A Heart of Wisdom
Topic: English Passage: Psalm 90
One of the words you might have been hearing a lot lately is the word “expert.” Everybody wants to know what the experts are saying. We want to hear from experts about COVID-19. We want to hear from experts about the stock market. We want to hear from experts about politics. We want to hear from experts on sports or experts on diet and exercise. You name it. That’s what makes headlines. Get someone in front of a microphone to tell us what we’re supposed to be doing and thinking, and people will watch and listen. People are hoping to get some kind of insider information with the secrets they need to be successful.
The same thing happens with podcasts and social media platforms. Let’s tune in to hear what other people have to say about life. How can they help us? How can they improve our lives?
Well, Psalm 90, is essentially giving us the inside information to life—not just one facet of it, but all of it. The heart of this psalm, I believe, is the end of verse 12. This is a psalm aimed at helping us get “a heart of wisdom.” A heart of wisdom.
Isn’t that something that we all need right now? We need wisdom. We need the skill to navigate this life properly for the glory of God. That’s what God wants for you too. Even if everyone else in this life is confused about what’s going on, God wants you to have true wisdom.
And in order to move us toward a heart of wisdom, Psalm 90 gives us 4 very basic and foundational truths about human life. These are truths that you need to internalize and allow to sink deeply into your soul.
The author of this psalm is one of the wisest men to ever live. Look again at the heading your Bible has there. Your translation might give this psalm a title. That has been added for you. But the heading is original. It’s in the Hebrew. This psalm is a prayer of Moses, the man of God.
This is the only psalm we know to be written by Moses, and that also makes it the oldest psalm we can assign a date to. So, this may be the very first psalm ever written.
Moses, more than likely, wrote this psalm some time during the book of Numbers, that is, sometime during the 40 years that Israel was wandering in the wilderness. What was happening during those 40 years? Not only was Israel circling in the dessert; the people were dying! Practically everybody over the age of twenty was going to die in the wilderness because that’s what God said was going to happen. It was His judgment on them for their lack of faith and their unwillingness to trust Him and enter the Promised Land the first time. So, for forty years, it was death after death.
Moses’ census of the people said there were about 625,000 men over the age of 20 that came out of Egypt. And having them all die over 40 years comes out to over 15,000 deaths each year. Using our modern calendars, that’s over 1300 deaths every month and 42 deaths per day. And again, that’s just counting the men. The women were also dying. So that’s at least 90-100 deaths every day for 40 years.
That kind of exposure gives you a perspective on life. It helps you see things more clearly. Ecclesiastes 7 says that the house of mourning brings wisdom. So, Moses decides to share this wisdom with us. What is it that we need to know in order to have a heart of wisdom?
Like I said, I am going to give you 4 simple truths that will help you move toward a heart of wisdom. And, if you apply them to your life, they won’t only help your life, but they will also help you minister to your friends and your family, because you will have a perspective that they don’t have.
The first truth is this: God is eternal. God is eternal. Let’s look together at verses 1 and 2. Psalm 90:1-2.
Moses begins this song with praise. It’s a focus on God’s eternal majesty. It’s not just that God has no beginning or end. It’s that He is majestic, and His character and glory is unchanging. Knowing those truths should lead us to praise, and also to comfort.
Moses and the nation of Israel were surrounded by death. And they lived with the potential threat of being attacked by a foreign nation. But Moses says, “Lord, You are my dwelling place, my refuge.” The idea we’re being given here is like a fortress in the mountains. It’s a safe place. It’s free from danger.
Moses lived with an enduring sense of safety and protection. God’s protection didn’t lead him to be irresponsible, but it led him to be comforted. The God who loved me yesterday and cared for me, will love me and care for me today. And He’ll love me and care for me tomorrow. As the end of verse 2 says, “From everlasting to everlasting You are God.” Moses even understood that God would watch over the next generation.
When you are afraid of something, real or potential, you need to start right here. God is unchanging. God is eternal. He watches over His people. Nothing happens to them that hasn’t passed through His hand.
Psalm 71:3 says: “Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come.” That should be our continual prayer, no matter what is going on in this world. God’s love and God’s care for His people is eternal.
Now, as Moses meditates on God’s unchanging character and eternal nature, He very quickly shifts to a second truth. And this is a truth that stands in contrast to the first one. Truth number 1 was God is eternal. Truth number 2 is: Man is mortal. God is eternal and man is mortal.
