoun “they.” He’ll change to the 1st person pronoun “we” at v7, but in v5-6 he’s still talking about “they.” I think he’s talking about the pre-flood people that lived such long lives from our perspective. “In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades and withers away.” From God’s perspective Methuselah who lived 969 years, was like a little blade of grass that springs up in the morning, green and vibrant, but it’s a hot summer day and that afternoon it’s parched by the sun and a hot wind and withers away and is gone, just like that. You see, even if we could live as long as Methuselah we’d be only getting barely a taste of eternity. Eternity is a long time. And there’s only one dwelling place that can keep us safe for eternity.

#3, we want to make the Lord our dwelling place because in this life we’re only getting a taste of God’s wrath against sin.

That’s v7-11, “For we have been consumed by Your anger And by Your wrath we have been dismayed. 8 You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence. 9 For all our days have declined in Your fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. 10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11 Who understands the power of Your anger And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?

It’s interesting that the scientists today do not know why we die. Our bodies are collections of cells, magnificent complicated collections of cells. And cells are constantly dividing and making copies of themselves, renewing themselves. We’re born, we grow up to our prime and then we start to go downhill toward death as our cells decide to stop dividing, stop renewing themselves. And it happens at different times in different animals. The cells in mice decide to quit much sooner, so mice only live 2 or 3 years. But the cells in a Galapagos Turtle keep replicating much longer so they can live over 150 years. Why do our cells decide to quit renewing themselves? It’s like our cells have death programmed into them. It’s like they come with alarm clocks that start ticking when we’re born and eventually they “ding” and then we start to deteriorate, we start to die. Why?

Moses says here it’s because of God’s anger against sin. Romans 5:12 says, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned“. Death is a consequence God has brought on the human race because the human race sinned back in the garden of Eden.

And if my translation is right in v9 where it says, “For all our days have declined in Your fury,” Moses may be comparing our days with the days of the pre-flood people. Our days have declined big time. God won’t let us live 1000 years any more. Now on average we don’t even live a 10th of that time, on average only 70 to 80 years. And Moses is saying that also is because of sin and God’s anger against sin.

And he says that not only are our lives short, but they’re also sour. v9, “We have finished our years like a sigh.” And v10, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow.” In other words somebody might take pride in the fact that they’ve lived so long, 80 or so years, but what real advantage is it to them, because our lives are just full of labor and sorrow. It’s not all that great for a person to live longer. Moses probably particularly has in mind the lives of the exodus generation of Israel that he lived with. Their lives were especially hard. They went from the bitterness of slavery in Egypt to wandering in a harsh wilderness for forty years, and God was constantly disciplining them out in the wilderness, sending plagues and snakes to bit them and enemies to attack them and so forth, because they kept rebelling against His will.

Our lives may not be as hard as theirs. But everybody in this fallen world will experience a lot labor and sorrow. And it’s another consequence of sin. Genesis 3:17-19, “Then to Adam God said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” And we know that curse has not been lifted from mankind yet. Some of you here might look back on your life and summarize it like old Jacob did in Genesis 47:9, when his son Joseph brought him to meet Pharaoh. And Pharaoh looked at him and said, “How old are you?” Jacob said, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life…” He had times of joy in his life. But as he looked back on his whole life, he saw more sorrow than he did joy. Think about what we have recorded of his life in the book of Genesis. There was all the conflict with his brother Esau growing up and then for 20 years he had to work the hard job of a shepherd for his greedy uncle Laban who kept trying to take advantage of him. And then he was scared to death to move back to the land of Canaan where he’d run into Esau again. And his daughter Dinah was raped. And then in revenge his sons massacred all the men of the town of Shechem, making his family odious to the inhabitants of the land. Rachel, his wife, died giving birth to Benjamin. His parents died. His son Reuben committed adultery with Bilhah his concubine. For 22 years he thought that his boy Joseph had been killed by wild animals. Two of his grandchildren from Judah died. And then his daughter-in-law Judah’s wife died. His whole life was one sorrow after another. And some of you here would maybe summarize your life the same way. Few and unpleasant have been the years of my life. And it’s a consequence of sin. Not necessarily all your own sins. A lot of times we suffer as a consequence of the sins of others. But still, because of sin and God’s anger against sin.

In v11 Moses asks, “Who understands the power of Your anger And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?” He is saying, I think, the full brunt of God’s anger is withheld from us in this life and so it’s unknown to us. People don’t understand the magnitude of God’s anger and fury against sin. We’re only getting a taste of it here.

But there is a day coming, we know, when God will fully exert His wrath on the sins of men. The apostle Paul spoke of it often in his letters, calling it “the wrath come.” Peter called it “the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” The suffering and death we experience in this life is only a taste of the wrath to come. This is another reason why we want to make the Lord our dwelling place. We don’t want to be outside of Him when His wrath is poured out on this world. We want to be in Him where that wrath can’t touch us. Jesus said even if you have to cut off your right hand and gouge out your right eye to quit practicing sin in your life so that you can be in Him and saved from that wrath, it’d be worth it to do that.

Moses says in v12, “So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” Numbering our days involves seeing life as he has described it, that it’s short and sour and it’s just barely a taste of eternity and a taste of God’s wrath against sin. Understanding that and living with that in perspective is wisdom and motivates us to make the right decisions in our lives.

#4, we want to take shelter in God, because there’s another side of God.

Besides His just, sin hating and punishing side. There’s another more dominant side of God. This is v13-17 and also Psalm 91.

