“Teach us to number our days so that we may approach what we do with a heart of wisdom” Psalm 90:12 Wisdom Commentary p. 8
Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 90:
Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses and could be paired with Exodus 32 or more generally to the wilderness wanderings or even to the Babylonian exile. Imagine Psalm 90 being written and read in a time when ‘normal’ life is all but a memory and when the elderly, pregnant mothers, and small children are more vulnerable than ‘normal’. I don’t mean to compare the wilderness wanderings or the Babylonian to our global pandemic, because wearing masks and taking precautions are not oppression. What I mean to compare is the impact on vulnerable people. Vulnerable people are dying rapidly. Healthy people are dying or facing the effects of long Covid. Pregnant women and young mothers (and fathers) worry about staying healthy in pregnancy, safely birthing healthy children, and keeping children safe, more intensely now than any other time in their lives. Older people worry that they are loosing their ‘good’ years in isolation and fear that when they can be out and about more that they will be somehow diminished mentally and physically. We all feel like years of our lives have been stolen. How is 2022 just around the corner when it feels like we haven’t left 2020? Life is painfully short. We cry out to the eternal God to change our circumstances or give us more time after this great unpleasantness or to give us wisdom to make the best of whatever time we still have.
God, grant to us satisfaction with our lives, the work of our hands, and the love that surrounds us. Teach us to number our days not as a doomsday count down but as a way to approach all that we do with a heart of wisdom. Fill us with your love so that we may continue to do your work in this world. Give us hearts like yours that love justice and mercy.
Our God, Our Help in Ages Past #210 Presbyterian Hymnal
1 Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home;
2 Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.
3 A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.
4 Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away.
We fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the op’ning day.
5 O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.
The Lord’s Prayer is about the amount of time you need for hand scrubbing 😉
Breath Prayer: I am including breath prayers because this is the practice that I engage in most often. Sometimes, I simply manage my breathing as I would when I was singing as a warmup and strengthening exercise. This practice helps me to feel centered, strong, and connected with myself and the divine. Sometimes, I add words or intentions for the inhalation and exhalation.
Nicole Cardoza’s Guided Meditation For Anxiety
Try this short meditation, created by Yoga Foster and Reclamation Ventures founder Nicole Cardoza, the next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious. Read in Yoga Journal.
Mr. Roger’s “Taking a breath” This one is short, but Mr. Roger’s voice is calming for me (and many Pittsburghers) and even his virtual presence can summon childhood memories of calmness and safety.
Let us pray:
One way to think about breath prayer is that whatever is exhaled other people will inhale. So, sometimes we might inhale and exhale the same idea with the hope that what we receive from God, we can share with others. For example, you may imagine receiving God’s steadfast love while praying that others are receiving God’s steadfast love.
Another way to think about breath prayer is to pick something you would like to receive for your inhalation and something you would like to release for your exhalation. The idea is to keep it simple, so I encourage you to simply find one word for each inhale and one word for each exhale. That simple prayer could be something like this: God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your heart of wisdom and release my discontent in the ordinary.