Look with me at verses 3-6. Psalm 90:3-6.
Moses understood that this life doesn’t last forever. He knew that. He had evidence of that every day. And so do we. Yet, it’s so easy to forget it when we’re surround by the messages of this world.
This world either wants to ignore death, pretend like it’s never going to happen, or consume themselves with the hopes that it can be delayed. And if someone does die, they don’t always have a category for it.
I’m not saying that death isn’t tragic; it’s always tragic. What I’m saying, and what Moses is recognizing in wisdom, is that death is an inevitable part of this life. Nothing changes the rules of this life.
Next week, as many of you know, is the Super Bowl. And those of you who are more excited about probably know which teams are playing, and you know more about the backdrop to what’s happening.
But if someone is less interested in the hype, and maybe even a little more cynical, they might say, “What’s the difference? It’s the same thing every year. Two teams run around on the field kicking a ball and hitting each other. And in the end, one of them gets more points than the other team. And then its over. Nothing has changed.”
In some ways, there’s a wisdom in that view, isn’t there? I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be interested in the Super Bowl. But I am willing to say that we can be consumed with the Super Bowl to a degree that it becomes sinful.
I think we can say the same thing about death and about any disease. The virus that has been causing COVID-19 is getting all the media’s attention, right? That’s where the focus goes. And these people talk as if this is something we’ve never experienced before. “This is a game changer,” they say.
But if we can pause for a second and step back, we’d have the wisdom to say,” Actually, no. The rules haven’t changed. We live in a world filled with death. People are going to die.
Again, I’m not saying it’s not tragic. But I’m saying there’s a wisdom in not getting too consumed with death, just because the culture is bombarding us with the message.
Let me just give you some statistics about death. According to the research, the death rate in the United States for 2019 was 0.87%. That’s less than 1 in 100. In 2019, less than 1 percent of the population died.
Bu then came COVID-19. The data for 2020 shows that that number went up. Now it’s at 0.94%. So, did a higher percentage of people die last year when compared to the year before that. Yes! But was it significantly more? Well, that depends on how you look at it. The death rate in this country is still at less than 1 percent. Over the course of a year, with or without COVID, less than 1 percent of the population dies.
Now, there have been times when that number has shot up. When God sent the flood, it was almost at 100%, right? Only 8 people survived that.
When the Bubonic plague hit Europe and West Asia in the 6th century, estimates are that 25-60% of the population died.
When smallpox hit Japan in the 8th century, about 30% of the population died.
When the Bubonic plague hit Europe again in the 14th century, somewhere between 10 and 60% of the population died.
When smallpox hit Mexico in the 16th century, about 40% of the people died. And then another plague hit later that century, and maybe 80% died.
Again, I’m not trying to make light of death. It’s tragic. But there is a wisdom in recognizing that not even the worst plague in the world changes the rules of this life. Man is mortal. We all die.
In Moses’ days, everyone was dying. God promised it. Only the kids were gonna enter the Promised Land. So, we need to recognize the wisdom that comes when we accept the fact that this life is temporary.
Verse 3 says we are dust. That’s how God made us, and that’s what this body goes back to. We are not God! Just like God has power to create life, God has power to end it. He has the power to end life just like he began it—with a sentence. And the idea here is that it happens all the time. People die in this world every day. And then a new generation comes to take its place.
Verse 4 goes back to God’s eternity to continue emphasizing the contrast. For God, a thousand years is like a watch in the night. That doesn’t mean those times are equal, but it means that to God, there’s no difference.
If your drive home after work takes about 45 minutes, it wouldn’t usually make a big difference if that drive was 40 minutes or 50 minutes. Five minutes when compared to 45 isn’t going to affect you very much. But if that drive home took 2 hours, you’d feel it, right?
Well, that’s not true with God. He’s unaffected by time. A thousand years to Him might as well be a day. It might as well be a watch in the night (which was 3 hours long). The length of our life is nothing when compared with God.
Our life, compared to eternity and according to verse 5, is a dream. It’s real in the moment, but then it’s gone, and usually you forget about it. It’s like the grass in the dessert. It grows fast after the rain, especially when the soil isn’t deep. But it wilts just as quickly because of the sun and the dry winds. This is human life when seen through the proper lens of God’s eternity.
