Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” The request “teach us to number our days” means that we need God to reveal to us the brevity of life. That revelation will help us grow wise, and wisdom is important because the choices we make during our brief stay on earth have eternal consequences. The remainder of Psalm 90 gives details about God’s wrath against sin and about the meaning of life. Our earthly lives will not last long, and we need wisdom to prepare for what follows.
Psalm 90 was penned by Moses, a man with whom the Lord spoke “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11; see also Numbers 12:7-8). Yet Moses wrote about the fierce anger of God against sin. He pleaded with the Lord to help humankind realize that we will all answer to God for deeds done in the body (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). In Psalm 90:11, Moses writes, “If only we knew the power of your anger!” Moses was a man who knew God better than most mortals, yet he had experienced the sting of God’s punishment for his sin and yearned to help others avoid it (Numbers 20:12).
Jesus gave a parable that also explains what happens when we don’t “number our days.” In Luke 12:19–21 He describes a rich man who wanted only to “eat, drink, and be merry” and had no time or thought for God. The rich man believed he had years yet to enjoy his pleasures, but God required his soul that very night. If the rich man had learned to “number his days,” he would have pursued ventures that had eternal significance. We can learn from this parable that none of us know how many days we will be granted, so we must not waste them on silly, selfish pursuits that have no real value.
God’s desire for human beings is that we learn, grow, and seek wisdom (Proverbs 2). As we learn to number our days, we will share that desire. We were created to walk in fellowship with God, discovering the mysteries and delights He has scattered throughout creation. The Lord enjoys partnering with us as we pursue all He designed for us to accomplish (Psalm 37:23; Ephesians 2:10). When we live in harmony with Him, death is simply a change of address. Our enjoyment of Him continues unabated when we step from this life into eternity.
Those who have learned to number their days spend them in pursuit of wisdom, goodness, and the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). They don’t have to fear the wrath of God when their earthly lives are over. Jesus came to earth to make a way for us to be made right with God (2 Corinthians 5:21). But He won’t force His gift of eternal life on anyone (John 3:16–18). Those who never learn to number their days spend them as if this life is all there is. Psalm 90 warns them about the judgment they are destined to undergo (Hebrews 9:27). But when we learn to number our days, we see each day as a valuable gift and an opportunity to store up treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33; Revelation 22:12).