Or you may want to use a short phrase: Teach us to use wisely all the time that we have. 90:12 CEV
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
Psalm 90 “is a traditional reading at funerals… [where] ….It is regularly compared to Ecclesiastes 3 and 5 in this respect, a comparison that can disorient interpretation of the psalm.” Mays p. 289
“It calls on God by the title ‘adonay (v.1), the title for God as Lord of a servant people (see v. 16).” Mays pp. 290-291
“Faith often has to believe and think and worship in the tension between the universal and the particular, between Creator and Savior, between humanity and congregation.” Mays p. 291
“What they lament is mortality that is experienced as affliction.” Mays p. 292
“The psalmist is a pastor, theologian, and liturgist all at once. He and the congregation live in a time when the congregation’s faith and hope are thin, and they can see and think no further than their own human limitations and mortality. Resignation, cynicism, and nihilism beckon. The psalmist gives the congregation a prayer that includes and gathers up their human lament and leads them to understand it in relation to God. He teaches them the fear of the LORD through the prayer, so that having understood that they live under the sign of god’s wrath, they can pray for God to change the time in which they live as the resolution of their predicament.” Mays p. 294
“In a sense, Psalm 90 is instruction, torah. It belongs to the period of psalmody in which those who composed liturgy for the community had to lead the conurbation in understanding as well as worship.” Mays p. 294
“To speak so to the faithful and eternal one is solace to the soul. It is this comfort of the psalm that Isaac Watts’s great hymn expresses so beautifully: “O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.” that caring and eternal God as contrast and comfort for time-bound humanity– it is this dimension of the psalm that Watts develops in his entire hymn.” Mays p. 295
“Psalms 90-92 open book 4 of the Psalter: Scholars have long recognized a connectedness among the three psalms, on that includes wisdom motifs, concern with the human condition, and finding security in YHWH. With Erich Zenger, i consider Psalms 90-92 to be “eine komposition” (a single composition) that is linked by keyword motifs, by questions in one psalm that are answered in a following psalm, and with a Mosaic inclusio. We can see movement in the three psalms from lament in Psalm 90 to promise in Psalm 91 to thanksgiving in Psalm 92.” W p. 3
“It is the only psalm in the Psalter attributed to Moses and echoes many of the words uttered by Moses in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. …. [Compare with Exodus 32] …. “Many commentators label book 4 the “Moses Book.” Outside of book 4, Moses is mentioned only one time in the Psalter (77:21). In book 4, however, he is referred to seven times (90:1; 99:6; 103:7; 105:26; 106:16,23,32).” W p. 4
Verse 2 “birth” is a better translation of the Hebrew than “brought forth” Wisdom Commentary pp. 6-7
“While all members of the Israelite community were concerned with the survival of the people, a feminist reading of the verses highlights the vulnerability of the unborn, newborn, and young children and their mothers during difficult times like the wilderness wanderings and the Babylonian exile. Infant and mother mortality rates were high in the ancient Near East, and thus I suggest that when a woman in exile in Babylon hear the words of Psalm 90 her mind conjured up images of the great vulnerability of women, newborns, and young children, each of whom were important keys to survival of ongoing generations.” W p. 8
“The central focus of Psalm 90, in my opinion and that of many others, is verses 11-12. The psalmist acknowledges the power of God’s anger and request of God, according the NRSV, “teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” This commentator suggests a translation of “teach us to number our days so that we may approach what we do with a heart of wisdom.” The phrase “a heart of wisdom” is unique to Psalm 90 but, interestingly, the praise “wise of heart” is used four times in the Exodus narrative s to describe the craftspersons who constructed the tabernacle and fashioned its furnishings. Do the words of Psalm 90:12–“and we will approach what we do with a heart of wisdom”–suggest that the people were being admonished to be content with whatever tasks and endeavors confronted them daily? Erich Zenger writes: “If ‘wisdom’ means that art of living, then the ability here asked of God to say yes to life and to live that yes (in the midst of the many things that deserve a no) is Wisdom’s art of living par excellence.” The closing words of Psalm 90 appear to validate such an understanding of “a heart of wisdom.” In verse 14 the people ask God to “satisfy us” “with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad, and in verse 17 they request God “prosper for us the work of our hands–O prosper the work of our hands!” The word translated “prosper” is , which means “to establish, set up, fix in place.” The singers of Psalm 90 were asking God not for prosperity but rather for a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment for the works of their hands, whatever those works might be.” W pp. 8-9
“Thus with Moses’s words in Psalm 90 the women and men in the time of the wilderness wanderings and the Babylonian exile cry out to God, who birthed the world (v. 2), to remember that they are mere mortals (v. 3), and to turn and change God’s mind (v. 13) about their present situation. In the meantime they ask that God give them “a heart of wisdom” (v. 12) so that they might find meaning and importance in the work of their hands (v. 17).” W. p 9
WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.
