This is not only a “young person thing.” It applies to all ages—all stages of life. This is what we will do this morning. I invite each of you to take these lessons to heart.
I begin with some verses that many of you have no doubt read in the past or have heard quoted. Even though these words are from the Bible, they are actually quite cheerless ones to read. They are especially so for those of us who have reached a certain time in our lives. Here are the verses:
We finish our life with a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty. Yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90: 9-10).
This is a depressing thought, isn’t it? At least it is on the face of it ... After seventy or eighty years, we finish our lives with a sigh? And then we are gone?
We do not sigh when we feel our lives have been fulfilled. We sigh when we know that despite all of our effort, little has turned out right.
“Oh well, I tried…Sigh.”
Actually, the true meaning of the word in the Bible is to let out a moan, “We finish our lives with a moan,”—even more disheartening. These verses are from the ninetieth Psalm. The Psalm is prefaced by the words, “A prayer of Moses the man of God.”
Moses lived a long life—120 years. Even though we know that it was Moses who wrote these words about ending one’s life with a sigh, we don’t know at what time in those 120 years that he wrote them.
The life of Moses had three distinct divisions—this you probably also know. For the first 40 years, he was raised as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh of Egypt. Then, after his failed attempt to become the leader of the Israelites, who were slaves in Egypt at that time, Moses fled to the wilderness of Midian. He fled because in the process of defending the Israelites, he had killed an Egyptian—one of Pharoah’s men.
Moses lived in Midian for another 40 years, where he became married to the daughter of the priest of Midian. Other than that single fact, we do know much about the life of Moses in Midian. About the only other detail that we do know was that he passed his days tending the sheep and goats of his father-in-law.
It was at the end of this 40-year period when Moses had an encounter with God that propelled him into the final period of his life. This was the incident at the burning bush, where God called him to this task of leading the people—a role in which Moses had actually attempted himself and failed forty years earlier.
This last phase of the life of Moses were the years of the Exodus, when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. It was for this forty year period that God had appointed Moses to lead this great multitude through the many trials and tests, as well as seeing God’s hand work in the victories of their experience in the wilds of the Arabian Peninsula.
“The cry of the Israelites has reached Me,” God said to Moses at the burning bush. “I have seen how severely the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10)
Consider for a few moments these three periods in the life of Moses—each approximately forty years in length. We are not given much insight into the private thoughts that Moses must have had during each of these times, but it is clear by his actions and his words that Moses was a contemplative man. He did not simply stumble along in life. He thought deeply about things.
No doubt as Moses was tending the animals of his father-in-law in the wilds of Midian, he must have felt like a failure in some ways. As I mentioned, Moses actually had a sense of the calling forty years earlier to deliver the Hebrew people from slavery. Although he had grown up in the palace of the Pharaoh, Moses knew that his true family were actually the Hebrews. He saw the heavy burden of slavery that had been placed upon his people and in his own way tried to alleviate their suffering.
In Egypt, he had had a privileged upbringing. He had lacked nothing in his childhood and youth, and he had received the best education in the world at that time. He had access to the greatest wealth in the world. If there should be anyone to deliver his people the Israelites out of their slavery, certainly it should be him!
But early in his attempt to help his people, not only did he kill an Egyptian, making him a man wanted for murder in Egypt, but it also actually set his own people against him. The day after Moses had killed the Egyptian, he returned to the Hebrews and attempted to intervene in a fight that two of the men were having.
“Who made you ruler and judge over us?” one of them responded to his attempted settlement. “Are you planning to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Moses’ single attempt at defending the Hebrews from the Egyptians ended in disaster. Not only did it make him a man with a death penalty in Egypt, but it also even turned his own people against him!
And now in Midian, his life had been reduced to tending sheep in the almost barren wastelands. This was what had become of all his dreams and all of his efforts!
The “Sigh” of Old Age
“Sigh…this is what has become of my life! After beginning my life full of promise and potential, my greatest responsibility now is to care for these sheep. I have ended my life without actually accomplishing anything!”
Although these are words that I have put in the mouth of Moses, I can imagine him with these thoughts. Any hope of a meaningful life was over. He had given up.
It is because of this that I think that it was sometime during this period in Midian that he must have put his stylus to parchment and wrote the words, “We finish our life with a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty. Yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”
So distraught was he that even when God gave him a direct command at the burning bush to go and lead the people, Moses argued with God. He did not see this as the time to fulfill what he had tried to begin forty years ago. At this point in his life in Midian, Moses was so lowly in spirit that he felt that he had no more to give.
“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
With those thoughts in our minds, I want to again return to our scripture of Psalm 90. Taken as a whole, the Psalm is a contrast between the eternal nature of God, and the brevity of the life of man.
Of God, Moses writes, “Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.”
But of man he writes, “You return man to dust, saying, ‘Return, O sons of mortals…’ You whisk them away in their sleep; they are like the new grass of the morning—in the morning it springs up new, but by evening it fades and withers.”
For Moses at this time of his life while in Midian, God had turned into an angry God. Even a cruel God. Moses writes, “We are consumed by Your anger and terrified by Your wrath. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence. For all our days decline in Your fury, and we finish our years with a sigh.”
But near the end of the Psalm, he writes what are some of its most important words. Having mentioned the seventy or eighty years of our lives, Moses now writes, “Teach us to number our days, that we may present a heart of wisdom.”
This thought and these words are an awakening. Although not fully developed, it is a spark of hope in the heart of Moses that perhaps there is more that God wants to accomplish in his life. When it comes to a meaningful life, his need not be over—not yet.
