Numbers 10:35-36 “And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee. And when it rested, he said, Return, O LORD, unto the many thousands of Israel.”
Too often our prayer life is erratic at best and downright negligent on regular basis. Scripture indicates that “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” How can we be glad no matter what blessings and threats are found in it? The obvious but profound answer, according to the man leading the Israelites through the challenging wilderness, is structured prayer.
After the moral disaster with the golden calf, the Israelites are revived and reorganized, and press on through Sinai to the Promised Land. God leads them, literally and visibly as “the cloud of the Lord…above them by day” (v. 34), and figuratively and symbolically in the “ark of the covenant” going before them (v. 33). This is the day to day setting of the two prayers recorded in our text. Both their context and content said to Israel, “Believe the Lord and follow him each day. Trust him to lead you every step of your way.”
Here are two requests that provide sovereign structure to each day
Pray to start your day by asking God to guide and protect your waking hours. (35)
As an indication of the warlike nature of the journey, a foretaste no doubt of the military conquest which lay ahead, Moses would lead the people in a battle cry in which the presence and conquering power of the Lord were invoked. He prays that will scatter the enemies of God’s people on any given day. Much of the spiritual poise needed to endure resistance and persecution only issues forth from the heart that has been sanctified earlier in the day through faithful intercession.
It is not an accident that David, who navigates all kinds of threats, uses these words to open Psalm 68. Jesus applies this very personally when he charges us to “watch and pray” because the threats are real in our daily world. We are facing more than “flesh and blood,” for we are constantly challenged by “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ep. 6:12). To survive and thrive, we must start every day with prayer that the Lord will rise up to go before us and scatter not just our enemies but His enemies. Don’t rise for a given day before kneeling to ask God to “rise up” on your behalf.
Pray to end your day by asking God to abide over you during your resting hours. (36)
When the day’s march was over he would entreat the Lord to abide among His people through the night. Moses first prays that God will “return”—or better, “repose”—with his people. That is, that the infinite, eternal, unchanging God will track the finite, time-bound, changeable people of God in the cycles of their daily lives. When we are awake, He is with us, and when we are asleep, He who answers prayer watches over us.
He also prays for the “many thousands” of Israel. We are tempted to think of God keeping His promises to his people in a general and abstract manner. This is not what Moses has in mind, still less the God of all grace. Moses has all of God’s covenant people in view, one by one. He wants none to be lost, and all to persevere. We each must end the day, no matter how tired or restless, with consecrating, relinquish-oversight kind of prayer. This allows us to echo the Psalmist’s sentiment, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8)
We are called here to frame each day with prayers that God would both rise and repose with us. We all want Him to keep us in His hands in all we do in daytime and also through the night. The only means of regularly voicing that daily dependence upon the Lord is through prayer. It is not so much about a momentary, impressive utterance to God but a daily cry to the Lord that makes the difference of a lifetime. A lifetime made up of daily deposits of relying upon the God who longs to fill every day with His “pillar of cloud” and every night with His “pillar of fire.”