Brueggemann Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Chittister Chittister, Joan. (2011). Songs of the heart: reflections on the psalms. John Garratt Publishing.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
DAFLER, J. (2021). PSOBRIETY: A journey of recovery through the psalms. Louisville, KY: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX.
W de Claisse-Walford, Nancy L. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 4-5. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 22. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2020.
W Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 2-3. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 21. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2016.
NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Lewis, C. S. (2017). Reflections on the Psalms. Harper One, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
McCann McCann, J. C. (1993). A theological introduction to the book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Merrill, N. C. (2020). Psalms for praying an invitation to wholeness (10th Anniversary Edition ed.). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Miller Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
Schlimm Schlimm, Matthew Richard. 2018. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know.Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Spong Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.
WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.
OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.
I began writing Psalm reflections during Lent of 2020 shortly after we decided to close the church building, work from home, and worship via zoom. Many churches use the revised common lectionary that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C). Starting in Advent 2019, Third Church decided to worship with the texts from Year D, which is still not circulated as are years A, B, and C. Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others. Reflections exploring the Psalms in year D. While we were using Year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A. Now that we are rejoining those who use the lectionary, we are on Year B. This we hope will keep all of us planning and preparing worship on the same page.
I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections when I’m following the Revised Common Lectionary.
Other Year B Psalm blog posts:
Advent – Transfiguration: 1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 80, 2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 85, 3rd Sunday in Advent Psalm 126, 4th Sunday in Advent Psalm 89, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Psalm 96, Psalm 97, Psalm 98, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Psalm 148, New Year’s Day Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Christmas Psalm 147, Epiphany Psalm 72, 1st Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 139, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 62, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 111, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 147, Transfiguration Sunday (Sunday before Lent) Psalm 50
Lent: Ash Wednesday Psalm 51, 1st Sunday in Lent Psalm 25, 2nd Sunday in Lent Psalm 22, 3rdSunday in Lent Psalm 19, 4th Sunday in Lent Psalm 107, 5th Sunday in Lent Psalm 51 or Psalm 119:9-16, 6th Sunday in Lent (Palm or Passion Sunday) Psalm 118 or 31
Holy Week: Monday Psalm 36, Tuesday Psalm 71, Wednesday Psalm 70, Maundy Thursday Psalm 116, Good Friday Psalm 22, Holy Saturday Psalm 31
Easter: Easter Psalm 118 or 114, 2nd Sunday of Easter Psalm 133, 3rd Sunday of Easter Psalm 4, 4th Sunday of Easter Psalm 23, 5th Sunday of Easter Psalm 22, 6th Sunday of Easter Psalm 98, Ascension Psalm 47 or Psalm 93, 7th Sunday of Easter Psalm 1, Day of Pentecost Psalm 104
Season After Pentecost (Ordinary Time): 1st Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 138 or Psalm 130, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 20 or Psalm 92, 4th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 9 or Psalm 133 or Psalm 107, 5th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 130 or Psalm 30, 6th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 48 or Psalm 123, 7th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 24 or Psalm 85, 8th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 89 or Psalm 23, 9th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 14 or Psalm 145, 10th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 51 or Psalm 78, 11th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 130 or Psalm 34, 12th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 111 or Psalm 34, 13th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 84 or Psalm 34, 14th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 45 or Psalm 15, 15th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 125 or Psalm 146, 16th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 19 or Psalm 116, 17th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 1 or Psalm 54, 18th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 124 or Psalm 19, 19th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 26 or Psalm 8, 20th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 22 or Psalm 90, 21st Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 104 or Psalm 91, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 34 or Psalm 126, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 146 or 119, 24th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 127 or Psalm 146, 25th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 16, 26th Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King) Psalm 132 or Psalm 93.