Threescore years and ten

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Psalm 90

Your days are numbered.

That is a sobering thought.  You have a finite number of heart-beats left.  When you’ve reached your allotted tally there will be no more.

To put it starkly, we are in the queue for the crematorium.  It may be a long queue, but it’s getting shorter all the time.

Queen Elizabeth the First is supposed to have said on her death-bed “All my possessions for a moment of time.”  In her day she was the richest person alive, yet she had no bargaining chips with death.  And neither do we.

One person who felt this very keenly was Moses.  He wrote Psalm 90 (the only Psalm of the 150 which is attributed to him).  He knew from bitter experience that the LORD places a final limit upon us.  Though he was loved by God, he perished in the wilderness, short of the promised land.  This death sentence is often spoken of in Numbers and in Deuteronomy.  It was a non-negotiable decree: Moses will not cross the Jordan.  He must die in the desert.  Therefore he journeyed through the wilderness and prepared his people for the future with the certain knowledge that he would not make it.  The shadow of death fell across everything he did.  And so he writes these verses from experience:

For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.    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.  Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.  (Psalm 90:9-12)

We naturally fear death and seek to put it out of our minds.  But Moses instructs us in a different course.  To “number our days” is to apply our hearts to wisdom.

Perhaps this means more than simply embracing our mortality.  It takes no great spiritual insight to figure out that the grave awaits.  But I wonder whether the numbers themselves are important here:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years (Psalm 90:10)

Threescore and ten (70) and fourscore (80) have theological significance.  Seven (and its multiples) represents completion.  There are 7 days in the week, the seventh is a day of rest and then the week is over.  The eighth day is the first day of a new week.  8 (and its multiples) mean we have broken through to a whole new beginning.

And so Jesus lay in the ground on the seventh day.  His natural life had come to an end.  But “by reason of Almighty strength” He burst through into a whole new beginning on the eighth day.

And in Psalm 90 we have a trace of this.  There is a natural life-span of seven-ness.  But then there may be an operation of “strength” whereby a lifespan breaks through into eight-ness.  Here is a little gospel proclamation in the midst of our mortality.  Though our natural lives will run their course, there is a “strength” that will deliver us into life beyond natural life.

So to “number our days” is not simply to consider our finitude – though that is essential.  If we really want to apply our hearts to wisdom we must know that “by reason of God’s resurrection strength” there is life beyond limit.  Yes, there is an end to this natural lifespan and I must face that.  But through Christ there is also an eighth-day-reality – a new beginning on the other side of death.

One day, beyond our last day, there will be days without number.  And, today, every day is a day closer.

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