Psalm 90:12
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12) Number our days.—This verse as it stands literally gives to allot, or in allotting (see Isaiah 65:12), our days, so teach, and we will cause to come the heart wisdom. The last clause, if intelligible at all, must mean “that we may offer a wise heart,” and the natural way to understand the verse is to make God, not man, as in the Authorised Version, the reckoner of the days. “In allotting our days thus make us know (i.e., make us know the power of Thine anger), in order that we may present a wise heart.”

The verse must evidently be taken in close connection. with the preceding, or the point of the petition is lost, and though the ordinary rendering, “Teach us to number our days,” has given birth to a number of sayings which might be quoted in illustration, it is neither in itself very intelligible, nor, except by one instance in later Hebrew, can it be supported as a rendering of the original.

Psalm 90:12. So teach us — By thy Spirit and grace, as thou hast already taught us by thy word; to number our days — To consider the shortness and miseries of this life, and the certainty and nearness of death, and the causes and consequences thereof; that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom — That we may heartily devote ourselves to the study and practice of true wisdom; meaning, undoubtedly, that wisdom which alone is such in the sense of the Holy Scriptures; namely, the fearing God and keeping his commandments, or true, genuine godliness and righteousness; that so, by making a right use of this short, uncertain space of time allotted us here, we may prepare for another state, a state of happiness hereafter. For Moses could not intend hereby to give the Israelites any hopes that, by applying their hearts unto wisdom, they might procure a revocation of that peremptory sentence of death passed upon all that generation; nor to suggest that other men might, by so doing, prevent their death; both which he very well knew to be impossible; but he intended to persuade the Israelites and others to prepare themselves for death, and for their great account after death, and, as they could not continue long in this life, and must expect much misery while they did continue in it, to make sure of the happiness of another. It appears, then, that the Israelites in the wilderness, when cut off from all hopes of an earthly Canaan, and the promises of this life, were not left destitute of better hopes, or without the knowledge of a Redeemer and life to come; and that when it is said, Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:16, God led them through this great and terrible wilderness, to humble them, and to prove them, that he might do them good in their latter end; the meaning is, “that he might do them good in their future state, according to the most natural sense of the word אחריתם, acharitham, there used, and Deuteronomy 32:29.”90:12-17 Those who would learn true wisdom, must pray for Divine instruction, must beg to be taught by the Holy Spirit; and for comfort and joy in the returns of God's favour. They pray for the mercy of God, for they pretend not to plead any merit of their own. His favour would be a full fountain of future joys. It would be a sufficient balance to former griefs. Let the grace of God in us produce the light of good works. And let Divine consolations put gladness into our hearts, and a lustre upon our countenances. The work of our hands, establish thou it; and, in order to that, establish us in it. Instead of wasting our precious, fleeting days in pursuing fancies, which leave the possessors for ever poor, let us seek the forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance in heaven. Let us pray that the work of the Holy Spirit may appear in converting our hearts, and that the beauty of holiness may be seen in our conduct.So teach us to number our days - literally, "To number our days make us know, and we will bring a heart of wisdom." The prayer is, that God would instruct us to estimate our days aright: their number; the rapidity with which they pass away; the liability to be cut down; the certainty that they must soon come to an end; their bearing on the future state of being.

That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom - Margin, "Cause to come." We will bring, or cause to come, a heart of wisdom. By taking a just account of life, that we may bring to it a heart truly wise, or act wisely in view of these facts. The prayer is, that God would enable us to form such an estimate of life, that we shall be truly wise; that we may be able to act "as if" we saw the whole of life, or as we should do if we saw its end. God sees the end - the time, the manner, the circumstances in which life will close; and although he has wisely hidden that from us, yet he can enable us to act as if we saw it for ourselves; to have the same objects before us, and to make as much of life, "as if" we saw when and how it would close. If anyone knew when, and where, and how he was to die, it might be presumed that this would exert an important influence on him in forming his plans, and on his general manner of life. The prayer is, that God would enable us to act "as if" we had such a view.

