So Help Me, Our Lord

Bible Book: Psalms  90 : 12
Subject: America; Citizenship, Christian
Series: Psalms - Kirksey

Daniel Webster (1782-1852) shared the following in a speech at Plymouth, on December 22, 1820, "Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens."[1]

According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms, “This idiom became a formula for swearing a formal oath and is still so used in courts of law for swearing in a witness (I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God). It was first recorded in 1508 as ‘So help me, our Lord.’”[2]

Bible scholars title Psalm 90 “A Prayer of Moses the man of God”. “Numbers 12:3 records “(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.)” Please note the word translated "humble" in verse 3 is the Hebrew word anav, which is the same word used in Psalm 37:11 for "meek". We could truly say Moses was “gentle [meek] and lowly in heart” as Jesus said of Himself in Matthew 11:29. Moses did “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but. . . [thought] soberly” (Romans 12:3). In Numbers chapter 12 Moses displayed a remarkable self control related to the mistreatment by his sister named Miriam, but Scripture reveals Moses was not always so selfless, because he slew an Egyptian and struck a rock in sinful anger.

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe explains, “Some Bible students believe that Moses wrote Psalm 90 after Israel's great sin at Kadesh Barnea, when they failed to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14). Note especially the descriptions of God's anger, Israel's sins, and the certainty of death. The psalm forcefully reminds us of the sovereignty of God, the frailty of mankind, the brevity of life, and the certainty of death. We desperately need God's wisdom if we hope to make a success out of this brief time we have on earth (Psalm 90:12).”[3]

Psalm 90 is likely the oldest psalm recorded in the Bible. As we divide Psalm 90 verse 12 we will discover something of the secret of Moses’ greatness. From this prayer of Moses, the man of God, we discover the secret of becoming a man or woman of God.

Moses begins his prayer, “So teach us. . .” (Psalm 90:12a). Here he appeals to the mercy of our Lord. In Lamentations 3:22-23 we read, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, / Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; / Great is Your faithfulness.” Moses teaches us by example to ask for the Lord’s merciful guidance in spiritual truth. It is as if Moses is praying, “So help me, our Lord.”

This man of God expresses appreciation for the measure of our life, when he continues, “So teach us to number our days. . .” (Psalm 90:12b) Ole Hallesby (1879-1961) observes, “How fast it goes! When we look ahead, time seems so long; but when we look back we see how fleeting it is, how rapidly it goes.”[4] Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe explains, “We measure life in years, but God tells us to measure life in days. This verse gives us some important lessons about life.”[5] Someone wisely said, “Our purpose is not so much to count our days but to make our days count.”

Moses reveals the methodology of our learning in the final phrase, “that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), we read, “Purely an Old Testament term representing five Hebrew originals which signify respectively, ‘to enter,’ ‘to incline,’ ‘to give,’ ‘to go about,’ ‘to put or place,’ in each instance spoken of the heart in its attitude to wisdom (Psalm 90:12 the King James Version); instruction (Proverbs 23:12); understanding (Proverbs 2:2); knowledge (Proverbs 22:17).”[6]

Dr. Charles C. Ryrie provides the following summary of Psalm 90:12, “Help us allot our days wisely.”[7]

In the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, W. L. Walker explains, “A great many Hebrew words are in the Old Testament translated ‘get,’ ‘got,’ etc. The word ‘get’ has two meanings: (1) with the idea of movement, ‘to go,’ etc.; (2) with that of acquisition, ‘to gain,’ ‘obtain,’ etc. [Therefore] ‘get us’ for ‘apply’ (Psalm 90:12); ‘let us get grain’ for ‘therefore we take up corn for them,’ and for ‘that we might buy corn’ (Neh. 5:2-3); ‘get you no’ for ‘provide neither’ (Matthew 10:9); ‘getteth prudence’ for ‘is prudent,’ margin ‘dealeth prudently’ (Proverbs 15:5); ‘getteth’ for ‘coveteth’ (Habakkuk 2:9).”[8]

From The Handbook of Bible Application we read, “Living in light of eternity makes life valuable. Realizing that life is short helps us use the little time we have more wisely, and for eternal good. Take time to number your days by asking yourself, What do I want to see happen in my life before I die? What small step could I take toward that purpose today?

Living for God makes life valuable. Because our days are numbered, we want our work to count, to be effective and productive. We desire to see God's eternal plan revealed now and for our work to reflect his permanence. If you feel dissatisfied with this life and all its imperfections, remember our desire to see our work established is given by God. But our desire can only be satisfied in eternity. Until then we must apply ourselves to loving and serving God.”[9]

Dr. Stephen F. Olford (1918-2004) exhorts, “Before we live another moment let the prayer of our hearts be:

Take my life, and let it be

Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Frances R. Havergal”

Dr. Olford concludes, “If our repentance, faith and obedience are genuine, we have learned the law of longevity.”[10]

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) writes, “That is the great matter, after all, to get the heart applied to wisdom, to learn what is the right way, and to walk in it in the practical actions of daily life. It is of little use for us to learn to number our days if it merely enables us to sit down in self-confidence and carnal security; but if our hearts be applied to true wisdom, the Lord's teaching has been effectual.”[11]

