(“Teach Us To Number Our Days”)
[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church), 20 Oct. 2019]
We read in Gen.3:19 ~ “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This is very true and we all know this – we are all heading for death. Some of us are closer to blowing out of our last breath, others not so close, but “die will all of us die,” except if Jesus comes back before we die. We have all (most probably) experienced the finality of death when being in the presence of someone dying, or just by attending the funeral of someone. I can so vividly remember when I had to identify my mother’s body in AVBOB here in Vereeniging, before she was handed over to me, in order to transport her body to Oudtshoorn where she was buried, that it was my mother’s body, but it was absolutely clear that there was no life in her body left – her spirit has left the body – she was dead!
Death is a reality, but the problem however, is that most people and even us, are concerned about how fast life “flies by” and we are concerned with what is passing away, that which troubles or pleases only momentarily. The problem with such an attitude, is that we lose sight of what is eternal.
The Psalm that I want us to look at today, a Psalm that towers over time and reminds us that what matters most in life is not the temporal but the eternal, not the physical but the spiritual, not the visible but the invisible. In other words, all that truly matters is eternity. The Psalm that I am referring to, is Psalm 90.
- SCRIPTURE READING:
Psalm 90 (ESV) ~ “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. 13 Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. 16 Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”
This Psalm is the oldest Psalm in the whole of the Bible and the only one that the title designates as “a prayer of Moses.” It was written over fourteen hundred years before the coming of Jesus.
This Psalm was most probably written during Israel’s wilderness wanderings – a sojourn of a few months, but a travel that turned into a forty-year ordeal. The people of God went in endless circles in the wilderness, going nowhere, dying off before they could reach their destination. In fact, of the approximately 2-4 million Israelites that left Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua together with those who were born in the wilderness, entered the Promised land (Deut.31:7; Jos.14:11) – all the others (those who left Egypt initially), including Moses, died in the wilderness.
Ps.90 is a clear statement of the eternity of God in contrast to the brevity of human life. The emphasis of God’s sovereignty also stands over and against the futility of human existence spoken of in Ps.89:48 ~ “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah.”
The main point of the Psalm is reached in 90:12 where it says ~ “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
I would like us to look at this Psalm today, under the following the headings:
- God’s Eternality (90:1-6);
- God’s Severity (90:7-11);
- God’s Mercy (90:12-17).
- God’s Eternality (90:1-6): As we’ve already seen, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. When Moses addresses God in the opening verse of this Psalm, which is in actual fact a prayer, he declares that God has “been their dwelling place in all generations” (90:1). The Israelites had no place to call home for forty years – they wandered in the wilderness like nomads (a member of a people that travels from place to place to find fresh pasture for its animals and has no permanent home). Moses however, acknowledged that his soul rested in God, who was his true and only “dwelling place.” Generations come and go, but God is the only one constant in the midst of uncertainty.
Before the creation of the world, God alone existed. Before the foundation of the world, before there was anything or anyone else, there was God. There has never been a time that God was not. This God, who is without beginning, shall be God throughout all eternity and never ceasing to be God. In a world that is constantly changing, God is the eternal constant. From everlasting to everlasting, God remains the one true God.
In vss.3-6, Moses states that God controls man’s days, from conception and eventually turning him back to dust. In stark contrast to what and who God is, man has a beginning – created by God out of dust (Gen.2:7), but man also has a definite end, when God returns man back to dust.
When Moses says in 90:4 ~ “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night,” he wants to contrast the Lord’s unchanging presence with the fleeting time which man spends on this earth. It is so brief compared with the Lord’s perspective on time. Peter in 2 Pet.3:8 quotes this verse when he says ~ “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
Moses continues in 90:5-6 to acknowledge to the Lord, that man’s life is very short, in fact, so short that it can be compared to something that is swept away by floodwaters, or a dream that does not exist in reality, or grass, which springs up in the morning but by night-time it has withers or fades away in the heat of the sun. Similar imagery for man’s life is found in Ps.103:15-16, where David says ~ “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”
It is clear from 90:3-6, that the sovereign God is control of man’s days and, in comparison to God’s sovereignty, human existence is just a short time of transition, from to dust again. We must therefore, remember that God is eternal, and constantly remind ourselves that life for mankind is very, very short.
- God’s Severity (90:7-11): We find some shocking words in 90:7 ~ “For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.” Is God really angry with us? Is the reason for our short life span, because He is pouring His wrath out on us? How must we understand this verse in the light of the previous verses?
