Psalm 90:3
Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
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(3) Thou turnest . . .—Probably we must render, Thou turnest man to dust; and sayest, Turn, sons of Adami.e., one generation dies and another succeeds (see Psalm 104:29-30), the continuance of the race being regarded as distinctly due to Divine power as the Creation, to which there is probably allusion.

The LXX. suggest as the true reading, “Turn not man to dust, but say rather,” &c.

Psalm 90:3. Thou turnest man to destruction — But as for man, his case is far otherwise; his time is short; and though he was made by thee happy and immortal, yet for his sin thou didst make him mortal and miserable. And sayest — Or, didst say, that is, pronounce that sad sentence, Return, ye children of men, namely, to the dust, out of which ye were taken.

90:1-6 It is supposed that this psalm refers to the sentence passed on Israel in the wilderness, Nu 14. The favour and protection of God are the only sure rest and comfort of the soul in this evil world. Christ Jesus is the refuge and dwelling-place to which we may repair. We are dying creatures, all our comforts in the world are dying comforts, but God is an ever-living God, and believers find him so. When God, by sickness, or other afflictions, turns men to destruction, he thereby calls men to return unto him to repent of their sins, and live a new life. A thousand years are nothing to God's eternity: between a minute and a million of years there is some proportion; between time and eternity there is none. All the events of a thousand years, whether past or to come, are more present to the Eternal Mind, than what was done in the last hour is to us. And in the resurrection, the body and soul shall both return and be united again. Time passes unobserved by us, as with men asleep; and when it is past, it is as nothing. It is a short and quickly-passing life, as the waters of a flood. Man does but flourish as the grass, which, when the winter of old age comes, will wither; but he may be mown down by disease or disaster.Thou turnest man to destruction - In contradistinction from his own unchangeableness and eternity. Man passes away; God continues ever the same. The word rendered "destruction" - דכא dakkâ' - means properly anything beaten or broken small or very fine, and hence, "dust." The idea here is, that God causes man to return to dust; that is, the elements which compose the body return to their original condition, or seem to mingle with the earth. Genesis 3:19 : "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The word "man" here, of course, refers to man in general - all people. It is the great law of our being. Individual man, classes of people, generations of people, races of people, pass away; but God remains the same. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, "Thou turnest man to "humiliation;" which, though not the sense of the original, is a true idea, for there is nothing more humiliating than that a human body, once so beautiful, should turn back to dust; nothing more humbling than the grave.

And sayest, Return, ye children of men - Return to your dust; go back to the earth from which you came. Return, all of you without exception; - kings, princes, nobles, warriors, conquerors; mighty people, captains, and counselors; ye learned and great, ye honored and flattered, ye beautiful and happy, ye youthful and vigorous, and ye aged and venerable; whatever is your rank, whatever are your possessions, whatever are your honors, whatever you have to make you lovely, to charm, to please, to be admired; or whatever there is to make you loathsome and detestable; ye vicious, ye profane, low, grovelling, sensual, debased; go all of you alike to "dust!' Oh, how affecting the thought that this is the lot of man; how much should it do to abase the pride of the race; how much should it do to make any man sober and humble, that he himself is soon to turn back to dust - unhonored, undistinguished, and undistinguishable dust!

3. to destruction—literally, "even to dust" (Ge 3:19), which is partly quoted in the last clause. But as for man, his case is far otherwise, his time is short; and though he was made by thee a happy creature, and should have been immortal, yet upon and for his sin thou didst make him mortal and miserable.

Sayest, or, didst say, i.e. pronounce that sad sentence here following,

Return, O men, to the dust, out of which you were taken, Genesis 3:19 Psalm 146:4 Ecclesiastes 12:7.

Thou turnest man to destruction,.... Or to death, as the Targum, which is the destruction of man; not an annihilation of body or soul, but a dissolution of the union between them; the words may be rendered, "thou turnest man until he is broken" (b); and crumbled into dust; thou turnest him about in the world, and through a course of afflictions and diseases, and at last by old age, and however by death, returns him to his original, from whence he came, the dust of the earth, which he becomes again, Genesis 3:19 the grave may be meant by destruction:

and sayest, return, ye children of men, or "Adam"; from whom they all sprung, and in whom they all sinned, and so became subject to death; to these he says, when by diseases he threatens them with a dissolution, return by repentance, and live; and sometimes, when they are brought to the brink of the grave, he returns them from sickness to health, delivers them from the pit, and enlightens them with the light of the living, as he did Hezekiah: or this may refer to the resurrection of the dead, which will be by Christ, and by his voice calling the dead to return to life, to rise and come to judgment; though some understand this as descriptive of death, when by the divine order and command man returns to his original dust; thus the frailty of man is opposed to the eternity of God. Gussetius understands all this of God's bringing men to repentance, contrition, and conversion; and takes the sense to be,

"thou turnest till he becomes contrite, and sayest, be ye converted, ye sons of Adam;''

which he thinks (c) best agrees with the mind of the Apostle Peter, who quotes the following passage, 2 Peter 3:8. Some, as Arama observes, connect this with the following verse; though men live 1000 years, yet they are but as yesterday in the sight of God.

(b) "convertes hominem usque ad contritionem", Montanus; "donec conteratur", Musculus, Tigurine verion; "donee sit contritus", Vatablus; "ut sit contritus", Junius & Tremellius. (c) Ebr. Comment. p. 158.

Thou {d} turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.

(d) Moses by lamenting the frailty and shortness of man's life moves God to pity.

3. The thought here is not merely that man’s life is infinitely brief in contrast to the eternity of God, but that it is absolutely at His disposal. The Psalmist plainly refers to Genesis 3:19, though he chooses different words to emphasise his point: Thou makest mortal man return to atoms. Enôsh denotes man in his frailty (Psalm 103:15): dakkâ, lit. pulverisation, implies the dissolution of the body into its constituent elements.

and sayest, Return &c.] Two interpretations deserve consideration: (1) ‘Return to the dust whence ye were taken,’ cp. Psalm 146:4; Job 10:9; Job 34:15. (2) ‘Return into being,’ a call to new generations to appear on the stage of history (Isaiah 41:4). Cp. P.B.V. “Again thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men.” In favour of (2) it is urged that and sayest implies fresh action on the part of God: and that the antithesis of the rise of new generations as the old pass away is more forcible than the synonymous parallelism of (1): but (2) involves a somewhat strained interpretation of Return, and the evident allusion to Genesis 3:19 is in favour of (1). The interpretations Return to Me (cp. Ecclesiastes 12:7), and Return to life in the resurrection, are untenable.

Verse 3. - Thou turnest man to destruction; or, "to dust" (comp. Genesis 3:19). And sayest, Return, ye children of men; i.e. "return once more, and replenish the earth." There may be an allusion to the destruction of mankind by the Deluge, and the repeopling of the earth by the descendants of Noah, as Dr. Kay supposes; or the meaning may be that God is continually bringing one generation of men to an end. and then setting up another, having the same control over human life that he has over inanimate nature (ver. 2). Psalm 90:3The poet begins with the confession that the Lord has proved Himself to His own, in all periods of human history, as that which He was before the world was and will be for evermore. God is designedly appealed to by the name אדני, which frequently occurs in the mouth of Moses in the middle books of the Pentateuch, and also in the Song at the Sea, 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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