“Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psalm 90).
If we were told that we had one day to live, how would we spend it? Would we visit our friends to say a last goodbye? Would we cram as much excitement into it as possible? Would we think back on all those lost opportunities to live for the Lord? We might not have only one day to live, but then none of us know if there will be another tomorrow for us. Life is short and eternity is long. While we have breath we ought to make the most of our time by doing those things God has called us to.
Psalm 90, according to the title found in many Bibles, is “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” Here was a man who communed with God “face to face” (Exodus 33:11), and he was permitted to see something of His glory (Exodus 33:17-23), so we could argue that he knew more about the Lord than many others. Yet in this prayer he asks God to teach him to number his days. Therefore, no matter how much of the Bible we think we know, and regardless of the great things the Lord has used us in, it is not within our human ability to number our days without the power of God. In fact if we did not read about it in Scripture, we would not even recognise the need to do this. It is only by being enlightened by the Holy Spirit that we reflect upon this important requirement.
What does it mean to number our days? Does it simply adding up how many days we have lived since the day of our birth? If we lived our “threescore years and ten” (Psalm 90:10), then we would be on the earth for 25,567 days. Not very long when we put it like that! There is no value gained in knowing the amount of days we have lived thus far, the real value of our days is life itself. Life was given to man by God, therefore it is not ours by right, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). We cannot extend our lives beyond our allotted years, “It is appointed unto men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). Life is a precious and valuable gift given to us by God. Maybe our lives would be more productive if we took this to heart, and they certainly would be if we treated each day as our last.
To number our days demands that we make a choice to serve God or not. “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). Each day we live we either choose the blessed way or the cursed way. There can be no better choice than choosing to live for Jesus all the days of our lives. Moses understood that life is precious and how we spend our days is of vital importance. He saw life as a gift and sought to live in such a way that would bring glory to God.
Moses’ prayer found in Psalm 90 gives us the reason for numbering our days, that is, “apply [our] hearts unto wisdom”. The Lord Jesus teaches that what is in the heart (spirit, nature and character) of man will drive him in his thinking, words and actions. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45). The prophet Jeremiah makes it clear that man is inclined towards evil rather than good, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Left to ourselves we would follow the downward path to destruction, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 16:25). All this changes the moment we choose to number our days and allow God to impute His wisdom so that we can live holy and sanctified lives for His glory.
Each breath we take is indeed receiving part of the precious treasure God has supplied us with. We ought to constantly ask Him to teach us how best we can serve Him in our everyday lives. This undoubtedly is part of what it means to fear the Lord. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). Have we ever taken the time to examine how we spent yesterday? Did we bother, as we rose from our beds this morning, to consider how we were going to honour the Lord today? There is no reason why we cannot make a fresh start and ask God to teach us to number the days we have left and seek the wisdom to live unto Him.
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5:16-17 that Christians should always be “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is”. We wonder if Paul had in mind Moses’ words found in Psalm 90! If we did this, then the glory of God would be upon us as it was with Moses. “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psalm 90:17).