‘Home’ should be a welcoming word
Not everyone had a happy home life while growing up. In fact each person dreams of an ideal home furnished with their own desired details. Some adults enjoy home without anyone else, except perhaps a welcoming pet dog. Most of us prefer a shared family home.
Psalm 90.0, entitled ‘A prayer of Moses, the man of God’ starts with the sentence: ‘Lord, through all the generations you have been our home’ (Psalm 90:1 NLT New Living Translation). A few other English translations also use that precious word ‘home’ in this verse: ‘Lord, you have always been our eternal home, our hiding place from generation to generation’ (The Passion Translation). ‘God, it seems you’ve been our home forever’ (The Message). Most other versions have the rather plain term ‘dwelling place’ instead.
What influenced Moses’ concept of home?
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of Israel all lived in tents as pilgrims. Abraham, who had resided for decades with his wife Sarah in their city home in ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’, started this trend of tent-dwelling in ‘the land of Canaan’, a domestic lifestyle that would continue thereafter ‘from generation to generation’. Already in their family records was the sad story of how Cain had become ‘homeless’ after his violent murder of his godly brother Abel (Genesis 4:12-14 NLT; that is ‘a fugitive and a wanderer’ English Standard Version, ‘a restless wanderer’ New International Version).
Joseph in the post-patriarchal generation would have had a substantial dwelling in Egypt. During a severe seven-year famine he arranged for all his relatives to settle near him – in their shepherds’ tents!
But in the time of Moses’ parents the Israelites were viewed by the Egyptians as immigrant intruders. While still a baby, Moses spent a few hours in a water-proofed basket among the reeds of the River Nile. His brief breast-fed years were spent with his genetic family in a humble peasant homestead, prior to his forty or so years in the royal palace with his adoptive mother, the daughter of Pharaoh. But he fled from there aged eighty to a rural family existence while working as a shepherd in the back of beyond.
By the time he wrote this prayer-psalm Moses was well past his hundredth birthday after another four decades or so of tent-dwelling in the desert of Sinai. Significantly, not only did the entire Israelite nation, descendants of those tent-dwelling ancestors, spend a whole generation in tents with Moses, but so did the Lord who had taken up residence among them. His mobile home is better known as ‘the tabernacle’.
Who are the subjects of Moses’ prayer?
One of the great values of the King James Version is its clear distinction between the singular ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ of the Hebrew language and the plural ‘you’ and ‘yours’. Comparing Moses’ psalm with its neighbour (Psalm 91.0) we can see this difference instantly. While Psalm 91.0 is full of singular personal pronouns (‘me, I, my, mine’) the emphasis of the prayer of Moses is entirely plural, from ‘our dwelling place’ in the first verse to ‘the work of our hands’ in the last verse (Psalm 91.17). Moses’ unselfish concern was for the nation. While he was alone with the Lord on the summit of Mount Sinai, his brother Aaron had given in to the people\s request for a visible god by making a gold idol in ‘the shape of a calf’ (Exodus 32:1-4), at which the Lord was greatly displeased. Moses told the Lord that he was willing for God to ‘erase my name from the record you have written’ if he would ‘only forgive their sin’ (see Exodus 32:30-35 NLT).
Psalm 90 – a prayer in four stanzas
Taking a phrase from each of the four stanzas of this psalm in The Message version as a suitable heading we will search in the five books of Moses for the narrative background to his praying – in the English Standard Version.
- ‘You are God’ (Psalm 90:1-2)
‘Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains [including Sinai] were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth . . . from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’ Stanza 1 certainly has historic Mosaic roots. At the burning bush, where he received his divine commission to release God’s enslaved people, ‘Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations”‘ (Exodus 3:14-15).
- ‘Your anger . . . Is that all we’re ever going to get?’ (Psalm 90:3-9)
After the golden calf fiasco, ‘the Lord said to Moses . . . “I will visit their sin upon them.” Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf . . . “Nevertheless . . . , behold my angel shall go before you” ‘ (Exodus 32:34-35).
- ‘Teach us to live wisely and well!’ (Psalm 90:10-12)
‘And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes, and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live,, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you’ (Deuteronomy 4:1)
- ‘Let the loveliness of our Lord . . . rest on us. . . . Affirm the work that we do” (Psalm 90:13-17).
‘Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys’ (Exodus 40:34-38).
P.S. Finally – when time shall be no more . . .
John on Patmos was eventually shown the ultimate scene of the ages: ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people!’ (Revelation 21:3 NLT). Meanwhile let’s adjust our personal lives and our corporate life so that we are at home in God, and he is at home among us.
. . . but in the meantime . . .
In chapter 10 of his Gospel Luke links Jesus’ instructions to his disciples, about being made welcome on home visits, with their Master’s own enacted demonstration of his teaching in a particular welcoming – but imperfect – home.
At a new stage in his life and ministry, The Lord chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. These were his instructions to them . . . “Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house’ . . . Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality”’ (Luke 10:17-21). Then, ‘As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.’ Martha felt honoured by his visit, but was highly flustered at the number of guests (presumably twelve, not seventy-two) – ‘distracted by the big dinner she was preparing’ without the help of her sister Mary! When she exploded in a prayer of sheer frustration, Jesus spoke ‘God’s peace on that house’ by allowing Mary to stay out of the kitchen while he concluded his discipleship teaching session (see Luke 10:38-42).
Eugene Pieterson in his book on pastoral work (‘Under the Unpredictable Plant’) remarked: ‘My congregation are divinely worked-on souls whom the Spirit is shaping for eternal habitation [namely, a home for God]. Long before I arrive on the scene, the Spirit is at work. I must fit into what is going on . . . I can never be involved in creativity except by entering the mess. Mess is the precondition to creativity. The tohu v’ bohu [the ‘formless and empty’ state] of Genesis 1:2. Chaos. . . . In any creative enterprise there are risks, mistakes, false starts, failures, frustrations, embarrassment, but out of this mess – whenever we stay with it long enough, enter it deeply enough – there slowly emerges love, or beauty, or peace.’
He was there referring to Jonah’s experience, but the same was true of Martha’s home. John 12:1-10 describes a later, serene scene in Martha’s home where Mary ‘anointed Jesus’ feet’ with ‘expensive perfume’ in preparation for his imminent ‘burial’!