Psalm 90: The Wisdom and Way of Dwelling in the Lord

Use this guide for either personal or group study of Psalm 90:1-17. You may also want to use it alongside Bobby Gross’s Personal Liturgy for the Work Day based on Psalm 90.

Psalm 90 is an amazing accomplishment. It is realistic, facing troublesome realities squarely and without flinching. At the same time, it is moving and beautiful in facing our insecurities and offering a remedy and a hope. Read the entire psalm slowly (don’t skim it, giving it only your divided attention). If you do not have access to a Bible, you may click here for the passage.

You may also choose to download the Study Guide and use it in your personal quiet time or with a group of faculty.

Perhaps some of the words of this psalm are familiar because they are the basis for the very familiar hymn of Isaac Watts, “O God, our Help in Ages Past.” If you are able, find the hymn (it is the most widely published hymn in the English language) and sing it together.

  1. Analyze the psalm as a poem. What is the structure of the psalm? What literary devices does it employ most often? What images does it use and what or who is “imaged” by them? What “turns of phrase” seem most striking to you?
  2. Focus on verses 1 – 2. These verses introduce us to God in contrast to humanity. Look carefully at the verses and identify what they tell us about our God. What dimension of life is the focus for these verses? Why this focus, in the light of the whole psalm? What is the central “metaphor” used in this description of God? Why this metaphor? Do you think of God in these terms? Can you identify a time or experience you could share with others when the thought of God as your “dwelling place” was important to you?
  3. The “realism” of the psalm is most apparent in vv. 3-11. What are the challenges that the psalmist calls us to face that threaten and blight our lives? Is it simply the product of an incurably melancholy spirit to say that life ends with a moan (9) and that prolonged days only mean prolonged sorrow (10)? How are these two challenges related to one another? (It is perhaps worth observing that in the Hebrew text v. 7, like v. 4, begins with “For …”). Verse 11 concludes this section of the psalm with a question. Why is it critical to face this question? How do folk in our culture cope with these related blights? Why is it a denial of wisdom, even the height of folly, to suppress and deny these challenges?
  4. The remainder of the psalm (12 – 17) is a series of six prayers. What can we learn about the place of prayer in the face of the disintegrating power of sin and God’s anger from these petitions?
  5. Examine each of the petitions and express them in your own words. What does each petition ask for? What does each petition assume or express about the God to whom it is addressed? Consider the following interpretation of the psalm:
    Here are the four strong walls of our eternal dwelling in God: he is our wisdom (12), our forgiveness (13), our stability throughout our days (14), our renewal (15). (Alec Motyer, New Bible Commentary, p.545)
  6. Verse 1 and v. 17 both refer to our God as “the Lord.” How is that different from v. 14, “the LORD?” This repetition at the beginning and end of the psalm suggests that the opening and closing verses of the psalm might form an inclusio (a conclusion that harks back to and repeats an introduction). How are vv. 1-2 and vv. 16-17 similar in the topics they consider? How are they different? What do vv. 16-17 add that makes them a wonderful conclusion to the psalm?
  7. Review the six petitions. Which seems most significant for you in your present circumstances of life and ministry? How does it express a longing you feel, or a blessing you have received? Use the psalm to direct a time of prayer, using its words and your own words to express your thanks and your desires to the LORD.

Note: Reposted on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

Photo credit: HoyasMegPhotostream


Tom Trevethan was one of InterVarsity’s most gifted Bible expositors and he authored the books The Beauty of God’s Holiness (InterVarsity Press) and Our Joyful Confidence: The Lordship of Jesus in Colossians (DILL Press). Tom earned an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and served as a Campus Staff Minister at the University of Michigan for many years serving both students and faculty throughout his career. Tom most recently served on the InterVarsity Faculty Ministry Leadership Team as an Associate Director for Research and Publications, writing many resources for faculty and grad students and contributing to the Lamp Post faculty newsletters for several years (now Campus Calling). Tom retired in 2014 after 47 years of service with InterVarsity. He lived in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife Barbara, where they enjoyed many years of singing with their church and with the local Choral Union which won two Grammy Awards in 2005. Our hearts go out to Barb and their family upon learning of Tom's passing in October 2023. His voice, in both writing as well as singing, will be greatly missed.

In the GFM Resources, Tom's Bible study on Psalm 90 remains a wonderful resource for both students and staff. Tom's writings on the InterVarsity blog in 2014 include, On the Dangers of "Using" Scripture, part 1 and part 2. His research and thoughts on the InterVarsity Doctrinal Basis might have been shared with you during your Orientation to New Staff years ago. You can access the seven part series, Studying InterVarsity's Doctrinal Basis here. Tom worked with Nan Thomas on the Faculty Ministry booklet, Taking Time Apart.

We value the contribution of writers who are not employed by InterVarsity, some of whom may not necessarily agree with all aspects of InterVarsity's ministry, doctrine, or policies. These writings are the words of the writers and may or may not represent InterVarsity. The same is true of any comments which may be posted about any entries. Submitted comments may or may not be posted at the writer or the editor's discretion.