At the close of 2012, as at the end of many other years, i have been pondering Psalm 90 and how wisdom reckons time. Joshua Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Maryland, also makes a habit of re-reading Psalm 90 every year on his birthday (which happens to be on 30 December) . It’s worth listening to the message he preached on Psalm 90 at the close of 2009 and considering what it means to “get a heart of wisdom” (verse 12).
i also rediscovered Francis Bacon’s stirring translation of Psalm 90 into English verse, published in 1625, the year before he died. You can listen to a recording of me reciting it, and read it below.
O Lord, thou art our home, to whom we fly,
And so hast always been from age to age;
Before the hills did intercept the eye,
Or that the frame was up of earthly stage.
One God thou wert, and art, and still shalt be;
The line of time, it doth not measure thee.
Both death and life obey thy holy lore,
And visit in their turns, as they are sent;
A thousand years with thee they are no more
Than yesterday, which, ere it is, is spent:
Or as a watch by night, that course doth keep,
And goes, and comes, unwares to them that sleep.
Thou carryest man away as with a tide:
Then down swim all his thoughts that mounted high;
Much like a mocking dream, that will not bide,
But flies before the sight of waking eye;
Or as the grass, that cannot term obtain,
To see the summer come about again.
At morning, fair it musters on the ground;
At even it is cut down, and laid along:
And though it spared were, and favour found,
The weather would perform the mower’s wrong:
Thus hast thou hang’d our life on brittle pins,
To let us know it will not bear our sins.
Thou buryest not within oblivion’s tomb
Our trespasses, but enterest them aright;
Ev’n those that are conceived in darkness’ womb,
To thee appear as done at broad daylight.
As a tale told, which sometimes men attend,
And sometimes not, our life steals to an end.
The life of man is threescore years and ten,
Or, if that he be strong, perhaps fourscore;
Yet all things are but labour to him then,
New sorrows still come on, pleasures no more.
Why should there be such turmoil and such strife.
To spin in length this feeble line of life?
But who considers duly of thine ire?
Or doth the thoughts thereof wisely embrace?
For thou, O God, art a consuming fire:
Frail man, how can he stand before thy face?
If thy displeasure thou dost not refrain,
A moment brings all back to dust again.
Teach us, O Lord, to number well our days,
Thereby our hearts to wisdom to apply;
For that which guides man best in all his ways,
Is meditation of mortality.
This bubble light, this vapour of our breath,
Teach us to consecrate to hour of death.
Return unto us, Lord, and balance now,
With days of joy, our days of misery;
Help us right soon; our knees to thee we bow,
Depending wholly on thy clemency;
Then shall thy servants both with heart and voice,
All the days of their life in thee rejoice.
Begin thy work, O Lord, in this our age,
Show it unto thy servants that now live;
But to our children raise it many a stage,
That all the world to thee may glory give.
Our handy work likewise, as fruitful tree
Let it, O Lord, blessed, not blasted be.