Teach Us to Number Our Days

Adonai, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, El from everlasting to everlasting.
You return man to dust and say, “Return, children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. 
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. 
For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. 
For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? 
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, Yehovah! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of Adonai our Elohim be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands. 
—Psalm 90
There is so much to unpack in this little psalm. The depth of its meaning and multifaceted beauty blew me away when I read it yesterday. Our speaker was talking about the blessing of Shabbat and how we are invited into the presence of God each week to rest and reconnect with him. As he spoke about God blessing us with the Seventh Day and counting down to it each week, the sentence, “Teach us to number our days,” ran through my head. Once I located the psalm whence it came, I was amazed by what I read. And no, that line isn’t speaking about the Shabbat, not really. But there is a deeper connection to it that you will hopefully come to see.

Beginning with the first paragraph, Moses is simply praising the Lord—the immortal, omnipotent, sovereign God of Creation.

The second paragraph hearkens back to Genesis. God told Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). This is not the instruction that Adam gave to his wife. Eve reported God's words as, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”

Our English texts obscure these words somewhat, but Adam changed God's instructions in two places. First, he prohibited Eve from even touching the fruit of the forbidden tree, and second, he softened the curse that would come from actually eating it.

Sadly, this made Eve easy prey for the serpent's wiles. He enticed her with promises of being like the elohim—implying that the only thing which separated her from the Divine was her lack of understanding of good and evil. Because Adam had softened the curse (possibly because he felt it was too harsh for her), she was compelled to reach out and grab it. Adam, seemingly not fully trusting the words of his Creator, watched with intrigue to determine whether she would live or die. Eve was emboldened by her quickening breath as she was clearly not dead whilst holding the fruit. She lifted it to her lips and ate. Adam, seeing no apparent harm in this sin, grasped at equality with God by taking the fruit for himself and eating. [Cf. Philippians 2:5-6]

Only then did they realize their foolishness. They hadn't realized in all their hubris that they were merely creatures—beasts—elevated above the animals, yet still of flesh like them. Their newfound knowledge exposed this embarrassment as they sought to cover their most intimate parts, that which betrayed them the most as mere glorified animals. [Ecclesiastes 3:18-19]

When God found them and spoke to them curses for their rebellion. To Adam he said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

If we jump forward to chapter 5, we notice something intriguing: No one lived to reach 1,000 years of age. Even Methuselah, the grandfather of Noah, died in the year of the Flood at 969 years old. While it is true that we only have records of these ten men's ages, I think it is safe to say that this was the rule with no exception. This brings us back to the psalm.
You return man to dust and say, “Return, children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
Moses connects the lifespan of man with a thousand years, being only a day in the sight of God. We might be quick to blow by this as mere hyperbole, but I think that would be an error. Peter would agree with me.
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with Yehovah one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Yehovah is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of Yehovah will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 
—2 Peter 3:1-13
This passage gets at the heart of Psalm 90, as I will explain. But in the second paragraph above, we read, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with Yehovah one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Is this more hyperbole? Or is Peter referring to a teaching of the Pharisees which is based upon Psalm 90?
“The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era.” 
—Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 97a
The Judeans at the time of the apostles believed that Creation's days would mirror those of its genesis. There would be six “days” consisting of a thousand years each. Though this tractate doesn't speak of the Shabbat day, the author of Hebrews picks up on this notion.
Therefore, as the holy Spirit says, 
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in the Anointed, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, 
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, 
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’” 
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, 
“They shall not enter my rest.” 
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.” 
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 
—Hebrews 3:7-4:11
So we see that there is a future Shabbat for the children of God, one which we are encouraged to strive to enter. What is this Shabbat, and is it connected to the day-millennium motif? Quite possibly, yes.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Slanderer and Adversary, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Yeshua and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Anointed for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of the Anointed, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
—Revelation 20:1-6
So in Scripture, we find support that the day-millennium model is correct. In God’s eschatological framework, Creation will exist for a single week lasting 7,000 years of our reckoning. Moreover, Adam and Eve did die within one day of eating the fruit, and no one else has lived even to the close of one celestial day. That is why Moses says that God causes us to return to the dust right before he tells us that a day to God is as a thousand years to us.
For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
This is the reason we must die. Moses then elaborates in the next paragraph that to us, we get on average seventy or eighty years. He himself lived to be 120 years old, but the global average life expectancy hasn’t increased since Moses penned this psalm some 3,500 years ago. If anything, it has only decreased.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
And here is the pinnacle of this psalm, and the verse that first drew my attention. In context, of course, this is speaking of simply being aware of our mortality. We will all die, and being aware of that fact will help us be wise. We will make decisions that affect our eternal life rather than living carelessly with a #YOLO attitude.