Moses heard it from God’s own mouth. You remember the occasion when Moses boldly asked God, “I pray You, show me your glory!” in Exodus 33. He wanted to actually see God as God really is with his own eyes. And God said, “Well, I can’t do that, Moses. Nobody can see me and live.” But God said, “Here’s what I’ll do though. I will proclaim to you My name, My character. I’ll reveal to you some about who I am.” And God proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

Moses’ prayer here in Psalm 90:13-17 appeals to that other side of God’s nature, that compassionate, gracious, lovingkindness side. And Moses appeals to God to show that side of Himself to those who serve Him. “Do return, O Lord; how long will it be? And be sorry for Your servants. [He’s asking God to reverse the plight of His servants here on earth. Here we have short sour lives. He’s asking God to give us longer lives and lives of joy.] O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil. Let Your work appear to Your servants And Your majesty to their children. [Show us Your majesty, Your glory. Show us Your grace and compassion and lovingkindness.] Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm [give permanence to] the work of our hands.” In other words “Deliver us from just living vain futile meaningless lives. Let us live lives of meaning and that have lasting value.”

And Psalm 91, I’ll leave it to you to read the whole thing on your own, but Psalm 91 tells us that God will do what Moses prayed for and God will do far more than what Moses prayed for for His servants who take refuge in Him. Moses prayed in v15, “Make us glad according to the days He has afflicted us, and the years we have seen evil.” In other words, “Give us as many happy days as we’ve had sad days.” Well, God will do far more than that. Look at how Psalm 91 ends. Psalm 91:14-16 God is speaking of what He will do for those who dwell in Him “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. 15 He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation.”I think God means I will satisfy him with what I see as long life. If a thousand years is like yesterday or a watch in the night to God, then what is long life to God?

Here’s why we want to take shelter in God – From everlasting to everlasting He is mighty. This life is barely a taste of eternity. And we’re only getting a taste of God’s anger against sin. But also with every good thing we experience, with every happy joyous occasion, we’re getting a taste of the gracious, compassionate, lovingkindness side of God, we’re getting a taste of the life that God wants us to share with Him for eternity.

How do we make Him our dwelling place?

How do we have a relationship with God where He is our safe haven? I see 3 points in these Psalms. I also see these same 3 points in the book of I John.

#1 Trust

Psalm 91:1-2, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust.”‘ You must trust God. Not just believe that He exists. But trust Him. Trust that all He says is true. Trust that He will keep His promises. Trust when He says “I will do A when you do B,” that He really is going to do A when you do B. And when He says “But I will do x if you do y” then you know x is coming if you do y. You must accept what He says as being reality. Listen to I John 2:24, “As for you, let that abide in you which you have heard from the beginning. [He’s talking about the true gospel. That’s what they had heard from the beginning of their conversion. The message of Christ that the apostles preached and wrote in the NT about who Christ is and what He’s done and what He will do and what He demands of us. Let that abide in you. Hang on to the gospel. Keep trusting that message from God.] If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” How you do abide in God? How do you live in Him? In involves hanging on to the gospel, trusting what God has revealed to us here.

#2 Love

Remember Psalm 91:14, “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him…”Listen to I John 4:16, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” We must trust Him and we must love Him. Those go together. The reason we love Him is because we trust that He really does love us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins and He will keep all the magnificent promises that He’s made to us.

#3 obedience

Which is how trust and love are manifested. Remember Psalm 90:13 Moses prayed for God to have compassion on His servants and bless His servants. Moses prayed that for God’s servants because Moses knew God is not going to grant forgiveness and save those who refuse to serve Him. He’s not going to be a refuge, a fortress to those who will not submit to Him in their lives. Hebrews 10:26, “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins [there’s no sacrifice to cover the sins of one who goes on habitually willfully sinning], but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” Listen to I John 3:24, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him…” By obedience we live in God. And that’s what it is to trust and love Him. Think about it. If we really trust Him, we do whatever He says we need to do. If we don’t do that, it shows that we don’t really trust Him. And if we love Him, we do whatever He says He wants us to do, because we want to please Him.

That’s living in the Lord as your dwelling place, your shelter, your refuge. It’s trusting and loving and obeying His word. You’re trying to treat people like you want to be treated as He tells us. You’re trying to be honest. You’re trying to be sexually pure. You’re trying handle your money like He’d want you to. You’re trying to assemble with the saints and encourage and worship. You’re trying to be a light for Him among people of the world… Imperfectly, you’re trying. You’re still weak and foolish in ways and flawed in your character as we all are. But you’re not going on habitually willfully sinning. You’re not rebellious toward His commands. That’s living in God. That’s where eternal security is found.

And if you’re not living there with us this morning, we hope you’ll move in with us today. And in case there’s anyone here who doesn’t know this, let me just show you real quick the act of trust and obedience whereby we officially move in to God. Matthew 28:18-19, Jesus is speaking to His disciples after His resurrection and gives them what we call the great commission. He says to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” That preposition there in the Greek text “in” “in the name of”, is eis, which really means into or unto. They’re to baptize converts into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. When, with trusting and penitent hearts, we are baptized as the Lord commands, we are baptized into fellowship with all that the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit represents. That’s the moment we move in to God. Romans 6:3, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” We are baptized into Christ. That’s when we move in. At that moment we also come into His death. It’s where we appropriate His death as our payment for our sins and at that moment God considers our sins as paid in full. And one more, Galatians 3:26-27, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” We move into Christ when our faith in Him leads to obey His command to be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins. And once we’ve moved in, we live there as we continue to trust and love and obey.

– James Williams

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