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On September 11, 2001, singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman was in Washington D.C. He and his wife, Mary Beth, were to be honored at the White House that evening for their work in regards to adoption. He began the morning with an interview with CNN, and then headed back to his hotel to watch the airing of it with his wife. Of course, instead of the interview all they found was coverage of the horrible events of that day. They received a call from the Whitehouse telling them that the evening’s festivities were cancelled, and they were encouraged to flee from D.C. Since all flights were cancelled they had to wait in line behind hundreds of others at a car rental agency. It took them nearly two days to get from Washington D.C. to their home in Franklin, TN and their children who had not made the trip with them.
As they were driving home in the midst of all the frenzy and worry, Steven wrote these lyrics:
God is God and I am Not
And the pain falls like a curtain On the things I once called certain And I have to say the words I fear the most I just don't know
And the questions without answers Come and paralyze the dancer So I stand here on the stage afraid to move Afraid to fall, oh, but fall I must On this truth that my life has been formed from the dust
God is God and I am not I can only see a part of the picture He's painting God is God and I am man So I'll never understand it all For only God is God
And the sky begins to thunder And I'm filled with awe and wonder 'Til the only burning question that remains Is who am I
Can I form a single mountain Take the stars in hand and count them Can I even take a breath without God giving it to me He is first and last before all that has been Beyond all that will pass
Oh, how great are the riches of His wisdom and knowledge How unsearchable for to Him and through Him and from Him are all things
So let us worship before the throne Of the One who is worthy of worship alone
Songwriters: Steven Curtis Chapman
I was reminded of this song as I was meditating on our passage for this morning. Please take your Bible and turn to .
Over this past weekend I began to reflect on what I should teach this morning. Should I try to bring another episode for our Christmas series? Should I return to our study in Galatians? Should I do a topical message with the new year in view? As I was praying about this a phrase from this passage jumped into my mind: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” As I meditated on that thought it seemed like a fitting message for the ending of a year and the beginning of another. So here we are.
is one of the most ancient texts in the Bible. You may have already noted that it was written by Moses, which places it about four hundred years before the time of David. It was probably written sometime after the events of , when Israel refused to enter into the Promised Land. At that time God swore that no one from Israel age twenty and over would be allowed to enter the promised land with a couple of notable exceptions — Joshua and Caleb. Many commentators interpret this psalm in the light of the events of that fateful time.
Think about Moses watching the adults of his beloved nation pass away as they wandered for forty years in the Wilderness. It certainly puts the statement of verse 3 in perspective: “You turn man back into dust and say, ‘Return, O children of men.”
As we consider this beautiful psalm we will look at the eternality of God, the frailty and sinfulness of man, and then Moses plea for mercy in regards to God’s people.
Let’s read the psalm together.
God’s Names:
Lord — Adonai
God — Elohim
God’s Relation to His People
Dwelling Place — in Him we live and move and have our being...
In his commentary on the Psalms, Charles Spurgeon wrote this:
Moses, in effect, says - wanderers though we be in the howling wilderness, yet we find a home in thee ... To the saints the Lord Jehovah, the self-existent God, stands instead of mansion and rooftree; he shelters, comforts, protects, preserves, and cherishes all his own. Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the saints dwell in their God, and have always done so in all ages.
In the times of the patriarchs Abraham and his descendents were wandering nomads. They did not have a specific dwelling place. But to them God was their dwelling place in that it was to Him that they turned for refuge from the storms of life. And it is to Him that we also should turn to for our refuge. As the song-writer once wrote: “The Lord’s our rock in Him we hide, a shelter in the time of storm.”
The psalmist goes on to explain why it is that we can take refuge in God: it is because of His eternal nature.
God’s Eternal Nature
Look at verse 2. What a beautiful expression of the eternality of God. As human beings we are subject to change. Dare I say it, we are subject to evolve — not as in the Darwinian theory, but as we mature and grow, and then decline. In contrast to that God does not change. He is eternally the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
It is a huge mistake on our part to measure God by human understanding. We are finite. He is infinite. We are frail. He is omnipotent. God is God and I am not. God is God and I am man.
Once again Spurgeon wrote:
God was, when nothing else was. He was God when the earth was not a world but a chaos, when mountains were not upheaved, and the generation of the heavens and the earth had not commenced. In this Eternal One there is a safe abode for the successive generations of men.
It is a huge mistake on our part to measure God by human understanding. We are finite. He is infinite. We are frail. He is omnipotent. God is God and I am not.
While we could spend the rest of our lives meditation on the eternality of God, for today we are going to move on to consider the frailty of man in light of the eternality of God.
Look with me at verses 3-6 as we consider man’s frailty. The first thing we see is what I have referred to as man’s dusty beginning and ending.
