My Threescore and Ten
As I approach my 70th birthday, I remember Moses’ instruction: “teach us to number our days.”
Birthdays, like mile markers, disclose the distance traveled but not the distance remaining on our lives’ journeys. I recently passed mile marker 69 on my way (hopefully) to 70. That fact caused me to pause and think about my life and my God.
I realize this upcoming mile marker is my “threescore years and ten,” the King James Bible’s way of saying 70. Moses wrote, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Ps. 90:10, KJV).
Though we don’t know for sure when Moses wrote Psalm 90, the book of Numbers provides some backstory. Chapter 14 records the Israelites’ refusal to go into the land God promised them after 10 of the 12 spies Moses sent to check out the territory brought back a bad report. Chapter 20 tells of the deaths of Moses’ sister, Miriam, and brother, Aaron; and it reports Moses’ sin when he struck a rock to get water instead of speaking to it, as God had commanded.
Sin, frustration, and death—quite a backdrop to the psalm titled “A Prayer of Moses the man of God.” As I approach my threescore and ten, I decided I could learn something more from Moses. Here are my thoughts:
1. No matter how many years I have, I realize God is my dwelling place.
LORD, You have been our dwelling place in all generations (Ps. 90:1).
Moses knew God was Israel’s Refuge, Provider, Protector, and Home—even when things didn’t go as planned. Living outside God’s dwelling place meant trouble.
Jesus built on Moses’ statement when He said we must abide in Him: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
God was Moses’ dwelling place, and He should be ours as well.
2. My years are limited. God is eternal.
From everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Ps. 90:2).
God created time. He is self-existent and not bound by time or space. So, while our mile markers are limited, God has no mile markers. He knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), as well as all the trials we will endure in this life. That is why He can promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Jesus spoke of this eternality when He told the Jewish leadership, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn. 8:58). God sees all, knows all, is everywhere, never changes, and loves us. So we can trust Him completely.
3. Life spans vary, but all human life is fragile and brief.
For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night. You carry them away like a flood (Ps. 90:4–5).
Under divine inspiration, Moses wrote Genesis 3:19, speaking of God’s word to Adam: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Moses alluded to this truth in Psalm 90: “You turn man to destruction [dust], and say, ‘Return, O children of men’” (v. 3).
Moses saw many people come and go through birth and death and observed, “They are like grass which grows up: In the morning it flourishes and grows up; in the evening it is cut down and withers” (vv. 5–6).
No matter how long we live, our lives are still “a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14). So we must make the most of the years God gives us.
4. Our years are marked with sin, and God judges all sin.
You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance (Ps. 90:8).
Even Moses had a secret sin that may have been on his mind when he wrote Psalm 90:
Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand (Ex. 2:11–12).
All sin, secret or otherwise, is under condemnation: “For we have been consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are terrified” (Ps. 90:7).
God’s wrath is mentioned three times in verses 7 through 11. God is holy. We are not. We are all sinners. And without Christ and the forgiveness God gives through faith in Him, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Scripture says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:36).
5. Every mile of the way, God is merciful.
Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days! Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us, the years in which we have seen evil (Ps. 90:14–15).
Moses acknowledged our brevity, frailty, and sin and asked God for mercy. We all need mercy. I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words: “For this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Tim. 1:16).
God graciously showers our days with mercy. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah said, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22–23). Great is His faithfulness.
6. Mile markers are measured in years but should be lived in days.
So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12).
Even the great leader Moses asked God to teach him. We never finish learning.
Life is precious, and each day is a valuable gift from God. Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th-century theologian, desired to make the most of his time and asked God daily, “Stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Quite a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing every day that God gives us.
Will I reach my threescore and ten? Only God knows. No matter, my desire is to be like Moses, “the man of God.” British missionary C. T. Studd (1860–1931) captured the essence of Psalm 90 when he wrote, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” To that statement, I am confident Moses would say, “Amen.”