Check a map that traces the trek of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan, and you’ll see a meandering, looping pathway:
God could have taken them along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, a much more direct route. One commentator says that route would have required just days of travel. A short journey would have been so much easier on everyone, right? Less chance of fatigue, boredom, and impatience to develop and create problems.
But God had his reasons for a long, winding route.
Reason #1: The Philistines. That’s not conjecture; that’s exactly what scripture tells us. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt’ ” (Exodus 13:17).
The Philistines’ territory stretched for fifty miles along the Mediterranean Sea, with the southern border touching Egypt. They were a well-organized, warring people. Five great cities, strategically located throughout their coastal holdings, created an alliance, the famous Philistine pentapolis.
A people suppressed by slavery for four hundred years would not be able to fight such an adversary. The Israelites didn’t have any trained soldiers among them either. Could God have given them a rousing victory over the Philistines anyway? Of course. But he chose not to.
Reason #2: Perhaps God determined his people needed some wilderness experience to train them in his ways and build their trust in him. Instead of quick and easy, God chose slow, step-by-step progress. He was like an eagle, teaching his fledglings by degrees how to fly (Deuteronomy 32:11).
I wonder if the Israelites thought, Does God have any idea where he’s taking us? What is he DOING?!
In hindsight we can see God’s purpose:
- To prepare them to be his holy people by giving them the law. (By the way, according to Exodus 19:1, Moses went up to Mount Sinai during the third month after they left Egypt. God was certainly in no hurry to get his children to the Promised Land.)
- To teach them. Through the laws he gave Moses, God taught the Israelites how to treat one another and how to worship him. They were to be different from all other peoples on earth. “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy,” he said, “because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).
- To challenge them. For example, God let them experience great thirst and hunger. Then he stepped in and supplied their needs. By degrees God taught them to trust him.
I have to admit: my life experiences have paralleled the Israelites’ in a number of ways. I’ve encountered a few winding roads, puzzling detours, uncomfortable wait times, and unanswered questions of my own.
Here’s what we can remind ourselves of: God may not direct us by the nearest, fastest way—even though he could. In his omnipotent wisdom, he knows a better way. And he has perfectly sound reasons for his decision.
My choice in the matter? I can plead for the shorter route, complain about the delay, try to forge ahead on my own self-chosen fast track, OR…
…trust my all-knowing, all-wise Heavenly Father.
Seeing the choices laid out in black and white, here on my computer screen, the decision is easy. However, complete trust in the moment of uncertainty, fatigue, and discomfort is much more challenging.
Perhaps I can encourage myself by reviewing God’s purposes for the Israelites. Chances are, he desires the same results in me:
- God prepared the Israelites; he may be preparing me for the next chapter in my life.
- God taught the Israelites; he may be teaching me what the next level of maturity includes. (Yes, even an old Christian like me still has growing to do!)
- God challenged the Israelites; he may be challenging me to trust him—in spite of a long, winding road and uncomfortable wait time.
In summary: As I cooperate with him, God can transform me into a prepared, mature, trusting servant for the next chapter of my life. I like the sound of that!
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“Who compares with you, O God? Who compares with you in power, in holy majesty, in awesome praises, wonder-working God” (Exodus 15:11, The Message)? You are over-the-top trustworthy! So, in advance, I thank you for the good that will come out of the winding road, detours, and wait time in my life–experiences you ordained for me, before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). I place my hand in yours, my caring, constant Companion. Help me to focus on your strong grip, not the uncertainties ahead. Amen.
(Art credits: www.registrypartners.net; http://www.pinterest.com.)