Psalm 90:7-17: Wasted Time and the Wasted Life


I want to begin this morning with a riddle. See if you can figure this out. These are the words of Gollum in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Ask yourself, “what is the thing that Gollum is describing?” as I read. Here is the riddle: This thing all things devours: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones to meal; Slays king, ruins town, And beats high mountain down. What is it? What is the great thing that devours birds and beasts? That eventually destroys all towns? And is an enemy and slayer of great men and kings? Well the answer is time.

Time is ticking away and eventually time will get us all. No matter what stage of life you are at your time is slowly counting down. Each of us has only so much time. The psalmist in our text this morning says that “the years of our life are seventy or even by reason of strength eighty.” We only have so long to live. But it was not always so. Time was not always the avid hunter of humanity; quietly stalking us and ready to pounce. No, the psalmist says that the ultimate reason for the brevity of life is God’s anger against and punishment of sin. He says, “we are brought to an end by your anger. . . you have set our iniquities before you our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath.” Sin is then is the original and ultimate time waster. Adam’s sin brought the curse of death on the world and we have short lives today because of it. By choosing to eat the fruit in the garden of Eden, Adam disobeyed God and did not give Him glory. And we too waste our time when we fail to glorify God. Time is only used well when the things we do with our time glorify God. Paul says, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” This is the great standard by which time wasting is measured. We waste our time when we fail to do things that glorify God. Sin is failing to glorify God. Therefore, all sin is time wasting. And everyone in this room this morning wastes their time when they spend their time pursuing sin. Have you ever thought about this? The ultimate enemy of your time is the sin that is present in your own heart.

The people of Israel, that Moses talks about in our text, discovered this great reality too late. They wasted the opportunities they had in time to glorify God and they were punished sharply. They were like Adam, in that they didn’t take God at His Word. They didn’t trust God’s promises to lead them victoriously into the promised land, and they refused to enter the land of Israel. And God sent them off to wander in the wilderness for 40 futile years. All the men over 20 years old would die for their sin before the Israelites were allowed to enter the land. And the wilderness is the context from which Moses writes.

Moses reflects on the experience of Israel in the wilderness as he composes this psalm. Facing the futility of the Israelites time in the dessert across the Jordan river, he looks for hope in the steadfast love of the Lord. Only God can redeem their time. Here is a summary of his main idea: “Recognising that sin is the great time waster and the Lord the great redeemer of time, we should put our hope in God and make the best use of our time.”

That main idea forms the outline of our sermon today. There are two parts: Firstly, sin is the great time waster as we will see in verses 7-11 and then when we look at verses 12-17 we will see God’s place as the great redeemer of time.