Theme: Three Petitions
This week’s psalm shows us how to look at our earthly life from the Bible’s point of view, with God as the center and focus of it.
Scripture: Psalm 90:1-17
Backing up to verse 12, we find three petitions in this closing section of the psalm.
1. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). This is not a request that we might know that each day is from God and thus be able to check it off as we go along, subtracting it from our allotted “seventy years—or eighty,” as it were (v. 10). It is a prayer that God will help us to live holy lives, which is the path of true wisdom. How do we do that? How do we make each day count for God?
First, we do so by recognizing life’s brevity, which is what Moses has been chiefly writing about in this psalm. If Moses had been a lesser poet, he might have written, “Only one life! Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Second, by living each day for God. One Bible student wrote wisely, “We cannot apply our hearts unto wisdom, as instructed by Moses, except we number every day as our possible last day.”1 We remember that in Jesus’ parable the fool wanted to build bigger and better barns to store his surplus crops, so he could settle down and take life easy. But Jesus said of him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself” (Luke 12:20; see vv. 13-20)? Of all the mathematical disciplines this is the hardest: to number our days. We count everything else, but we do not seem able to use our days rightly and with wisdom.
2. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (v. 14). Alexander Maclaren said, “The only thing that will secure life-long gladness is a heart satisfied with the experience of God’s love.”2 This means that nothing will satisfy the human heart ultimately except God. So forget trying to fill your life with mere things. They will perish. Do not even put your hope in other people. They will die. Saint Augustine prayed, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they find rest in you.”3
3. “Establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands”(v. 17). At last, with his weakness and sin before him, Moses appeals to the grace of God to make what he had been trying to do for God worthwhile. God needs nothing from us, being able from stones to raise up children to Abraham. But there is another side to this, and it is that if God has put us in this life to do something good for him, then it is important that we do it and do it well. William M. Taylor wrote, “So long as we are here…we are required by him for something. Let us therefore find out what that is, and do it; and while we do it, let us pray that God may establish it so that it may remain to bless posterity.”4
Moses did what God had called him to do, and God established his work. We see it in the ongoing history of Israel, of which he was so large a part—in the first five books of the Bible, which he wrote, and even in the psalm we have been studying.
There is one more thing. For centuries this sober song of Moses has been read at funeral services. It is easy to see why. It recognizes the shortness of life but also the truth that God is able to establish the work of our hands, making what we do for God count eternally.
Don’t you want God to do that? Don’t you want your life here and what you do here to have meaning? Don’t you want to be a blessing to others? I am sure you do. But I remind you that the only way that can happen is if God establishes your work. May he do that so that others who come after you will be blessed because of you, and so, when you die and appear before God the Father, you will hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt. 25:21, 23)!
1Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), p. 312.
2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 12.
3Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Baltimore: Penguin, 1961), p. 21.
4William M. Taylor, Moses the Law-Giver (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1961), p. 373.
What does it mean to “teach us to number our days aright”?
Explain what the prayer means for God to “establish the work of our hands for us.”
Reflection: What are some ways in which God is calling you to live each day for him?
Application: How can you encourage someone else to carry out the work the Lord has given to them?
For Further Study: The only true and lasting way for your life to have meaning, and for you to be a blessing to other people, is to be a Christian. Download and read for free the booklet by the Puritan Isaac Ambrose, “Knowing I Was Born Again.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)