12. This he prays we may know or understand, so as properly to number or appreciate the shortness of our days, that we may be wise.12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

13 Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.

14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

15 Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.

16 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.

17 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 90:12

"So teach us to number our days." Instruct us to set store by time, mourning for that time past wherein we have wrought the will of the flesh, using diligently the time present, which is the accepted hour and the day of salvation, and reckoning the time which lieth in the future to be too uncertain to allow us safely to delay any gracious work or prayer. Numeration is a child's exercise in arithmetic, but In order to number their days aright the best of men need the Lord's teaching. We are more anxious to count the stars than our days, and yet the latter is by far more practical. "That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." Men are led by reflections upon the brevity of time to give their earnest attention to eternal things; they become humble as they look into the grave which is so soon to be their bed, their passions cool in the presence of mortality, and they yield themselves up to the dictates of unerring wisdom; but this is only the case when the Lord himself is the teacher; he alone can teach to real and lasting profit. Thus Moses prayed that the dispensations of justice might be sanctified in mercy. "The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ," when the Lord himself speaks by the law. It is most meet that the heart which will so soon cease to beat should while it moves be regulated by wisdom's hand. A short life should be wisely spent. We have not enough time at our disposal to justify us in misspending a single quarter of an hour. Neither are we sure of enough of life to justify us in procrastinating for a moment. If we were wise in heart we should see this, but mere head wisdom will not guide us aright.

Psalm 90:13

"Return, O Lord, how long?" Come in mercy to us again. Do not leave us to perish. Suffer not our lives to be both brief and bitter. Thou hast said to us, "Return, ye children of men," and now we humbly cry to thee, "Return, thou preserver of men." Thy presence alone can reconcile us to this transient existence; turn thou unto us. As sin drives God from us, so repentance cries to the Lord to return to us. When men are under chastisement they are allowed to expostulate, and ask "how long?" Our fault in these times is not too great boldness with God, but too much backwardness in pleading with him. "And let it repent thee concerning thy servants." Thus Moses acknowledges the Israelites to be God's servants still. They had rebelled, but they had not utterly forsaken the Lord; they owned their obligations to obey his will, and pleaded them as a reason for pity. Will not a man spare his own servants? Though God smote Israel, yet they were his people, and he had never disowned them, therefore is he entreated to deal favourably with them. If they might not see the promised land, yet he is begged to cheer them on the road with his mercy, and to turn his frown into a smile. The prayer is like others which came from the meek lawgiver when he boldly pleaded with God for the nation; it is Moses-like. He here speaks with the Lord as a man speaketh with his friend.

Psalm 90:14

"O satisfy us early with thy mercy." Since they must die, and die so soon, the Psalmist pleads for speedy mercy upon himself and his brethren. Good men know how to turn the darkest trials into arguments at the throne of grace. He who has but the heart to pray need never be without pleas in prayer. The only satisfying food for the Lord's people is the favour of God; this Moses earnestly seeks for, and as the manna fell in the morning he beseeches the Lord to send at once his satisfying favour, that all through the little day of life they might be filled therewith. Are we so soon to die? Then, Lord, do not starve us while we live. Satisfy us at once, we pray thee. Our day is short and the night hastens on, O give us in the early morning of our days to be satisfied with thy favour, that all through our little day we may be happy. "That we may rejoice and be glad all our days." Being filled with divine love, their brief life on earth would become a joyful festival, and would continue so as long as it lasted. When the Lord refreshes us with his presence, our joy is such that no man can take it from us. Apprehensions of speedy death are not able to distress those who enjoy the present favour of God; though they know that the night cometh they see nothing to fear in it, but continue to live while they live, triumphing in the present favour of God and leaving the future in his loving hands. Since the whole generation which came out of Egypt had been doomed to die in the wilderness, they would naturally feel despondent, and therefore their great leader seeks for them that blessing which, beyond all others, consoles the heart, namely, the presence and favour of the Lord.