Life is temporary. Life is short. Those of you who are older recognize this more than the younger ones. You know how fast 10 years and 30 years can pass.
James says this life is a vapor. It’s like your breath on a cold morning. It’s there and then it’s gone. We can do all we can to try and extend this life, but the reality is: life is short. People die. That’s a truth that wisdom understands.
Now, true wisdom goes a little further. True wisdom understands why life is so short. And this is going to be our third truth for today. God is eternal. Man is mortal. And now, truth number 3, man is sinful. Man is sinful. Death has come into this life because of sin, because of our rebellion against the God who made us.
You need to be able to talk to a family member or a coworker, or even your kids, and tell them, “You know, death is sad. It’s horrible. But we can’t escape it, because it’s a result of sin.” God cursed this world with death because of sin.
Romans 5:12 says death came through sin. Death spread to all men, because all sinned. Sin, you might say, is the wound through which the infection of death came. And Moses understood this. God is majestic and eternal, and man is mortal. And the reason for that is because man is sinful. Death is the appropriate consequence for sinning against a holy God. And that’s what verses 7 and 8 points out. Psalm 90:7-8.
The curse of death is an expression of the holiness of God. It’s His anger—His wrath—that did this. And He was completely justified in doing it. And the result is we are dismayed. That means we are terrified. We’re horrified. We’re worried. We panic.
Death is a scary part of this life. It brings all kinds of questions that we don’t have answers to. Am I going to die today? Am I going to die tomorrow? Am I going to see my wife die? Am I going to see my kids die? I don’t have an answer to those questions. There’s no way to be sure of any of that.
Death is an inevitable part of this life. Even if there isn’t some specific sin or foolishness that directly leads to my death, I am going to die. That’s because of my iniquities, as verse 8 says. It’s because of my secret sins. Even the stuff that nobody else sees, God sees it. And so, I stand before Him condemned.
Let’s read verses 9 and 10. Psalm 90:9-10.
That word “sigh” is more like a moan or a groan. This life hurts, and death is inevitable. There’s nothing you can do about it.
Maybe you get 10 years. Maybe you get 40. Maybe 70 or 80 or 100. In the end, it’s all the same.
I’m not saying this to scare you. I’m saying this because this is the point Moses is making, moved by the Holy Spirit. This is the truth that wisdom understands and takes to heart.
This life is passing. This life is not forever. That’s why Solomon said, when he was only focused on this life: it’s all vanity. It’s all meaningless.
Now, the heart of wisdom not only understands these truths but it responds appropriately. We recognize that God is majestic and eternal. And so we praise Him. And when we recognize that our life is temporal, what the proper response?
Well, I’ll tell you what the wrong response is. The wrong response is despair or apathy. This world becomes consumed with eluding death or is ignores that reality. It wants to suppress it.
And so, that’s why Moses asks the rhetorical question of verse 11. Psalm 90:11.
He’s looking around at this world and asking, who is taking this to heart? Who is recognizing death as the righteous judgment for our sin? Is everybody going to keep on pretending like they’ll live forever? Is the whole world just gonna pretend like God doesn’t exist? Who is going to seriously reflect on the holiness of God and the temporary nature of this life? Who is going to fear God? Who is going to let their life be affected by God’s truth? Who’s gonna do that?
And the biblical answer is: Nobody. Romans 3 tells us: No one seeks after God. No one wants to think about these things. No one wants to consider a holy God whose anger demands death for sin. Left to itself, the world doesn’t want to receive these truths. It runs to pleasure or hides in despari.
But by the grace of God, He has opened our eyes. By the power of His Spirit, through the gift of His word, God has revealed these things to us. And He is calling us to a proper response. What is that response?
This is going to be our final truth for today. And it’s truth you need to embrace for yourself and proclaim to others. Truth number 1: God is eternal. Truth number 2: Man is mortal. Truth number 3: Man is sinful. And now, truth number 4: God is merciful. God is merciful.
Commentator Derek Kidner summarize the point of this psalm by saying us that God’s eternity is not just the opposite of the mortality of man; it’s the answer to it. God Himself is the solution to the problem of our sin and the problem of death.
So, in the closing verses of this psalm, Moses, understanding the goodness and the mercy of God calls out for help. He calls out for the enabling and the blessing of God. He knows he needs God’s help to think about this in true wisdom and to grant his short life some eternal significance.
