In English there is an idiom, “Your days are numbered.” Most who read this post probably understand the meaning of the idiom, namely, that whoever says it is telling someone that they are about to die or in some other way experience something precipitous, like getting fired from a job.
Traditional English translations of Psalm 90:12 ask God to “teach us to number our days …” Note that this wording does not have the idiomatic meaning that “Your days are numbered” does. I do not know what it means in any standard dialect of English to “number” my days. (Biblish is not a standard dialect of English since it is spoken by only a portion of those who know standard dialects of English. It is a limited jargon, not a dialect.)
The traditional wording of Ps. 90:12 sounds like it has something to do with counting days on a calendar. We need to field test the traditional wording to find out if any native speakers of standard dialects of English get the Hebraic meaning from “teach us to number our days.”
The meaning of the original Hebrew is a request that God help us realize how short our lives are. The implication is that when we realize how little time we have left to live, we should live it wisely.
I suggest that the traditional English translations do not communicate to most readers this meaning of the original Hebrew. And to the degree that original meaning is not communicated, to that degree a translation is not accurate. This is true regardless of how much the translators intended to communicate the Hebrew meaning accurately to English.
English Bible versions which do communicate the meaning of the Hebrew idiom accurately include the following:
- So make us know how few are our days, that our minds may learn wisdom. (REB)
- Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise. (TEV/GNT)
- Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. (CEV)
- Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise. (NCV)
- So teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely. (NET)
- Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. (NLT)
If you know of any other English versions which accurately communicate the meaning of the Hebrew of Psalm 90:12, please note them in comments to this post. If you field test the traditional translation wording with native speakers of standard dialects of English, please let us know the results.