1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
We sometimes get the idea that our current polarized and fragmented society is a new thing, never before seen in the world. That is hardly the case. Consider 17th century England. It started out well with King James riding down from Scotland to assume the throne peaceably after Elizabeth’s long reign. He authorized the translation of the Bible into the King James Version which shaped so much of English language. James was an able politician who managed to keep the roiling societal and national tensions balanced out. But things quickly went awry. His son, Charles, was not so capable. The parliament entered open rebellion against him. A civil war ensued; the king lost not only the war but his head in a public execution. Dour Oliver Cromwell took over. Cromwell was better at winning wars than governing and enforced his very severe form of Puritanism on England. Eventually the people had enough, kicked Oliver’s son out of power and invited Charles II back to resume the monarchy. I have heard it said that Cromwell’s big mistake was in outlawing Christmas celebrations. They were too “popish.” But the English people loved Christmas carols and outlawing such singing was too much.
In the second half of that century, after much blood had been spilt, tensions continued to run high. (Charles II was long thought to be a closet Catholic and his brother, James, was a Catholic in fact.) Religion and politics were a toxic mix. By the end of the century another revolution would take place, this time less bloody, ushering out the house of Stewart and bringing in the thoroughly protestant William and Mary as co-regents.
The church was a total mess at the time. The Church of England was pulled this way and that. A great many of the faithful mistrusted it and formed unaffiliated congregations, often called independents or dissenters. Some of them were so fed up with the situation they left for the new world on a ship called the Mayflower and many subsequent sailing ships. One of the dissenting preachers still in England pulled his son aside and urged him to write hymns. But they had to be the right sort of hymns: none of this popery. Hymns should only be based on the Word of God, the Psalms in particular. The son’s name was Isaac Watts. He heard his father’s admonition and became of the father of English protestant hymnody. The hymn he wrote based upon this psalm is perhaps his most famous: “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”
I encourage you to pull your hymnal (LSB #733) out or if a hymnal is not handy, you can look it up online. Here is a link where you can listen to it being sung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4WCLlC-LLs But don’t just read or listen. Read the psalm and the lyrics of the hymn and see how Watts masterfully interpreted and applied them to his own time and ours. Remember, these words were written for a time perhaps even more conflicted and contentious than our own. David also wrote in such a time. God means these words for you right now.