But if you look past the surface level, there is more to this verse. We don’t number our days according to the day. Google tells me I’m 10,413 days old, but that’s a pretty cumbersome way of tracking age. We keep track of our ages by weeks and months and years. Yet have you ever considered why we plan our lives by weeks? Months were established according to the cycle of the moon, and years track the circuit of our planet around the sun in one complete loop. What is a week?
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. 
—Genesis 2:2-3
God patterned our lives in such a way that every seventh day, we are asked to join him in his rest. This is both to give us a necessary break from the toil of everyday existence and to teach us to rely on him, since we lose fifty-two days of potential income each year. That’s nearly two months of doing nothing! Our bloated Western society is built with that sort of excess in mind. We don’t work enough, but we still make more than we need to take off one or two days a week. But in most of human history, this was a sacrifice. We inherited from Adam a drive to be our own gods, masters of our own fates. Our gut instinct is not to trust our Creator with our fortunes, but instead to ignore his instructions for life to carve out a life of our own. We obey when it’s expedient, but not when it costs us something.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yehovah your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days Yehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore Yehovah blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 
—Exodus 20:4-6
We could still track our lives by moons, seasons, and years without registering days. But in order to number our days, we need some frame of reference. The seventh day can be observed around the world. In fact, the word “Shabbat” (“Sabbath” in English) exists in a surprising number of languages as their word for Saturday, which for us is named after the god Saturn. Like a line tally in a prison cell marking off groups of five, our grouping of seven days to a week is purely arbitrary, and is an unavoidable reminder of the Genesis Creation.

As I mentioned, in English we have names for each day based on a pagan god: Sun’s day, Moon’s day, Tiw’s day, Odin's day, Thor’s day, Frigga’s day, Saturn’s day. But Hebrews don’t have a system like this. Instead, they number the days: First day, Second day, Third day, Fourth day, Fifth day, Sixth day, Shabbat day. So when Moses wrote, “Teach us to number our days,” I can’t help but suspect he had this in mind.

When we number our days, we reach the seventh day and observe it as the Shabbat. It is a reminder for us of God’s perfect design. It teaches us that we are mortal, that we will die, that our bodies need a weekly day of rest. It also is a shadow of the future rest of the Anointed which is our promise and hope if we are resurrected at his return. As the author of Hebrews writes, we ought to strive to enter that rest. Participating in the weekly Shabbat now is part of the joyful anticipation we all ought to have for the Resurrection of the Dead, in which we will experience the ultimate rest—a rest from all sin, temptation, disease, sickness, and death.
Return, Yehovah! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of Adonai our Elohim be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands.
Our great hope is to be with Yehovah, living contentedly in his presence. We have been afflicted with a just curse for our sin, which leads to death. Thanks and praise be to our Anointed Yeshua, who by his sinless life has made a way for our redemption, and by his resurrection has made real the hope of our own future on the other end of Sheol. [1 Corinthians 15:12-28] But while we draw breath, we have but one purpose and responsibility before our God and Father.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. 
—Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
The banner image was taken from http://www.cornerstonechurch.org/next-sermon-series-number-our-days/.

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