Even biblical truth is of little value unless it finds its application in life. James warns, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20,26). The application of biblical truth is essential to becoming a godly Christian. Regrettably many are in trivial pursuit of Bible knowledge as Paul writes, “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). In 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Paul warns Timothy, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”

Paul further instructs Timothy about the man of God and the Word of God in 2 Timothy 3:10-17. Here he writes, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Dr. F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) was a British Baptist pastor who touched the world through his pulpit and print ministry. His biographer explains how he would redeem the time, “If he had a long railway journey before him, he would settle himself in his corner of the railway carriage, open his dispatch case which was fitted as a sort of stationery cabinet, and set to work on some abstruse article, quite oblivious of his surroundings. Often at protracted conventions, and even in committee meetings, when the proceeding did not demand his undivided attention, he would unobtrusively open his case and proceed to answer letters.”[12]

Dr. F. B. Meyer explains, “Moses’ complaint about the shortness of life indicates that he was no idler. The days were not long enough for all he had to do, and therefore life seemed to pass so quickly through his hands. Amid all that made him sad, he found solace in the thought that what he did would last. The leaves fall, but each, ere it finds a grave in the damp autumn soil, has done something to the tree that bore it, which will be a permanent gain for summers yet unborn. The preacher dies, but his words have furnished impulses to souls which have become part of their texture and will be part forever. The workman finds a nameless grave beneath the shadow of the great unfinished minister, but the fabric rises still and will rise; his work will be part of it for ever, a joy and beauty for coming generations. After all our work in itself is not sufficient to resist the disintegrated forces of time, which, more than all else, tries and tests its quality. And, therefore, we need to ask that God’s work may become manifest through ours. In my work let Thine appear; through my weak endeavors may that hand achieve which made the worlds and built cosmos out of chaos. ‘Let Thy work appear.’ And in asking that God’s work may appear, we make a request which involves His glory. The one cannot appear without the other, so that in all coming time children and children’s children may behold it, and as that glory shines upon their faces it must transform and transfigure them so that the beauty of the Lord our God will be upon them.”[13]



Dr. Arno C. Gaebelien (1861-1945) cites Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) comment on this Psalm, “‘Just as Moses acts in teaching the law, so does he in this Psalm. For he preaches death, sin and condemnation, in order that he may alarm the proud who are secure in their sins and that he may set before their eyes their sin and evil.’ The Mosaic authorship cannot be questioned. Through written over three thousand years ago it still fits, in spite of human pride and the boasting human conditions.”[14]

Dr. Merrill Frederick Unger (1909-1980) shares, “Psalm 90. Man's fallen condition. Moses meditates upon man's frailty and death because of sin, 1-10. He prays for God's intervention on behalf of sinful man, 11-17.”[15]

Moses was a great man of God. Dr. Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986), former professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Hamburg, reminds us, “His [humankind’s] greatness rests solely on the fact that God in His incomprehensible goodness has bestowed His love upon us. God does not love us because we are so valuable; we are valuable because God loves us.”[16]

Since 1508 we have gone from “So help me, our Lord” to “So help me God” to “So help me”, if some have their way. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). So help me, our Lord.

[1]John Bartlett (1820–1905). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919. Vol. i. p. 44, Available from: Accessed: 07/01/12

[2]so help me. The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Houghton Mifflin Company. help me (accessed: July 01, 2012).

[3]Warren W. Wiersbe, Preaching and Teaching with Imagination: The Quest for Biblical Ministry, © 1994 by Warren W. Wiersbe. Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp.

[4]O. Hallesby, God’s Word For Today (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1937, 1979), p. 208

[5]Warren and David Wiersbe, Ministering to the Mourning: A Practical Guide for Pastors, Church Leaders, and Other Caregivers, © 2006 by Warren W. Wiersbe and David W. Wiersbe. Database © 2006 WORDsearch Corp. Published previously as Comforting the Bereaved.

[6]International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1915)

[7]Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Ryrie Study Notes (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978)

[8]W. L. Walker, “GET; GETTING”, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1915)

[9]The Handbook of Bible Application, ed. Neil S. Wilson, Senior Editorial team for the original Life Application notes: Dr. Bruce B. Barton, Ronald A. Beers , Dr. James C. Galvin, Linda Chaffee Taylor & Rev. David R. Veerman, (BIBLE READING: Psalm 90:1-17) Database © 2003 Wordsearch Corp.

[10]Stephen F. Olford, Olford's Expository Preaching Outlines, Volume 3, First Quarter, Number 10, "The Law of Longevity"

[11]Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Collected Sermons (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit)

[12]W. Y. Fullerton, F. B. Meyer (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, n. d.), p. 70

[13]The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, Psalms, F. B. Meyer, “The Psalm of the Wanderings”, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, n. d.), p. 32

[14]Arno C. Gaebelien, The Psalms: An Exposition A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1939), p. 343

[15]Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Handbook (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984)

[16]Helmut Thielicke, Nihilism, trans. John W. Doberstein (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), p. 110

By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / /

About the Author / (251) 626-6210

© July 1, 2012 All Rights Reserved