Psalm 90:15

"Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil." None can gladden the heart as thou canst, O Lord, therefore as thou hast made us sad be pleased to make us glad. Fill the other scale. Proportion thy dispensations. Give us the lamb, since thou has sent us the bitter herbs. Make our days as long as our nights. The prayer is original, childlike, and full of meaning; it is moreover based upon a great principle in providential goodness, by which, the Lord puts the good over against the evil in due measure. Great trial enables us to bear great joy, and may be regarded as the herald of extraordinary grace. God's dealings are according to scale; small lives are small throughout; and great histories are great both in sorrow and happiness. Where there are high hills there are also deep valleys. As God provides the sea for leviathan, so does he find a pool for the minnow; in the sea all things are in fit proportion for the mighty monster, while in the little brook all things befit the tiny fish. If we have fierce afflictions we may look for overflowing delights, and our faith may boldly ask for them. God who is great in justice when he chastens will not be little in mercy when he blesses, he will be great all through; let us appeal to him with unstaggering faith.

continued...

So teach us, by thy Spirit and grace, as thou hast already taught us by thy word. Or, teach us rightly (as this word is used, Numbers 27:7 2 Kings 7:9)

to number, & c., as it follows. To number our days; to consider the shortness and miseries of this life, and the certainty and speediness of death, and the causes and consequences thereof.

That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom; that we may heartily devote ourselves to the study and practice of true wisdom, which is nothing else but piety, or the fear of God. And why so? Not that the Israelites might thereby procure a revocation of that peremptory sentence of death passed upon all that generation; nor that other men might hereby prevent their death, both which he very well knew to be impossible; but that men might arm and prepare themselves for death, and for their great account after death, and might make sure of the happiness of the future life; of which this text is a plain and pregnant proof. So teach us to number our days,.... Not merely to count them, how many they are, in an arithmetical way; there is no need of divine teachings for that; some few instructions from an arithmetician, and a moderate skill in arithmetic, will enable persons not only to count the years of their lives, but even how many days they have lived: nor is this to be understood of calculating or reckoning of time to come; no man can count the number of days he has to live; the number of his days, months, and years, is with the Lord; but is hid from him: the living know they shall die; but know not how long they shall live, and when they shall die: this the Lord teaches not, nor should we be solicitous to know: but rather the meaning of the petition is, that God would teach us to number our days, as if the present one was the last; for we cannot boast of tomorrow; we know not but this day, or night, our souls may be required of us: but the sense is, that God would teach us seriously to meditate on, and consider of, the shortness of our days; that they are but as a shadow, and there is no abiding; and the vanity and sinfulness of them, that so we may not desire to live here always; and the troubles and sorrows of them, which may serve to wean us from the world, and to observe how unprofitably we have spent them; which may put us upon redeeming time, and also to take notice of the goodness of God, that has followed us all our days, which may lead us to repentance, and engage us in the fear of God:

that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom; to consider our latter end, and what will become of us hereafter; which is a branch of wisdom so to do; to seek the way of salvation by Christ; to seek to Christ, the wisdom of God, for it; to fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom; and to walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise; to all which an application of the heart is necessary; for wisdom is to be sought for heartily, and with the whole heart: and to this divine teachings are requisite, as well as to number our days; for unless a man is taught of God, and by his Spirit convinced of sin, righteousness, and judgment, he will never be concerned, in good earnest, about a future state; nor inquire the way of salvation, nor heartily apply to Christ for it: he may number his days, and consider the shortness of them, and apply his heart to folly, and not wisdom; see Isaiah 22:21.

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto {l} wisdom.

