Bible Review 21:1, Anniversary Issue

Twenty Years That Have Passed

It seems like just yesterday.

By Ronald S. Hendel

Bible Review

One of the most famous verses of poetry in the Bible concerns the experience of time passing:

For a thousand years in Your eyes

are like yesterday that has passed

and like a watch of the night.

(Psalm 90:4)

In the poetic movement of this verse, two temporal perspectives are juxtaposed. The first is the human perspective, for the speaking voice is human, uttering a psalm of prayer to God. (The psalm superscription identifies the speaker as Moses.) To human eyes, “a thousand years” is an enormous amount of time, far longer than a lifetime.

But the psalm quickly switches to consider God’s perspective on this vast span of time. From God’s point of view, temporal duration has an entirely different sense. The psalm describes God’s sense through similes comprehensible to humans: “like yesterday that has passed,” and even more evanescent, “like a watch in the night,” a period of only a few hours. Through this doubled simile, what is an eon to humans is reduced to a day or less in God’s sense of time. Temporal duration is relative to perspective, and God’s perspective is vastly different from humans’. God lives in eternity, while we live in small packets of time, bounded by fleeting mortality.

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