The phrase "number our days" expresses the thought of putting in order, arranging the use of, or prioritizing time because the end of one's life is fast approaching. Moses wanted us to remember that our remaining number of days grows smaller each day.
He reminds us because we rarely make a conscious relationship between sin and our mortality. We are so busy living for the moment that we fail to see a connection between our conduct and our finite lifespan. Moses appeals for help that we might be wise and live by faith. Proverbs 4:5-6 urges us, "Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you." Because it bears so profoundly upon our accountability to God, using time properly may be the greatest of wisdom.
Romans 13:11-12 carries this thought down to our day, expressing the urgency of our situation:
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Simplify Your Life!
Psalm 90 is a classic example of a biblical psalm. Immediately, it is obvious that it is essentially a prayer, for the first word, "LORD," addresses God directly. The first two verses praise God for always being Israel's refuge and dwelling, as well as for being the ever-living Creator God. The next several verses extol His sovereignty over mankind and compare Him to weak, sinful, and short-lived men. This section concludes in verse 12 with a principle in the form of a plea to God to "teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
The final section, verses 13-17, begins with "Return, O LORD! How long? And have compassion on Your servants." Again, this is a timeless appeal from a godly man for God to dwell again with His people, asking Him to remember that human life is short compared to God's everlasting life (see verses 4, 10), and if He removes Himself too long, it will be too late. It is very similar to David's personal request in Psalm 51: "Do not cast me away from Your presence. . . . Restore to me the joy of Your salvation" (verses 11-12).
Moses' appeal in Psalm 90:13 also has prophetic implications, especially when coupled with verse 12. Here we are, we believe, at the end of the age, awaiting Christ's return, but we really have no idea "how long" we have left. Thus, his advice to learn to use our brief lifetimes wisely has its most fitting application in us. To no other people in history has it been more vital to keep their priorities straight and their eyes on the goal. As the days count down toward Christ's return, our opportunities to strengthen our relationship with God diminish steadily.
The last four verses continue Moses' requests to God: for mercy, joy, fulfillment of His work, glory, the beauty of the LORD God (possibly a reference to holiness; see I Chronicles 16:29; II Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 29:2; 96:9), and stability. All of these are things we also need, especially as the times worsen and the temptations to forsake our calling increase. Moses' prayer, written more than 3,400 years ago, is still current and fresh for our frequent use today.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Moses, Psalmist (Part 1)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Psalms 90:12: