I read Psalm 90 and it caused me to do some math. The psalm is a prayer of Moses. An “oldie but goodie” that’s been preserved and included in this book of songs. It’s the only psalm that’s attributed to Moses. And the math I was compelled to noodle on? How many graves a day were showing up as the people wandered through the wilderness.
The prevailing theme of the prayer has to do with man returning to dust (v.3) . . . of them being swept away as with a flood (v.5) . . . like grass that fades and withers (v.6). But these generations of Jacob are not “passing on” after a life under the sunshine of God’s countenance upon them. Rather, they are brought to an end by His anger, they die dismayed by His wrath (v.7). Their iniquities laid out before His eyes, their “secret sins” splayed in the light of His presence (v.8). Moses is lamenting over the people who are dying daily around him because they rebelled against God and refused to trust Him (Numbers 14:1-32).
And so I’m doing the math. About 600,000 men over the age of twenty, not including Levites, are counted as they leave Egypt (Num. 2:32). If two-thirds of them have a spouse, then we’re talking close to a million people over the age of twenty. And, says the LORD, “your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun” (Num. 14:29-30).
So a million people die over the span of 40 years, or about 14,400 days. That’s an average of 70 fresh graves a day for 40 years. Every time they “break camp” and move on they leave a cemetery behind them. Every day as they travel in circles they leave mounds of dirt in their wake as evidence of the judgment their sin deserved.
Heavy sigh! Not exactly a “picker-upper.”
No wonder Moses pens,
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12 ESV)
But what if instead of wandering in the desert until you die, you are marching to the promised land in anticipation of life to the full? What if instead of waking up every morning under the cloud of God’s anger and wrath you arise to a fresh outpouring of His mercy and grace? What if your sins have been atoned for, once and for all? What if, day in and day out, you are dressed in the clothes of righteousness of the One in whom the Father delights?
What if, rather than a dirge, your song is song of victory?
Wouldn’t you pray the same prayer?
Teach us to number our days! Not just because they are short, but because they are a countdown. Cause us to reflect upon the graves of those who have gone before. Not because they have succumbed to Your wrath, O God, but because they have entered into Your presence. Give us a heart of wisdom. Not just to navigate this desert, but to invest to the max in the inheritance that awaits.
We are not desert dwellers. We are not under the wrath our sin deserved. No, we are on our way home knowing there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Far from backs bowed under life’s heavy loads, our faces are turned heavenward in the expectation of glory and joy everlasting. We are being escorted to the Father by the Son through the Spirit.
So Lord, help us to do the math. Teach us to number our days.
Because of grace. For Your glory.