Jehovah Shows Us How to Count Our Days
“Show us just how to count our days in such a way that we may bring a heart of wisdom in.”—PSALM 90:12.
1. Why is it appropriate to ask Jehovah to show us how “to count our days”?
JEHOVAH GOD is our Creator and Life-Giver. (Psalm 36:9; Revelation 4:11) No one else could therefore be in a better position to show us how to use our years of life in a wise way. Appropriately, then, the psalmist petitioned God: “Show us just how to count our days in such a way that we may bring a heart of wisdom in.” (Psalm 90:12) The 90th Psalm, where we find that plea, certainly merits our careful consideration. First, though, let us get a brief overview of this divinely inspired song.
2. (a) Who is named as the composer of Psalm 90, and when may it have been written? (b) How should the 90th Psalm affect our view of life?
2 The superscription of Psalm 90 calls it “a prayer of Moses, the man of the true God.” Since this psalm emphasizes the transitoriness of human life, it was likely composed after the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian bondage and during their 40-year trek in the wilderness, when thousands of deaths brought a faithless generation to its end. (Numbers 32:9-13) In any case, Psalm 90 shows that the life of imperfect humans is short. Clearly, then, we should use our precious days wisely.
3. What are the basic contents of Psalm 90?
3 In Psalm 90, verses 1 to 6 identify Jehovah as our eternal dwelling place. Ps 90 Verses 7 to 12 show what we need in order to use our fleeting years of life in a manner acceptable to him. And as expressed in Ps 90 verses 13 to 17, we earnestly desire to be recipients of Jehovah’s loving-kindness and blessing. Of course, this psalm does not foretell our individual experiences as Jehovah’s servants. Nevertheless, we should personally take its prayerful sentiments to heart. Let us therefore look closely at Psalm 90 through the eyes of those dedicated to God.
Jehovah—Our “Real Dwelling”
4-6. How is Jehovah “a real dwelling” for us?
4 The psalmist opens with the words: “O Jehovah, you yourself have proved to be a real dwelling for us during generation after generation. Before the mountains themselves were born, or you proceeded to bring forth as with labor pains the earth and the productive land, even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God [or, the Divine One].”—Psalm 90:1, 2, footnote.
5 For us “the everlasting God,” Jehovah, is “a real dwelling”—a spiritual refuge. (Romans 16:26) We feel secure, for he is always there to help us as the “Hearer of prayer.” (Psalm 65:2) Because we cast our anxieties upon our heavenly Father through his beloved Son, ‘the peace of God that excels all thought guards our hearts and mental powers.’—Philippians 4:6, 7; Matthew 6:9; John 14:6, 14.
6 We enjoy spiritual security because, figuratively speaking, Jehovah is “a real dwelling” for us. He also provides “interior rooms”—likely linked closely with the congregations of his people—as spiritual havens, where loving shepherds contribute greatly to our sense of security. (Isaiah 26:20; 32:1, 2; Acts 20:28, 29) Moreover, some of us belong to families that have a long history of service to God and have personally found him to be ‘a real dwelling during generation after generation.’
7. In what sense were the mountains “born” and the earth brought forth as with “labor pains”?
7 Jehovah existed before the mountains were “born” or the earth was brought forth as with “labor pains.” Viewed from a human standpoint, producing this earth with all its features, chemistry, and complicated mechanisms required a great deal of effort. And by saying that the mountains were “born” and the earth was brought forth as with “labor pains,” the psalmist is showing great respect for the amount of work involved when Jehovah created these things. Should we not have similar respect and appreciation for the Creator’s handiwork?
Jehovah Is Always There for Us
8. What is meant by the statement that Jehovah is God “from time indefinite to time indefinite”?
8 “Even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God,” sang the psalmist. “Time indefinite” can refer to things that have an end but the duration of which has not been specified. (Exodus 31:16, 17; Hebrews 9:15) At Psalm 90:2 and elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, though, “time indefinite” means “eternal.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4) Our minds cannot understand how it is possible that God has always existed. Yet, Jehovah had no beginning and will have no end. (Habakkuk 1:12) He will always be alive and ready to help us.
9. With what does the psalmist equate a thousand years of human existence?
9 The psalmist was inspired to equate a thousand years of human existence with a very short time in the experience of the eternal Creator. Addressing God, he wrote: “You make mortal man go back to crushed matter, and you say: ‘Go back, you sons of men.’ For a thousand years are in your eyes but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch during the night.”—Psalm 90:3, 4.