(l) Which is by considering the shortness of our life, and by meditating the heavenly joys.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
12. So teach us] So then, as Thy fear (Psalm 90:11) which is “the beginning of wisdom” requires, make us know how &c.: give us that discernment which we lack.

that we may apply &c.] That we may get us an heart of wisdom (R.V.). The verb is used of garnering in the harvest. The second line combines the thoughts of Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 32:29.Verses 12-17. - From complaint the psalmist, in conclusion, turns to prayer - prayer for his people rather than for himself. His petitions are,

(1) that God will enable his people to take to heart the lessons which the brevity of life should teach (ver. 12);

(2) that he will cease from his anger, and relent concerning them (ver. 13);

(3) that he will once more shower his mercies upon them, and cause their affliction to be swallowed up in gladness (vers. 14, 15);

(4) that he will show his glorious doings to them and to their children (ver. 16);

(5) that he will let his beauty rest upon them (ver. 17); and

(6) that he will bless their doings, and establish them (ver. 17). Verse 12. - So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. "Teach us," that is, "so to reflect on the brevity of life, that we may get to ourselves a heart of wisdom," or a heart that is wise and understanding. Psalm 90:5-6 tell us how great is the distance between men and this eternal selfsameness of God. The suffix of זרמתּם, referred to the thousand years, produces a synallage (since שׁנה is feminine), which is to be avoided whenever it is possible to do so; the reference to בני־אדם, as being the principal object pointed to in what has gone before, is the more natural, to say the very least. In connection with both ways of applying it, זרם does not signify: to cause to rattle down like sudden heavy showers of rain; for the figure that God makes years, or that He makes men (Hitzig: the germs of their coming into being), to rain down from above, is fanciful and strange. זרם may also mean to sweep or wash away as with heavy rains, abripere instar nimbi, as the old expositors take it. So too Luther at one time: Du reyssest sie dahyn (Thou carriest them away), for which he substituted later: Du lessest sie dahin faren wie einen Strom (Thou causest them to pass away as a river); but זרם always signifies rain pouring down from above. As a sudden and heavy shower of rain, becoming a flood, washes everything away, so God's omnipotence sweeps men away. There is now no transition to another alien figure when the poet continues: שׁנה יהיוּ. What is meant is the sleep of death, Psalm 76:6, שׁנת עולם, Jeremiah 51:39, Jeremiah 51:57, cf. ישׁן Psalm 13:4. He whom a flood carries away is actually brought into a state of unconsciousness, he goes entirely to sleep, i.e., he dies.

From this point the poet certainly does pass on to another figure. The one generation is carried away as by a flood in the night season, and in the morning another grows up. Men are the subject of יחלף, as of יהיוּ. The collective singular alternates with the plural, just as in Psalm 90:3 the collective אנושׁ alternates with בני־אדם. The two members of Psalm 90:5 stand in contrast. The poet describes the succession of the generations. One generation perishes as it were in a flood, and another grows up, and this also passes on to the same fate. The meaning in both verses of the חלף, which has been for the most part, after the lxx, Vulgate, and Luther, erroneously taken to be praeterire equals interire, is determined in accordance with this idea. The general signification of this verb, which corresponds to the Arabic chlf, is "to follow or move after, to go into the place of another, and in general, of passing over from one place or state into another." Accordingly the Hiphil signifies to put into a new condition, Psalm 102:27, to set a new thing on the place of an old one, Isaiah 9:9 [10], to gain new strength, to take fresh courage, Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 41:1; and of plants: to send forth new shoots, Job 14:7; consequently the Kal, which frequently furnishes the perfect for the future Hiphil (Ew. 127, b, and Hitzig on this passage), of plants signifies: to gain new shoots, not: to sprout (Targum, Syriac), but to sprout again or afresh, regerminare; cf. Arab. chilf, an aftergrowth, new wood. Perishing humanity renews its youth in ever new generations. Psalm 90:6 again takes up this thought: in the morning it grows up and shoots afresh, viz., the grass to which men are likened (a figure appropriated by Isaiah 40), in the evening it is cut down and it dries up. Others translate מולל to wither (root מל, properly to be long and lax, to allow to hang down long, cf. אמלל, אמל with Arab. 'ml, to hope, i.e., to look forth into the distance); but (1) this Pilel of מוּל or Poēl of מלל is not favourable to this intransitive way of taking it; (2) the reflexive in Psalm 58:8 proves that מלל signifies to cut off in the front or above, after which perhaps even Psalm 37:2, Job 14:2; Job 18:16, by comparison with Job 24:24, are to be explained. In the last passage it runs: as the top of the stalk they are cut off (fut. Niph. of מלל). Such a cut or plucked ear of corn is called in Deuteronomy 23:25 מלילה, a Deuteronomic hapaxlegomenon which favours our way of taking the ימולל (with a most general subject equals ימולל). Thus, too, ויבשׁ is better attached to what precedes: the cut grass becomes parched hay. Just such an alternation of morning springing froth and evening drying up is the alternation of the generations of men.