Bu the time Moses comes to the end of the Psalm, his prayer has changed from one of despair to one of hope: “May Your work be shown to Your servants, and Your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish for us the work of our hands!”
The Forty Year Training Period
The introduction of Psalm 90 reads, “A prayer of Moses the man of God,” and this was his prayer: “Establish for us the work of our hands—yes, establish the work of our hands!”
I think that it was sometime after Moses prayed this prayer that he was visited by the Lord God at the burning bush. Forty years earlier, Moses saw his work as delivering his Hebrew people from the slavery of Egypt. It was so long ago that he had almost forgotten, but that was the work for which God had prepared him. For the past forty years that he had spent in Midian, he was merely marking time—turning the pages on the calendar. However, in ways that Moses himself did not know, God was continuing his preparation in the life of Moses.
When Moses prayed, “Establish the work of our hands,” he perhaps did not even have the calling of delivering the Hebrews in mind. Maybe he did—there is no way to know. But whether he was thinking of that or not, he did not want to end his life with a sigh.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may present a heart of wisdom.”
No longer did Moses want his life to be merely one of marking time until his life was over. Moses wanted his life to have meaning.
There is Risk Involved
But the prospect of doing something of significance had its risks. In fact, it was frightening. After all, he had become accustomed to the tranquil life of a shepherd. There was security in having no responsibility beyond taking care of some animals. The peaceful hills and valleys of Midian held their own attraction to him.
Thus, when God brought to him the task of going to the Pharaoh, Moses demurred. He objected.
“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Moses may have prayed the prayer about establishing the work of his hands, but when it came right down to it, he was afraid. He was afraid of the Pharaoh, and he was afraid of his own people. He was afraid that the Pharaoh would have him executed, and he was afraid that the Hebrew people would again reject him. The words still rung in his ears, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”
It was quite a long conversation that Moses had with God at the bush. Despite the many excuses that Moses gave, and reasons that he thought that he should just stay in Midian with the sheep and goats of his father-in-law, in the end, he relented. Say what we might about his hesitancy, when it came right to the critical decision, Moses obeyed the Lord.
Despite the fact that Moses thought that he was ill-equipped and not the man for the job, he listened to the voice of God. Despite the fact that Moses had all but given up on life, in the end, he did what God had told him to do. In the end, he obeyed.
There is Trepidation Involved
Obeying God can be the most frightening decision that we will ever make. In fact, it usually is. If the calling is truly from God, it is not usually an easy thing to do, and quite often, it is actually the very thing that we do not want to do.
It has long been my grievance with Christian organizations that in promoting God’s work, such as working in missions, that they emphasize the “adventure” aspect. This is especially true in summer youth programs. The literature is many times packaged much like a travel tourist promotion. This type of promotion does not attract servants. It attracts adventure-seekers.
That is not how God packaged this forty-year daring camping adventure to which he called Moses. In fact, as you read the Scriptures, it is not how God called any of his servants.
This was God’s call to Abraham, when Abraham was seventy-five years old. “Leave your country, your kindred, and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
And about God calling the Apostle Paul: “This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name” (Acts 9:15-16 BSB).
When Queen Esther hesitated about intervening to save the lives of the Jews from her husband the King of Persia and the evil plot of the official named Haman, Mordecai’s words to her were, “Do not imagine that because you are in the king’s palace you alone will escape the fate of all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place…And who knows if perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
God’s servant Jonah hated the Ninevites. Actually, he was a racist. To whom do you think that God called him to go and rescue? It took three days in the belly of a fish, but Jonah finally obeyed.
Gideon first responded to God’s calling by saying, “How can I save Israel? Indeed, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15).
Peter and his brother Andrew were occupied with their work at the time that Jesus called them to follow him. What did they do? “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:14). They did not first hold a yard sale to try to sell off their equipment. They did not count the cost. They followed Jesus.
And what about Mary, the mother of Jesus? When God sent the angel to tell her that she had been chosen to bear the Holy Child, she became “greatly troubled.” In fact, she questioned if it could even be possible.
“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked the angel.
But although Mary was troubled in her spirit and did not understand anything, in the end she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me according to your word” (Luke 38).
There are many more examples in the Scripture that tell of God calling individuals to a task. In none of these do we hear God saying, “I have a great and exciting adventure in mind for you!”
No decision to respond to God’s calling was easy or pleasurable to any servant that we find in the Bible. Some, like Peter, Andrew and Mary, obeyed rather instantly, but most hesitated. In fact, many of them, like Moses, actually first refused God’s calling.
What will it be for you?
Do you think that you are too old? I will send you to speak with 80-year-old Moses or 75-year-old Abraham. Moses served the Lord for forty years after his calling, and Abraham one hundred years!
Do you think that you are a nobody and you could not possibly do what God is calling you to? Maybe look for some advice from Gideon, or especially from Mary.
Or perhaps you are so secure in your life that you think that you could never change? Queen Esther may have some words for you.
Too involved with your work? If God is calling you to something else, your fishing nets and boats are just getting in the way of your service to God. Leave them there on the beach and start walking.
The prophet Isaiah writes of his own calling: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for Us?’ And I said: ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
What will your response be?
“Establish for us the work of our hands—yes, establish the work of our hands!”
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life…I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians 2:10; 4:1)
So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work. (Colossians 1:10)
 Strong’s 1899: hegeh – a rumbling, growling, moaning