10. How does God make man “go back to crushed matter”?
10 Man is mortal, and God makes him “go back to crushed matter.” That is, man returns “to dust,” as crushed, or pulverized, earth. In effect, Jehovah says: ‘Go back to the dust of the ground from which you were made.’ (Genesis 2:7; 3:19) This applies to all—strong or weak, rich or poor—for no imperfect human ‘can by any means redeem even a brother, nor give to God a ransom for him, that he should live forever.’ (Psalm 49:6-9) But how thankful we are that ‘God gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might have everlasting life’!—John 3:16; Romans 6:23.
11. Why can we say that a long time for us is very short to God?
11 From Jehovah’s standpoint, even 969-year-old Methuselah lived less than a day. (Genesis 5:27) To God a thousand years is but as yesterday—a period of just 24 hours—when it is past. The psalmist also notes that to God a thousand years is like a sentry’s four-hour watch at an encampment during the night. (Judges 7:19) Clearly, then, a long time for us is very short to the eternal God, Jehovah.
12. How are humans ‘swept away’ by God?
12 In contrast with God’s eternal existence, present human life is short indeed. Says the psalmist: “You have swept them away; they become a mere sleep; in the morning they are just like green grass that changes. In the morning it puts forth blossoms and must change; at evening it withers and certainly dries up.” (Psalm 90:5, 6) Moses saw thousands of Israelites die in the wilderness, ‘swept away’ by God as in a flood. This portion of the psalm has been rendered: “You sweep men away in the sleep of death.” (New International Version) On the other hand, the life span of imperfect humans is “a mere sleep” of short duration—comparable to just one night’s slumber.
13. How are we “just like green grass,” and how should this affect our thinking?
13 We are ‘just like green grass that puts forth blossoms in the morning’ but by evening has withered under the sun’s intense heat. Yes, our life is as transitory as grass that withers in a single day. Therefore, let us not waste this precious commodity. Instead, we should seek God’s guidance on how we ought to use our remaining years in this system of things.
Jehovah Helps Us “to Count Our Days”
14, 15. Psalm 90:7-9 had what fulfillment upon the Israelites?
14 As to God, the psalmist adds: “We have come to an end in your anger, and by your rage we have been disturbed. You have set our errors right in front of you, our hidden things before your bright face. For all our days have come to their decline in your fury; we have finished our years just like a whisper.”—Psalm 90:7-9.
15 Faithless Israelites ‘came to an end in God’s anger.’ They were ‘disturbed by his rage,’ or ‘terrified by his indignation.’ (New International Version) Some were “laid low in the wilderness” as a result of divine judgments. (1 Corinthians 10:5) Jehovah ‘set their errors right in front of him.’ He called them to account for their public wrongdoing, but even their “hidden things,” or concealed sins, were ‘before his bright face.’ (Proverbs 15:3) As objects of God’s fury, the unrepentant Israelites ‘finished their years just like a whisper.’ For that matter, our own brief life span is like a breath passing our lips as a mere whisper.
16. If some are practicing sin secretly, what should they do?
16 If any of us were to practice sin secretly, we might be able to hide such conduct from fellow humans for a time. But our hidden wrongdoing would be ‘before Jehovah’s bright face,’ and our actions would damage our relationship with him. To regain intimacy with Jehovah, we would need to pray for his forgiveness, leave our transgressions, and gratefully accept the spiritual help of Christian elders. (Proverbs 28:13; James 5:14, 15) How much better that would be than possibly ‘finishing our years just like a whisper,’ with our hope of everlasting life in jeopardy!
17. What life span is typical of people in general, and our years are filled with what?
17 Regarding the life span of imperfect humans, the psalmist says: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years, yet their insistence is on trouble and hurtful things; for it must quickly pass by, and away we fly.” (Psalm 90:10) A life span of 70 years is typical of people in general, and at age 85, Caleb cited his unusual strength. There have been exceptions, such as Aaron (123), Moses (120), and Joshua (110). (Numbers 33:39; Deuteronomy 34:7; Joshua 14:6, 10, 11; 24:29) But of the faithless generation that came out of Egypt, registered ones from 20 years old and upward died within 40 years. (Numbers 14:29-34) Today, in many countries the general human life span remains within the range given by the psalmist. Our years are filled with “trouble and hurtful things.” They pass by quickly, “and away we fly.”—Job 14:1, 2.
18, 19. (a) What does it mean to “count our days in such a way that we may bring a heart of wisdom in”? (b) Our exercising wisdom will move us to do what?
18 The psalmist next sings: “Who is there knowing the strength of your anger and your fury according to the fear of you? Show us just how to count our days in such a way that we may bring a heart of wisdom in.” (Psalm 90:11, 12) Not one of us fully knows the strength of God’s anger or the extent of his fury, and this should heighten our reverential fear of Jehovah. It should, in fact, motivate us to ask him “just how [we can] count our days in such a way that we may bring a heart of wisdom in.”
