Lord, make me to know mine end,
and the measure of my days, what it is;
that I may know how frail I am.
Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth;
and mine age is as nothing before thee:
verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
This was a Psalm for public worship. It was written and sent “To the Chief Musician – even to Jeduthan.” Jeduthan was a Levite of the family of Merari and the chief of one of the three choirs of the temple whose descendants also formed one of the perpetual temple choirs. Reese, in His Chronological Bible, places it among the 6 Psalms he associates with David’s sin with Bath-Sheba. It is a Lament that deals with the brevity of life which could have been prompted by the death of David and Bath-Sheba’s newborn son.
In Psalm 23, David talks about how the Lord was with him as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. This “shadow” can refer to a close call, a life-threatening situation, or even a terminal illness. But this valley does not have to be the valley of the shadow of our death. It could be the death or impending death of someone very dear to us.
Walking through this valley is what one could call a “depressing blessing.” None of us choose to enter there but our Shepherd will take us through it because we need that walk. One reason we need it is because of what David was speaking here – to begin to grasp the reality our own life’s end before we get there.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with a malignant GIST tumor in my stomach. I had a third of my stomach removed and ended up spending ten days in the Oncology floor of a hospital. Although weak and in a lot of pain my life was not in danger (I called it a “nasty spat” with cancer – not a battle), and I was recovering well. However, the people around me were not. I could hear the suffering in nearby rooms and a depressing pall of death seemed to pervade the floor. I had always known I was going to die someday, but it was during that time I really felt the gloom of that valley for the first time. I felt I had crept up to the edge of a very deep chasm, peered over and immediately shrunk back. I knew I was ready, by the grace of God, to go to heaven – but I was not sure if I was ready for the process of getting there. God let me know my “end” and it changed the way I looked at a lot of things.
God gives us the water of our our lives in manageable “drips” called “days”. My hospital stay reminded me that my days were measured. It is important to note that, in this psalm, David asked God to know the measure of his days – not his weeks, months, years, or decades. That is because if we manage our each of day well, the longer periods will fall into line. Moses prayed a similar prayer in Psalm 90. When confronted with the eternity of God, and the shortness of man’s life on earth, he cries out – “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
Days well managed for God build up to become a legacy – a testimony for those who come after us. David was one of only four people in the Bible who passed into eternity with the epithet – “full of days.” The other three were Isaac, Job, and Jehoiada (the priest who raised and mentored King Joash.) The term “full of days” could mean “satiated with days.” I tend to think it could also mean they died having lived lives of “days which were satiated” – full of knowing and following God’s will for each 24 hour “drip.” They valued and numbered each of their days and that motivated them to get wisdom above everything else (Proverbs 4:7).
A key element in gaining wisdom is the understanding that David was asking for – a knowledge of his frailty and smallness as well as God’s power and greatness. In the Selah verse (v. 5) David tells the Lord that his days were only as wide as a hand and counted as nothing before His eternity. As the king of Israel, David realized that even with all of his accomplishments, status and riches his life was really nothing more than an empty shell or a dry husk.
It is true that God loves us and we are of infinite worth to Him. But until we get to the point of abhorring ourselves and like Isaiah “come undone” of our pride and “accomplishments” there is not much He can do for us. It is good to pause like this Selah asks us to and, like David, ask God to help you know “the measure of your days.” Remembering that our days will end and we will step into eternity is a solemn, not a morbid, exercise. It should motivate us to fill up every “hand-breadth” size day with activities that will have effects that will stretch far beyond the edges of time. Besides the obvious activities of prayer and Bible reading they could include things like a timely text message to a friend in need, an attempt to reconcile with someone you offended, or an offering to missionary. The list could be endless. Measuring your days is a tremendous motivator to pursue Him with everything within you.