“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.
You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. 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.”
I think we would all agree that this past year we have been reminded about death more than any other year in recent memory. Just the COVID-19 statistics are put before our faces almost every day. But death is put before us in other ways besides COVID-19. The reality of death has hit us pretty hard.
That reality of death had also hit Moses pretty hard. I think this Psalm was written at the back end of his wilderness experience. He had taken leadership to bring them out of Egypt and to go through that wilderness—they had been in the wilderness for forty some years.
One by one, they die. Only two of them make it into the promised land. So, he probably witnessed at least a million people dying there in that wilderness. Even Moses himself doesn’t make it into that promised land. So, it is a very somber Psalm.
Notice how it begins again: it focuses upon God, reminding us that He is our fixed home. God is our dwelling place. We have that blessed hope of heaven. God will always have a dwelling place on his people. But the Psalm, at least the portion here, has its great emphasis on the frailty of man and the brevity of life. He wants to underscore that life is short. Life is brief. The older you get, the more you feel that. Someone has said, “The older we get, the more we feel like we are paddling on Niagara river, getting closer and closer to Niagara falls.” Moses is using that sobering truth, the reality of life’s brevity.
Then Moses shapes a prayer in light of that. That is verse 12. He wants us to “apply our hearts to wisdom.” That is what he is asking. That we would be wise and that God would teach us to number our days. That we would know how to make the best use, or stewardship, of our life on this earth. There is probably nothing more precious, from a temporal perspective, than time. It is more precious than gold and silver. We need wisdom, he says, as to how to live for God’s glory and how can we best steward the time. Paul uses the language, “redeem the time,” in Ephesians.
So, on the other side of the coronavirus, who are the wisest people? Those who diversified their financial portfolios? Those who stocked up on masks and toilet paper? Those who stayed healthy? Or the ones who made the best use of time? They grew in holiness, grew in their
love for the Savior, and grew in their love for God’s people. They were using their time to build treasures in heaven.
There was a man named James Smith, he was a predecessor of Charles Spurgeon at the New Park Street Chapel in London. At the very beginning of the year, these were some of the things he said to his people. “I want you to redeem the day, to redeem the time. [In part] here is what I want for you. I want you to experience these seven things for the new year. The Spirit working in your hearts. His blood speaking to your conscience. His power subduing your corruptions. His blessing resting upon your souls. His presence cheering your way. His righteousness covering your sins. His peace keeping your hearts and minds.” These are the seven things he said, “I want you to experience.”
Then James Smith said this: “These are the seven things I want you to be preserved from for the year.” Again, think about what Moses said, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12) We have heard seven positives. Now here are seven negatives. James Smith said, “[I desire]…that God would preserve us from a hard heart, a seared conscience, a proud look, an unforgiving spirit, a distrusting of God.” So, we should really pray as we have a whole year in front of us that God would teach us to number our days, and that we would redeem the time.
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