God’s anger and subsequent judgment are a response to sin, because He sees man’s sins; even so-called secret sins are open to Him. Since man is a sinner, all his life is spent under God’s wrath, and his life is greatly limited – to 70 years (or a few more years, for some people). Life flies away in death like a fleeting bird (Job 20:8). No one can understand God’s powerful wrath, that is why Moses says in 90:11 ~ “Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” It is crystal clear then, that the main reason for man’s early mortality, is not as a result of natural aging, but due to God’s judgment. This off course, all started with the fall in Eden, when Adam first sinned – we’ve seen that in our introduction when I quoted Gen.3:19, as well as Paul’s words in Rom.5:12 ~ “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” This is a fundamental truth with which we should always start any Evangelistic discussion with people – we are sinners and we are doomed to die – some passing to hell for eternity, others by the grace of God, to an eternity in heaven.
In 90:11 Moses asks a rhetorical question (a rhetorical question is one that makes a point rather than requiring a direct answer) ~ “Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” The obvious answer is, “No one.” The truth is, no one gives God the fear that is rightly due to Him. No one understands God’s fierce wrath nor responds in fitting reverence to the Lord.
- God’s Mercy (90:12-17): Moses has already accepted that he is a part of sinful humanity, as guilty as anyone else. Now he puts this reality in a prayer to the Lord:
- First, he realises that the only way to prevent ourselves from offending God is to acknowledge His anger against sin and to seek to fear Him. The prayer of Moses is that he and the people as a whole would be able to assess their days and use them aright. The only way to true knowledge, is to have God as our instructor – He is the only One who can and must teach us to number our days.
Here, “to number” means something far more than mere arithmetic. It is a spiritual approach to our human life, and especially to our fleeting earthly existence. The end result of such numbering is that we are able to bring to God as an offering, a heart of wisdom.
We must, with the help of God, weigh our days and value them. Without God, His eternality, His glory, and His power, man has no ability to accurately weigh his days.
- Secondly, the word “return” that Moses uses in 90:3, when he says that man will return to dust, is exactly the same word that he uses in 90:13, when he says ~ “Return, O Lord! …” Just as God so often asked His people to repent, so now Moses prays that God will do so Himself – not to repent, but that God will have mercy on them and turn away from judging them and instead, save them by returning back to them. Moses is pleading with the Lord that He will shower His covenant servants with unmerited love. He asks that each morning God will give them a reminder of His steadfast love, so that joy and gladness may be present in their lives.
God will of course, continue to turn sinners back to dust, as it were – that is, to bring about the death which is the consequence of sin – and only a repentant sinner, one who turns from his sin, has any hope that God will have pity on him and forgive him his sins.
- Third, Moses asks the Lord to have pity on sinners who repent of their sins (90:13b). He also asks the Lord, not only to have pity on repentant sinners, but that He will rejoice in sinners who repent and that He will do it with joy and gladness in His heart.
- Fourthly, Moses knew that the people were suffering under God’s severe discipline. All this affliction and trouble are God’s righteousness, justice and chastisement (punishment). People have turned their backs on God – they were in sin. Moses prays to God and ask that the people will receive gladness, as they had known sadness. Moses however, goes on and ask that the Lord will also demonstrate His power, His favour, His love, His forgiveness and His joy to and for future generations.
- Fifth, Moses concludes his prayer in 90:17 where he prays for God’s blessing on man’s work. What does Moses mean when he prays about the work of our hands? Simply this: that our lives might not be wasted, but that God would guide us and bless us so that what we do will last for eternity ~ “He who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). As Moses watches the Jews wander in the wilderness, their lives seem so wasted and useless. Being a man of God, he does not want his life to be wasted; he wants it to count for God’s glory. Therefore, he prays that God would establish His works in and through His people. Jesus had the same idea in mind in the Parable of the Two Builders in Matt. 7:21–29.
- APPLICATION AND CONCLUSION:
Apart from Jesus Christ, life would be unbearable. Why endure the trials of life if there is no God and no glory? Then we would be like the sinners who say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor.15:32). But life is not a burden, a sigh, a sleep in the night. With Jesus Christ in control, life is an adventure, a challenge, an investment for eternity. “Teach us to number our days, Lord, and help us to live every day for Jesus Christ with Your wisdom!” (Ps.90:12).
Let us be reminded of and reflect on the five things Moses prays about:
- Help us to use our days right.
- Remind us of Your love and shower us with Your love.
- Be glad and rejoice when we are repentant.
- Show us Your forgiveness, Your favour, Your power, Your love and Your joy, to future generations.
- Let our days count to Your glory and establish Your works in and through us – help us to build our lives on the Rock, Jesus Christ.