I would not have made a good Israelite–at least not during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. All that coming and going, packing and unpacking, and sleeping in tents would get old pretty quick, I think. I’m no nomad—I like the comfort and familiarity of my own house, my own bed, my own pillow.
Nevertheless, my life does involve a considerable amount of coming and going. So God caught me by surprise yesterday morning when I was reading in Numbers 10. The LORD had just outlined detailed instructions concerning who was supposed to do what and exactly how everything was to be done each time they packed up to move to a new temporary home. (I wish my packing for trips was that organized!) When a trumpet blasted, that meant the Israelites were to set out and follow the cloud to their new camping spot.
But I’d never noticed this before: each time, right before they left, Moses would pray this “going” prayer (verse 35):
“Rise up, LORD!
May your enemies be scattered;
May your foes flee before you.”
And whenever they would arrive at the new place God had chosen for them, he would pray this “coming” prayer (verse 36):
“Return, LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel!”
The wilderness wanderings took place centuries before Pentecost, of course. The Lord no longer dwells the Tent of Meeting or the Temple—He lives inside each of us who call Him God and Savior. However, Moses’ prayers still seemed relevant to me. He knew that the Israelites would face danger on their journeys. They had physical foes like wild animals, bandits, enemy armies, heat, cold, and lack of water. They also had spiritual enemies like discouragement, fear, rebellion, and discord. Traveling was no walk in the park for them—they needed the Lord to go with them. They need Him to scatter their enemies.
And so do I. Traveling, while much easier for me living in the 21st century than for them living in whatever century that was (something like the 13th century BC). Still, there are enemies when I travel, too. Hazards on roads and in the skies. Temptations to sin. Ill-intentioned strangers. Discouragement, fear, rebellion, discord. (Technology changes, but human nature doesn’t much!)
So, I appreciate Moses’ coming and going prayers. I need God every bit as much as the Israelites did. I need Him to go before me—to go with me—as I travel out into the world. I need Him to scatter my enemies so they flee before I even arrive at my destination. And when I get to where I’m going, I need Him to return to me again—not that He ever left. I know that. But by intentionally asking Him to “return” to me, I remind myself that even though I am in a new and perhaps strange or uncomfortable place, He is with me. And wherever He is, that is home for me.