The poet substantiates this in Psalm 90:7. from the experience of those amongst whom he comprehended himself in the לנוּ of Psalm 90:1, Hengstenberg takes Psalm 90:7 to be a statement of the cause of the transitoriness set forth: its cause is the wrath of God; but the poet does not begin כי באפך but כי כלינו. The chief emphasis therefore lies upon the perishing, and כי is not argumentative but explicative. If the subject of כלינוּ were men in general (Olshausen), then it would be elucidating idem per idem. But, according to Psalm 90:1, those who speak here are those whose refuge the Eternal One is. The poet therefore speaks in the name of the church, and confirms the lot of men from that which his people have experienced even down to the present time. Israel is able out of its own experience to corroborate what all men pass through; it has to pass through the very same experience as a special decree of God's wrath on account of its sins. Therefore in Psalm 90:7-8 we stand altogether upon historical ground. The testimony of the inscription is here verified in the contents of the Psalm. The older generation that came out of Egypt fell a prey to the sentence of punishment, that they should gradually die off during the forty years' journey through the desert; and even Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb only excepted, were included in this punishment on special grounds, Numbers 14:26., Deuteronomy 1:34-39. This it is over which Moses here laments. God's wrath is here called אף and חמה; just as the Book of Deuteronomy (in distinction from the other books of the Pentateuch) is fond of combining these two synonyms (Deuteronomy 9:19; Deuteronomy 29:22, Deuteronomy 29:27, cf. Genesis 27:44.). The breaking forth of the infinitely great opposition of the holy nature of God against sin has swept away the church in the person of its members, even down to the present moment; נבהל as in Psalm 104:29, cf. בּחלה, Leviticus 26:16. It is the consequence of their sins. עון signifies sin as the perversion of the right standing and conduct; עלוּם, that which is veiled in distinction from manifest sins, is the sum-total of hidden moral, and that sinful, conduct. There is no necessity to regard עלמנוּ as a defective plural; עלמים signifies youth (from a radically distinct word, עלם); secret sins would therefore be called עלמות according to Psalm 19:13. God sets transgressions before Him when, because the measure is full and forgiveness is inadmissible, He makes them an object of punishment. שׁתּ (Ker, as in Psalm 8:7 : שׁתּה, cf. Psalm 6:4 ואתּ, Psalm 74:6 ועתּ) has the accent upon the ultima before an initial guttural. The parallel to לנגדּך is למאור פּניך. עור is light, and מאור is either a body of light, as the sun and moon, or, as in this passage, the circle of light which the light forms. The countenance of God (פני ה) is God's nature in its inclination towards the world, and מאור פני ה is the doxa of His nature that is turned towards the world, which penetrates everything that is conformed to God as a gracious light (Numbers 6:25), and makes manifest to the bottom everything that is opposed to God and consumes it as a wrathful fire.

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