‘The length of our days is seventy years … and we fly away’ (Psalm 90:10).
The Facebook entries of young Christian people often reveal angst at leaving their teenage years, or twenties and thirties, behind. The formative periods of their lives are passed, never to be relived again. I found the passing of earlier decades did not affect me as much as an inherited hair loss!
Yet nostalgia for the past can be balanced by a hope of establishing a Christian home and, if God wills, the joys of bringing up children and playing vital roles in the local church.
We may think philosophically about the relativity of time and the average life span, and make vague plans for spending retirement usefully and enjoyably. But it is best to think spiritually — and we can derive great comfort from doing so — that the Lord has our times in his hands.
He will never leave nor forsake us, for as long as he determines that we shall live.
Three men in our church, including myself, reach our 70th milestone this year. Some may joke that the old 70 is the new 60; and the many advertised youthful activities for seniors coupled with modern medical care would seem to demonstrate this. To reach the age of 70, however, is of more concern to me than any of the previous big 0s.
Unconverted people may shrug it all off and think positively about what they plan to do — holidays; watching sport and entertainment; enjoying life to the full, until prevented by ill health; then, hopefully, a quick, pain-free death into unconscious annihilation, where (illogically) they hope to meet loved ones gone before or be allowed glimpses of loved ones left behind!
But what makes 70 so different for the believer are God’s words through Moses in Psalm 90. Here our Maker declares the length of our days as 70 years; this is the approximate lifespan he has in mind for his creatures. Moses adds that those who have the strength to live to 80 will meet with trouble and sorrow; their extended life will quickly pass, and then ‘we fly away’.
Matthew Henry comments: ‘Before the time of Moses, it was usual for men to live about 100 years, or nearly 150; but, since, 70 or 80 is the common stint, which few exceed and multitudes never come near.
‘We reckon those to have lived to the age of man, and to have had as large a share of life as they had reason to expect, who live to be 70 years old; and how short a time is that compared with eternity!’ Henry himself had not quite reached the age of 52 when he died on 22 June 1714.
With a background in science, I tried an experiment. I wrote down the names and ages at death (ignoring months) of 15 prominent historical Christian leaders, who randomly came to mind.
In alphabetical order these were: Andrew Bonar (82); Jonathan Edwards (54); Howell Harris (59); Martyn Lloyd-Jones (81); Martin Luther (62); D. L. Moody (61); John Newton (82); John Owen (67); Daniel Rowland (77); Charles Simeon (77); C. H. Spurgeon (57); Charles Wesley (80); John Wesley (87); George Whitefield (55), and William Williams (73).
On averaging these ages for death, I found the figure came to 70. I shouldn’t have been so surprised!
As to the last century, the Office for National Statistics shows the life expectancy for men born in England and Wales increased from 51.50 years in 1911, to 75.96 in 2001; for women the figures were 55.35 in 1911 and 80.59 in 2001. Better provisions for health, nutrition and the working environment have all contributed to restore the nation’s lifespan to the biblical norm.
So what are some lessons we can learn about lifespan, from the wisdom God gave to Moses with whom he talked ‘face to face’?
Moses had faithfully revealed God’s will for his chosen people, and mediated God’s law to them. He told Israel that if they obeyed it they would be blessed by God and prosper as a nation, but, if they disobeyed God and turned to idols, then they would be severely judged.
The Israelites, however, were stiff-necked and rebellious and incurred God’s wrath, with most of them dying in the wilderness and failing to enter the Promised Land.
Psalm 90 begins by declaring that God has created the world, and he has been his people’s dwelling place throughout all generations. He has been constant in his fatherly care and protection of them.
God lives in eternity, where a thousand years are but as a day. He is longsuffering and patient, but the psalm speaks of God arraying Israel’s sins before him, as though he were reviewing a legal document of accusations drawn up by a prosecutor.
All man’s secret sins are recorded. They show up starkly in the light of God’s holy presence (Psalm 90:8). Moses saw that all the days of the Israelites were spent under God’s wrath and that they finished them with a ‘moan’ (NIV).
How sad that many today reject God all their lives and, as they face the dark unknown of death, finish their lives with a moan!
When man first sinned, death entered the world. God had said this would happen (Genesis 2:17), but man chose to disbelieve God and believe that consummate liar Satan. But, thankfully, God remains in control of death. It is he who sweeps men away into death (Psalm 90:5), not blind chance or evil forces.
Today, we need to believe what God says will happen after death — the judgement of all people. Some, through turning to Jesus Christ in this life, will inherit eternal life, but others will suffer God’s wrath for ever.
Moses compares life to fresh, young grass springing up in the early morning, which the heat of the sun has withered by the evening (Psalm 90:6). Job likens his life to a weaver’s shuttle, which is just a blur when it flies from one side of the loom to the other. He also likens it to a single breath (Job 7:6-7).
The longer we live, the quicker time flies. For a five-year-old boy, it seems he must wait for ages before he is like the ten-year-old boys he looks up to. For a 50-year-old person, another five years is but a tenth of a lifetime and seem to pass much more rapidly.
Moses with his great wisdom exhorts us to number, or highly value, our days, so that we too may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). And he is not merely speaking of the mathematical exercise of multiplying 70 by 365, and adding an extra day for every fourth (leap) year.
Whatever our age, how careful we should be to spend each precious moment, as that given us from God’s good hand. We should also allow for the fact that we could be afflicted with an acute illness or meet a sudden fatal accident; and there is the possibility that the Lord could return at any moment.
However it comes, we will all be summoned to appear before the Lord’s judgement throne sooner or later. Satan may dig up our past sins and display them before God, but the price of the believer’s redemption has been paid by our Saviour’s precious blood. With John Newton we can say, ‘I may my fierce accuser face and tell him Thou hast died’.
Moses concludes his psalm with a request that God would establish the work of our hands. God’s fire will try every man’s work to determine its quality (1 Corinthians 3:13), so let us check that we are building quality-lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
C. H. Spurgeon commented: ‘Such is old age. Yet mellowed by hallowed experience, and solaced by immortal hopes, the latter days of aged Christians are not so much to be pitied as envied. The sun is setting and the heat of the day is over, but sweet is the calm and cool of the eventide; and the fair day melts away, not into a dark and dreary night, but into a glorious, unclouded, eternal day.
‘The mortal fades to make room for the immortal; the old man falls asleep to wake up in the region of perennial youth’ (The Treasury of David).
Nigel T. Faithfull