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In the barren Mojave Desert of California rests a monument to futility.
A single man, “Burro” Schmidt, spent over 40 years digging a tunnel more than 2,000 feet long through solid granite, using only hand tools.
Schmidt was a gold prospector who had settled on the north side of Copper Mountain.
Gold had been discovered on the south side.
Thinking that he might strike it rich and that he would need a route for sending his ore to the other side, he began his tunnel.
In 1910, with his tunnel half finished, the Southern Pacific Railroad completed a line through the area which rendered Schmidt’s tunnel useless.
But by then the tunnel had become his obsession.
He kept digging for another 28 years until he broke through into daylight.
He operated the tunnel as a tourist attraction until his death in 1954.
Over 40 years to build a useless tunnel through a barren, out-of-the-way desert mountain--what a waste!
But who is to say that Schmidt’s tunnel was a waste of his life?
A person might conquer the world, only to die in his thirties, like Alexander the Great.
So what?
A person might become a famous doctor, discovering the cure for cancer.
So he helps people survive a few more years, only to die of something else.
He, too, will soon go to his grave.
So what?
Are you ever overwhelmed with the feeling that life is futile?
You can amass a great fortune, only to be cut down in the prime of life.
You can’t take it with you.
You can work all your life looking forward to retirement, only to die and never enjoy it.
Almost anything you choose to put your hopes and your efforts in can suddenly be brought to nothing through that great common leveler: death.
As George Bernard Shaw wryly observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive: One out of one people die.”
We avoid thinking about death in our culture.
We’re uncomfortable talking about it.
We would rather just brush it aside with a nervous laugh and change the subject.
But we can’t brush it aside for too long, because we and everyone we know will die.
As you think about death, whether it be the death of others or your own death, you have to wrestle with the question, “How can my fleeting life have purpose or value?” “What makes life significant and worthwhile?”
It seems to me that there are only two possible answers.
One is the philosophy of the hedonist, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
That view is flawed if there is a resurrection of the dead.
The other view, which takes this fact into account, is the view of the Bible, that we must be linked vitally to the eternal God if we want our fleeting lives to have significance.
Moses was a man surrounded by death.
He led Israel out of bondage in Egypt to take them to the Promised Land.
But because of their disobedience, God determined that that generation should not enter the land, but die in the wilderness.
Even Moses died; only Joshua and Caleb lived to enter the Promised Land.
If God’s judgment applied to everyone 20 and older when they came out of Egypt, over 1.2 million men and women died during the 40 years in the wilderness (Num.
There were a lot of graves in the desert!
As Moses saw these people whom he knew and had worked with over the years dropping like flies, he reflected deeply upon the question, “How can this fleeting life have meaning and value?”
Instead of being driven to despair and cynicism, as many are who reflect on this question, Moses, being a man of God, was driven to worship and prayer.
The result is the majestic Psalm 90, the oldest of the psalms, the only one in the Psalter known to have been written by Moses.
(He wrote other poetry; see, “The Song of Moses,” Deut.
Moses’ inspired answer to the question of how this short life can have value is, *Our fleeting lives can have value only if we live wisely before the eternal God.*
The psalm falls into four stanzas: (90:1-2)—Pondering God’s eternality.
(90:3-6)—Pondering man’s brevity.
(90:7-11)—Pondering man’s depravity.
(90:12-17)--Praying for God’s charity.
First I want to look at the second and third stanzas, which reveal two things which make life futile apart from God; then we will look at the first and fourth stanzas, which show how life can have meaning and value; then, I’ll conclude with some practical lessons.
* *
Life is futile apart from God because of its shortness and*
*uncertainty and God’s wrath on our sin.*
A. Pondering Man’s Brevity (90:3-6).
When he talks of God bringing man back to the dust, Moses goes back to the fall and the curse which God imposed (Gen 2:17; 3:17-19).
When he refers to “a thousand years,” he may be recalling the life span of those before the flood, who lived almost that long.
He is saying, “Even if a person lives to be a thousand years old, it is nothing to God.
It’s like a day to Him, or like a watch (3 hours) in the night, which passes by almost instantly while we sleep.”
Think of that!
Think of all of the history that has occurred in the past 1,000 years!
America is a mere babe of 232.
Columbus discovered America 516 years ago, just half way to 1,000!
A 1,000-year-old man would have been half way through life when the Renaissance and Reformation came on the scene!
To God, that’s only a little blip on the horizon of time.
We average 70 or 80 years, some a few more, some less, and we think we’re so great!
But none of us has the certainty of waking up tomorrow.
Moses describes our helplessness in the face of death as being swept away by a flash flood that suddenly bursts upon us and takes everything in its path (90:5a).
We’re like the grass of the field (90:5b-6), which sprouts in the morning and looks promising.
But after a day in the blistering desert sun, it lies withered.
How soon the promise of youth is gone and life fades away!
It may be uncomfortable to think about, but it’s true.
Think of how short and uncertain our feeble life is.
We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
And we can die from about anything.
Detroit, MI – A 41-year-old man got stuck and drowned in two feet of water after squeezing headfirst through an 18-inch-wide sewer grate to retrieve his car keys.
Unable to remove his head, the man drowned when the continuous downfall eventually raised the water level in the sewer.
Newton, NC - Kenneth Charles Barger, 47, accidentally shot himself to death during the night.
Awakening to the sudden sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed, he reached for the phone but grabbed instead his Smith & Wesson .38
Special which he kept on the bedside table next to the phone.
The gun apparently discharged as he drew it to his ear thinking it was the phone.
None of us knows how long we have to live.
I want you to feel the anxiety Moses intends us to feel by his words.
Life is short and uncertain.
Apart from being rightly related to God, it is futile.
Charles Spurgeon told about a man who said to a dying believer, “Farewell, friend!
I shall never see you again in the land of the living!”
The dying Christian replied, “I shall see you again in the land of the living where I am going.
This is the land of the dying!”
Pondering Man’s Depravity (90:7-11).
Moses had “exhibit A” before his eyes: People were dying like crazy.
For 1.2 million people to die in 40 years, 30,000 were dying every year (if evenly spaced).
That’s about 82 per day!
It didn’t happen that way, because on some days thousands were killed because of their rebellion and sin (Num.
16:49; 25:9).
But Moses saw a lot of corpses!
He is making the point that death is the result of God’s wrath on our sin.
People say that death is just a natural part of the life cycle that all living things die, so we should just accept it as normal.
But that’s a humanistic lie that minimizes the horror of death and disregards the clear teaching of the Bible, that death entered this world as God’s direct judgment on the sin of the human race (Gen.
2:17; 3:19).
The reality of death ought to make people face the reality of their sin and the fact that they will shortly stand before a holy God.
In our day we tend to minimize the horror of God’s wrath.
It embarrasses us in our sophisticated, scientific day to suggest that the AIDS epidemic could be God’s wrath on the immorality of our land.
We’d rather see it as a medical problem which science will solve in a few years.
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