Look at verses 12-17. Psalm 90:12-17.
True wisdom doesn’t come in trying to fix the problem yourself. True wisdom comes when you recognize that you are totally dependent on God. He gives us wisdom, and He gives us blessings.
“Teach us to number our days,” verse 12 says. In other words, “Help us, Lord, respond correctly to the realities of this life. Help us set our priorities in order. Help us focus on what is truly important. Help us value what is truly precious. Give us wisdom.”
Psalm 39:4 has a similar prayer. It says: “O Lord make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!”
When you realize the holiness of God and the brevity of life you turn to Him for mercy. You cry out to Him for wisdom.
And praise God, He has not only written that wisdom down for us, but He has sent wisdom personified in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus came telling us how to live. Those of you reading through Mark know the message. Repent of your sin and trust in Him. Turn from your sin and surrender your life to Jesus Christ.
In Luke 13, a group of people come up to Jesus asking Him about another group of people who had died. They wanted Jesus’ take on their untimely death.
Here’s what Jesus said, “Do you think that these people were worse sinners than all the others, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Unless you repent, you will all perish just like them. Your end will be tragic. You won’t just die physically, you will be condemned by God eternally for rejecting Him.
That’s not the popular message of the day, but it’s the most applicable. And it’s the most loving.
Listen, if you looking around in this world and seeing what’s happening with COVID-19 or with any other issue in this world, and you are upset by it. That’s not a bad thing. God is getting your attention. Life is short. You will die, and then comes judgment.
But God doesn’t want you to be judged eternally. That’ why He gave you His message. God has given you the solution to death in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to this world and did what you, and any of us, could never do. He lives in perfect obedience. And rather than live in eternal joy and glory, He sacrificed Himself by being put to death in the most horrific way imaginable. He died so that God’s justice could be satisfied.
He died so that sinners could trade places with Him. He takes their eternal punishment, under the wrath of God, and they can be credited with His perfection. That’s God’s solution, and it’s the only solution. To prove it, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. He conquered death, and He conquered sin.
You can’t fix the problem of your sin on your own. You can’t even contribute to God’s solution. If you think that’s possible, that’s an insult to the holiness of God. Recognize your sin. Recognize the punishment you deserve before a holy God, and trust in sacrificial, substitutionary death of Christ. Believe that He was raised from the dead, and surrender your life to Him. Do that, and God will show you mercy. God is merciful. He delights to respond to those who call out to Him.
That’s why Moses is praying. He understand the goodness of God.
For those of you who have already trusted in God, what does a response of wisdom look like?
Ephesians 5 helps us . It says: “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
We give ourselves to the will of the Lord. We focus our limited resources and our limited time onto those things that the Lord has called us to do. What is that? “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Matthew 6. Or, as we’ve seen in First Peter, “Proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light...Let the world see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Our job is to worship God and delight in Him and then to lead others to do the same. And through all that we do, we recognize that only lasting work that we do is going to be done by God, not by us. So, we pray for His blessing. We depend on His mercy.
Just like Moses in verse 14, we might sometimes cry out, “How long is this going to last? How much longer until all this misery goes away?”
We may not know how long these tough times will last. But we know that they won’t last forever, right? We have an eternal hope.
So, we pray, like it says in verse 14, for God to fill our lives with satisfaction rather than discontentment. We pray for His joy, even in the tough times.
And we pray that He would establish the work of our hands. We want God to, in His mercy, allow us to see some progress. “Lord, help me get to work, and then help me see some fruit.”
That’s the response of a wise heart. That’s the response of someone who recognizes that life is short. Death is a certainty. But that truth compels us to be all the more urgent in the task we’ve been given.
More important than whether you die from COVID-19 or not, more important than whether you die in a car accident or not, more important than how or when you die, is how you will give your life to the work God has given you.
Moses’ great joy was seeing God accomplish His will through His people. And that should be our joy as well. Our greatest joy is to know that we have been useful to God, that we have been faithful servants who will receive a reward.
Let’s close by reading the final verse one more time. And don’t simply understand “God’s favor” to mean you won’t get sick, or you won’t die young, or you won’t be persecuted. Let’s understand that the fulness of God’s favor is to see Him working in the lives of people we care about and to whom we are ministering. Let’s pray this together in our hearts. Psalm 90:17.