“Teach Us To Number Our Days”

“Teach us to number our days”. I have often heard verse 12 of Psalm 90 quoted by preachers, and it has always resonated with me. It is a prayer for guidance—that God give us wisdom so that we may rightly value and live out our days, in the light of our lives’ temporalness and brevity this side of eternity.

So I thought it would be appropriate to meditate on Psalm 90 and make it as one of my prayers to God at the start of the year.

But as I was translating it so that it would be my personal prayer, I was stuck at v. 11.

In Hebrew, it looks like this:

Psalm 90 v11


 
..

Literally translated, the above is:
Who knows the strength of your anger
and like the fear of you your rage?

Now that didn’t seem to make sense.

I turned to other English versions, to see how they handled this verse.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV), which is actually the one I regularly use in Bible study, has:
Who considers the power of thy anger,
and thy wrath according to the fear of thee?

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) seems to have a similar thought:
Who understands the power of Your anger
And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?

In both RSV and NASB, the objects of the verb yada (know/understand) are both the power of God’s anger and His fury/wrath. This understanding is supposed to be in accordance with the fear that men ought to feel towards God. So according to RSV and NASB, the verse is asking: who understands God’s anger and wrath in the same measure as they fear God? (I take this to be a rhetorical question where the expected answer is “no one”.)
 
The New International Version (NIV) has:
Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

This seems to be similar to the thought in the Contemporary English Version (CEV):
No one knows the full power
of your furious anger,
but it is as great as the fear
that we owe to you.

NIV and CEV are asking: who understands the power of your anger? It is actually as great as the fear that is due you.

Today’s English Version (TEV) or the Good News Bible has:
Who has felt the full power of your anger?
Who knows what fear your fury can bring?

Very different from the rest is the message in The Message:
Who can make sense of such rage,
such anger against the very ones who fear you?

Verses 11 and 12 are pivotal. The Psalm turns around them.

The verses that precede them tell how sinful human beings live their fleeting lives incurring the wrath of the eternal God, who has always provided refuge for them since time began.

The succeeding verses are a plea to God to turn His face again to His fallen creatures, bless them, enable them to appreciate His splendor and His glorious works, and also grant their own works more than temporal significance.

The key, I think, lies in understanding why the writer has made the wrath of God correspond to the fear of God.

I agree with the thought behind the RSV and NASB translations, although the way they have been rendered is not so easily understood.

The object of yada (know/understand/comprehend) is not just God’s wrath/anger, but also the fear of God. That is, no one fully comprehends God’s anger because no one has yet fully experienced it. And because of this, no one truly fears God the way they should.

That is why the writer of the Psalm asks God to enable  human beings to understand and fully appreciate that they are living their fleeting lives mostly in sin, because they do not truly fear God. This lack of fear is because no one has yet fully experienced God’s anger. But a day will come when God’s wrath against sin will be finally and fully poured out. God will not be mocked!

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. When we properly fear God, then we will be able to present to Him a heart of wisdom—fully comprehending His eternal nature and His holiness, and our own finiteness and sinfulness.

It is then with such a heart that we can ask God to turn His face towards us again and bless us, and grant us more wisdom, so that we can fully appreciate, more and more, God’s glory and splendor.

A prayer based on a loose translation of Psalm 90

O Lord, you have been our dwelling place
from generation to generation.
Before mountains were born,
even before you created the earth,
from everlasting to everlasting—
You are God!

You make human beings return to dust.
You say, “Return, children of men!”
A thousand years in your eyes are like a day,
like yesterday—it passes quickly,
even like a watch in the night.

You put them to sleep.
They are like grass which sprouts up in the morning.
In the morning it sprouts and blooms,
but in the evening it withers and dries up.

We are consumed by your anger.
We are terrified by your wrath.
You have set our transgressions before you.
Our secret sins are laid open before the light of your face.

All our days turn under your wrath.
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of our lives are but seventy years
or if we are strong, eighty.
But even their best is full of toil and trouble;
they pass away quickly…and then we fly away.

Still, who fully comprehends the power of your anger?
Who fully comprehends the fear that is due you?
Enable us therefore to understand how fleeting our lives are,
so that we may bring to you a heart of wisdom,
giving to you the fear and reverence that is due you
.

Return, O YHWH! Until when?
Have pity on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your covenant love
so that we may shout for joy and rejoice all our days.

Make us rejoice according to the days
that you have humbled us,
the years that we have seen evil.

May the glory of your works
be comprehended by your servants,
and your splendor by their children.

May the favor of our Lord God be upon us.
Make permanent the works of our hands for us.
Make permanent the works of our hands.

Amen.

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7 Responses

  1. […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptIn both RSV and NASB, the objects of the verb yada (know/understand) are both the power of God’s anger and His fury/wrath. This understanding is supposed to be in accordance with the fear that men ought to feel towards God. … […]

  2. “Teach us to Number our days” is a phrase that particularly hits home for me this week. A family friend was killed on Monday in an automobile accident, and just yesterday a 12 year old boy (that I knew when he was a toddler) was killed when the car he was riding in with his mom and older brother skidded out of control on the snowy road and into the path of a pickup truck. It’s times like these when answers seem so far away… yet I know that God , in His infinite wisdom, sees the bigger picture and will take these tragedies and allow some good to come from them. May the families find comfort and peace in their faith and the love of the ones who are with them now. Tell your loved ones you love them today. You never know when you might not get another chance…

  3. Amen.

    Life is too fleeting to nurture bitterness and hurts.

    You’re right, it’s not enough to just love a person. We must TELL them, let them know that we love them. At every opportunity. Because we never know when we will never have another chance. After all, we know the statistic: one out of every one people die—so far, that is, until Jesus Christ comes again.

    God bless you, Robin. Shalom!

    Mel

  4. Thanks for the insights. I for one does things out of anger which I would later regret. Life is too short to be angry most of the time. 😀

  5. Hi, kabayan!

    I agree. It is indeed essential that we maintain our relationships with our fellowmen, and not waste precious time on being angry and quarreling.

    But much more important is that we first repair our relationship with God, the Creator of all things, and ensure that we have peace with Him. We have very limited time to do that. We never know when today will be our last day.

    God bless you!

    Mel

  6. Me encanta tu página electrónica. Está llena de sabiduría. Ojalá Dios te bendiga con su cariño todos los días de tu vida. Vaya con Dios, hermano.

  7. ¡Hola, amigo/amiga!

    ¡Muchas gracias! Siento pero sé Español muy poquito 😦 .

    ¡Dios te bendiga!

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