I remember as a kid reading Ozymandias, a poem by Percy Shelly. You can look it up on Wikipedia, but I can summarize it here. It’s a short sonnet recounting how the poet went to Egypt and saw the remains of a statue, half-buried in the sand. At the base of the broken statue lies the inscription “"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" In other words, this great emperor once commanded the lives of millions of people and inscribed this great tribute to his power and glory. And Shelly is putting on stark display the king's foolishness to think that his works would be an eternal monument to his greatness.
I thought about that story as I read today’s passage. This Psalm is unique, being the only one (according to the Superscript) composed by Moses. Assuming he’s the author, then he would have a good perspective on the two main points here.
The first issue he raises is the eternity of God. Moses uses an interesting phrase here: “From everlasting to everlasting.” This means from eternity past to eternity future. Before the stars and planets were flung into their proper orbits, he was God. Trillions of years from now, when the stars have grown cold, he will still be God. He has never changed, and he never will. A thousand years are nothing to him. Nations rise and fall, deluding themselves into thinking that they’re going to last forever. Kings, Presidents, and dictators do everything in their power to insure that they’ll be remembered forever. And the Almighty laughs.
In contrast to the everlasting God stands fragile, mortal man. The best of us live 70-80 years (maybe a little more if we live right), and then we’re gone. Moses compares us to new grass, which flourishes in the morning, but is burned up by the heat by the end of the day. Literally it’s “here today, gone tomorrow.” From the greatest of kings to the lowliest of slaves, all of us have an appointment with death, and the ironic thing is that very shortly all of us will be forgotten.
So what should we do about this? Well, the first thing I notice from this passage is that we need a “heart of wisdom.” How do we do this? By numbering our days. This doesn’t mean that we literally count our days; instead we need to take stock of our immortality and prepare for the inevitable.
And it starts with the truth found in the first verse: make the Lord your “dwelling place.” Make him your refuge. Trust in him. Do what he says. Submit to his instructions. Find your satisfaction in his “unfailing love.”
And then an amazing thing happens. Notice the last verse of the prayer? He asks the Lord to “establish the work of [their] hands.” How can that be? Didn’t he just spend the last 16 verse talking about the brevity of our lives, and that nothing we accomplish has any permanent meaning? Yes, but if we commit our way to him, then we CAN have an eternal impact. What we do in the here and now counts forever. We don’t have to be like poor Ozymandias, building castles in the sand which will be dust and ashes someday. When the stars have grown cold, our work will have just begun.
Father, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God, and there is no other. Please help me to number my days aright, so that I can gain a heart of wisdom. Whatever it takes.