Man’s Dusty Beginning and Ending
In the creation account of Genesis we learn that God created man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Eventually (unless the Lord comes for us first) we will return to the dust of the ground — ashes for ashes, dust for dust. And that is pretty much what Moses is referring to in verse 3. Man’s life is cyclic much like the cycle of water. Not only are we cyclic in nature, but our time on earth is very brief in the light of eternity. Notice verses 4-6 as we consider man’s brevity of life.
Man’s Brevity of Life
James, our Lord’s brother, referred to the brevity of man’s life
James 4:14 CSB
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes.
Peter paraphrased Psalm 90:4 as an encouragement for his readers to be patient in waiting for the Second Advent of Christ.
2 Peter 3:8 NASB95PARA
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
God is God. Man is man. God is all-powerful. Man is frail. God is also holy, while man is sinful. Let’s look at verses 7- 11 as we consider man’s sinfulness and God’s holy wrath.
Note first that God is a consuming fire.
God is a Consuming Fire
Remember that Moses is writing this Psalm as he watches the people of the nation pass away because of their rebellion against God. Through Moses’ leadership God had brought the nation out of slavery in Egypt, and to a point in which they were ready to enter into the promised land. But the people were afraid to take hold of that for which God had taken hold of them. The writer of Hebrews cautioned his audience with these words:
Hebrews 12:28–29 NASB95PARA
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:25–29 CSB
See to it that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they rejected him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven. His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. This expression, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what is not shaken might remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:25–29 NASB95PARA
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
Moses stated in our text that the anger of God consumed the people and that His wrath brought dismay. If they had understood that very fact then perhaps they would not have rebelled against Him. But I doubt that very much. We have the full written account and yet we still rebel against our holy God.
Turn with a couple pages to . This psalmist seems to have a similar thought in mind as did Moses when he penned his psalm.
Now turn back to . Notice that Moses refers to our sins being laid bare before God.
Our Sin is Laid Bare Before Him
Ever since the Garden of Eden man has tried in vain to hide his sin from God. But since God is all-knowing, that is omniscient, it is futile to try and hide anything from Him. David found out the truth of that for he tried to hide his sin with Bathsheba. And that led to a long chain of other sins in order to cover up the first sin. In one of his penitential psalms we read:
Psalm 32:3–5 NASB95PARA
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
David was wasting away because his sin was ever before himself. And his sin, like your sin and my sin was laid bare before God. God is God and I am man.
Redeeming the Time
Moses returns to the idea of the brevity of life in verses 10-12, with a focus on application.
The irony of verse 10 has been pointed out by most commentators. Moses was eighty years old before he was raised up to lead the nation of Israel. And he led them for forty years — he lived to be 120. But apparently that was the exception to the rule even back then. For the average person only lived about 70 years. Not much has changed has it?
The application that Moses is working towards, and which I am trying to get to is found in verse 12. So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Life is a fleeting vapor at best. Use the days that you have for God’s glory.
Calvin wrote:
"It is surely a monstrous thing that men can measure all distances without themselves, that they know how many feet the moon is distant from the center of the earth, what space there is between the different planets; and, in short, that they can measure all the dimensions both of heaven and earth; while yet they cannot number seventy years in their own case."
In other words, man as a whole does not seek after God’s glory. We don’t grasp the brevity of our lives. We don’t seek to use what time we have here on earth to magnify God and His wondrous grace.
Our congregation is an older group. When I was being interviewed by the pulpit committee over the phone, Derek referred to the congregation as a gray congregation. Very true. And I seem to resemble the congregation more and more with each passing day. Over the years, and in various congregations that I have been involved with, I have heard older members say things to the effect that they are too old to be of use to God. That is a bunch of hogwash! Certainly there may be limitation as to what you can do as you age. But you are never too old to serve Christ. It is just an excuse. Nothing more.
Paul, writing to the old and young alike said this:
Ephesians 5:15–17 ESV
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Ephesians 5:15 NASB95PARA
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,
Ephesians 5:15 NASB95PARA
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,
God is God. You and I are man. And it is our pleasure and duty to serve Him until we take our final breath. Let’s close by looking at Moses’ plea for mercy.
Make us glad
Let Your work appear majestic
Let Your favor be upon us
Confirm our work
Calvin taught that by God's providence He directs the work of unbelievers in an external fashion; but He governs the work of believers internally by His Holy Spirit. By the repetition of this last phrase it emphasizes a continual course of perseverance in the grace of God. "It would not be enough for us to be brought to the midst of our journey. He must enable us to complete the whole course."
Calvin wrote about an individual perspective. Spurgeon wrote regarding a corporate perspective:
The church as a whole earnestly desires that the hand of the Lord may so work with the hand of his people, that a substantial, yea, an eternal edifice to the praise and glory of God may be the result. We come and go, but the Lord's work abides. We are content to die, so long as Jesus lives and his kingdom grows. Since the Lord abides for ever the same, we trust our work in his hands, and feel that since it is far more his work than ours he will secure it immortality. When we have withered like grass, our holy service, like gold, silver, and precious stones, will survive the fire.
Let’s pray.
Closing Song: No. 686 — O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST
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