A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
While we are only looking at the first 2 verses, it will be helpful to know something about the structure of this Psalm in its entirety. This Psalm divides into three parts. The first part contains the Church’s comfort amid the distresses and sorrows of this world. The second part (3-11) contains an acknowledgement of the shortness and miseries of life – the results of sin – sin which is set plainly before the Lord who is full of mercy. The last part (12-17) contains a series of petitions, some of which are for wisdom to rightly use the shortness and sorrows of life, the rest are for deliverance from them.
This Psalm, which is a prayer, (Remember that. We’ll come back to this point later.), was written by Moses. Scholars have generally deduced that this was written at the time when the 12 spies returned from their mission and the people murmured against God. The overall flow of the Psalm seems to verify this view. Until this point in Israel’s history the people of God had no place of their own. This is not to say that it was insufficient that God should be their dwelling place, but He had promised to Abraham the land of Canaan as part of His covenant, which would eventually, through the many twists and turns of history, come to fruition in the birth of Christ, the Seed in which all nations of the earth would be blessed.
Israel stands on the very brink of receiving this covenant promise, which was the first step in establishing the nation which would be ruled by the tribe of Judah, through the family of Jesse, through the dynasty of David, which would give birth to the Christ. And on the very brink of receiving this long-awaited promise, the Church’s faith falters, they murmur against God, and incur the justifiable anger of God expressed in the 2nd portion of the Psalm, seen notably in verses 7 through 11.
In a fashion typical of all the Bible’s exhortations to trust in God, Moses sets before us in this verse God’s faithful dealing in the past, and in this particular case, with the Patriarchs. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” Scripture frequently encourages us to trust God by setting before us His ‘track-record,’ as it were, of faithfulness in the past.
Immediately in this passage, we see a presupposition of the Doctrine of Election, or more properly, the grace of adoption, by which God had embraced the offspring of Abraham as His children. How do we make this assessment? Note that little pronoun, “our.” This speaks of God’s particular, electing love for His people. Moses did not say, “Lord, you have been the dwelling place of the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians,” or “of all mankind,” for that matter, but “You have been our dwelling place.” By speaking of ‘generations,’ Moses is looking back to their forefathers in the faith. The Old Testament is saturated with this idea: that of God’s covenant faithfulness across generations – and the relevance of that historical fact to whatever the present situation happened to be. For instance, in the wake (pun intended) of escaping the Egyptian army at the Red Sea, Moses sings in Exodus 15:2, “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”
Samuel Horsley comments on our passage by expressing the experience of God’s people in these words, “Strangers and pilgrims as we have hitherto been, in every succeeding generation, from the days of Abraham; first sojourners in Canaan; then bondsman Egypt; now wanderers in this dreary waste; we nevertheless find the comforts of a home and settlement in thy miraculous protection.”
The point being driven at here is that the same grace of God experienced by the Patriarchs could be counted on by their offspring. Moses is looking back to God’s covenant promise to be a God to His people and their children, and to dwell with them, in a way which far surpassed whatever glory they had seen in the tabernacle over the previous 40 years. Moses’ statement is intended to recount, not how God had been faithful toward the Israelites since the Exodus, but what their fathers had experienced Him to be since the beginning of time.
The concept presented to us in verses 1 and 2, goes back even farther than Abraham. It goes back to before Creation. This is accomplished by setting forth God’s grace towards His people, namely, in being their dwelling, not merely from the date of the Exodus, or from the birth of Abraham, but from all generations. The Hebrew literally says, “to generations and generations.” You may well be aware that repetition is a Hebrew method of emphasis. And the relationship between God’s favor towards His people and God’s eternity is emphasized in these verses by a parallel repetition. God is said to be our dwelling place for “generations and generations,” because He is God from “everlasting and everlasting.” Men live for generations; God’s favor, because He is eternal, is from everlasting to everlasting.
So as I say, we are being taken back before creation itself. Ephesians 1:3-6 expresses this exact same idea in much more explicit language. It reads, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” The “One” He loves is, of course, referring to Christ.
Here we are told that the sovereign, electing grace of God whereby He gathers His people unto Himself and adopts them as His own dear children, is something God did in Christ before the foundation of the world.
Before there was a world in which God’s plan would unfold, before there was a garden in which our first parents were placed, before Abraham was called to sojourn in Canaan, and before his Seed would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, in the decree and purpose of God, He was already the dwelling place of His people. Augustine put it eloquently when he said, “Behold then the eternity that is our refuge that we may fly thither from the mutability of time, there to remain evermore.”