19 The psalmist’s words are a prayer that Jehovah teach his people how to exercise wisdom in valuing and using their remaining days in a God-approved way. A life expectancy of 70 years holds out hope of some 25,500 days. Regardless of our age, though, ‘we do not know what our life will be tomorrow, for we are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing.’ (James 4:13-15) Since ‘time and unforeseen occurrence befall us all,’ we cannot say how much longer we will live. Let us therefore pray for wisdom to deal with trials, to treat others properly, and to do our best in Jehovah’s service right now—today! (Ecclesiastes 9:11; James 1:5-8) Jehovah guides us by means of his Word, his spirit, and his organization. (Matthew 24:45-47; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) The exercise of wisdom moves us to ‘seek first God’s Kingdom’ and to use our days in a way that brings glory to Jehovah and makes his heart rejoice. (Matthew 6:25-33; Proverbs 27:11) Worshiping him wholeheartedly will not remove all our problems, of course, but it certainly results in great joy.
Jehovah’s Blessing Brings Us Joy
20. (a) In what way does God “feel regret”? (b) How will Jehovah deal with us if we err seriously but demonstrate true repentance?
20 How splendid it would be if we could rejoice throughout the rest of our life! In this regard, Moses pleads: “Do return, O Jehovah! How long will it be? And feel regret over your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your loving-kindness [or, “loyal love”], that we may cry out joyfully and may rejoice during all our days.” (Psalm 90:13, 14; footnote) God does not make mistakes. Nevertheless, he does “feel regret” and ‘turn back’ from his anger and from meting out punishment when his warning about taking such action produces a change in attitude and conduct on the part of repentant wrongdoers. (Deuteronomy 13:17) So even if we were to err seriously but demonstrate true repentance, Jehovah would ‘satisfy us with his loving-kindness,’ and we would have reason to “cry out joyfully.” (Psalm 32:1-5) And by pursuing a righteous course, we will sense God’s loyal love for us and will be able to “rejoice during all our days”—yes, for the rest of our lives.
21. In the words recorded at Psalm 90:15, 16, what may Moses have been requesting?
21 The psalmist earnestly prays: “Make us rejoice correspondingly to the days that you have afflicted us, the years that we have seen calamity. May your activity appear to your own servants and your splendor upon their sons.” (Psalm 90:15, 16) Moses may have been asking God to bless Israel with rejoicing that corresponded to, or lasted as long as, their days of affliction and the years during which they suffered calamity. He asked that God’s “activity” of blessing the Israelites become apparent to His servants and that His splendor be made manifest upon their sons, or offspring. We can appropriately pray that blessings be showered upon obedient mankind in God’s promised new world.—2 Peter 3:13.
22. According to Psalm 90:17, for what can we rightly pray?
22 Psalm 90 concludes with this plea: “Let the pleasantness of Jehovah our God prove to be upon us, and the work of our hands do you firmly establish upon us. Yes, the work of our hands, do you firmly establish it.” (Psalm 90:17) These words show that we can rightly pray for God to bless our efforts in his service. As anointed Christians or their companions, the “other sheep,” we rejoice that “the pleasantness of Jehovah” rests upon us. (John 10:16) How happy we are that God has ‘firmly established the work of our hands’ as Kingdom proclaimers and in other ways!
Let Us Keep On Counting Our Days
23, 24. How can we benefit from meditating on the 90th Psalm?
23 Meditating on the 90th Psalm ought to increase our dependence on Jehovah, our “real dwelling.” By reflecting on its words about the brevity of life, we should become more keenly aware of the need for divine guidance in counting our days. And if we persevere in seeking and exercising godly wisdom, we are sure to be recipients of Jehovah’s loving-kindness and blessing.
24 Jehovah will continue to show us how to count our days. And if we yield to his instruction, we will be able to keep on counting our days for all eternity. (John 17:3) If we are to keep everlasting life in view, however, Jehovah must be our refuge. (Jude 20, 21) As we shall see in the next article, this point is made abundantly clear in the heartening words of the 91st Psalm.
How Would You Answer?
• How is Jehovah “a real dwelling” for us?
• Why can we say that Jehovah is always ready to help us?
• How does Jehovah help us “to count our days”?
• What enables us to “rejoice during all our days”?
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Jehovah was God “before the mountains themselves were born”
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From Jehovah’s standpoint, 969-year-old Methuselah lived less than a day
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Jehovah has ‘firmly established the work of our hands’