Exodus 13:17 (the message)
It so happened that after Pharaoh released the people, God didn’t lead them by the road through the land of the Philistines, which was the shortest route, for God thought, “If the people encounter war, they’ll change their minds and go back to Egypt.”
Exodus 14: 13-14 (the message)
Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.
God will fight the battle for you.
And you? You keep your mouths shut!”
Last night, during my girl’s bedtime Bible story, I felt a stirring in my heart to find my own Bible and read a bit in Exodus. Their story came from Exodus 16 and was about God providing manna (bread-like substance) for the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. As I sat down on my couch last night heading for chapter 16, I was captured by the first verse above. I just kept re-reading it!!
God had delivered the Israelite people, His chosen people, from the bondage of their slavery in Egypt and promised them a land that would be their inheritance for generations. Imagine! The Hebrew people had come to Egypt hundreds of years prior during a severe famine and as their population exploded the Egyptian rulers became nervous about their numbers and enslaved them. Now, their God is delivering them and promising them a land all their own. But instead of leading them on the shortest path to the promise, God leads them through the wilderness. The answer to why is clear in the verse above…If the people encounter war, they’ll change their minds and go back to Egypt. As I read this I was deeply touched. See, God knew that for the Israelites to inhabit their promised land there would be battles they must face. And He knew they were not ready to fight any battles.
Just a few short minutes after absorbing this idea, I ran into chapter 14: 13-14 and, once again, read it several times! Here the Pharoah and Egyptian army had come after the people. They were camped at Pi Hahiroth near the Red Sea and as they realized the army was chasing them down, they began to cry out asking why God brought them out of Egypt to die? As they carry on and on, Moses speaks the second scripture above to them…tells them to stand firm. Take a good look at the Egyptians because they would never see them again. Moses tells them God will fight their battle and their job is the shut their mouth!! Not long after the Israelite people find themselves crossing the Red Sea on dry ground. Amazing.
So, here is my heart this morning…what I absorbed last night reading this part of an amazing story. God has the power to deliver us from our bondage and He makes promises to us in His Word. He also makes personal promises to us about specifics in our own lives. Often I think He plants purpose and dreams in our hearts long before we are to inhabit them. Of course we want the shortest route, at least we think we do, but we don’t know the battles that must be fought to walk into the fullness of God’s promises for us. Many times it’s a battle of character and strengthening our faith and trust in God. If God had led the Israelites on the shortest route when they first left the bondage of slavery they would have caved the first time they encountered the Philistines. They had much to learn, but God would be with them every step of the way. God would provide and protect.
Do you feel today like God is taking you the long way around? If so, I understand! But if you’ll take just a few moments to look back at your journey so far, perhaps you can see that the long way around has afforded you some spiritual growth and maturity you wouldn’t have gained any other way. Perhaps even as you read this you feel like you are lost in the wilderness! Perhaps you question why did God bring me out of my old life so I could take on this never-ending journey? I thought it would be easy!! I would like to encourage you this morning that God does indeed have promise and provision for you, but He sees all that you don’t see. He knows when you are ready. He knows each battle you face today and how they prepare you for greater battles and greater victories ahead. God doesn’t always lead us on the short and easy route because He loves us. He knows us! And the truth is He is much more interested in developing our character and spiritual maturity than our instant gratification and comfort.
I love what Moses told the people in the midst of their doubting so soon after deliverance! (After all, God had rained down multiple plagues on the Egyptian Pharoah and saved each Hebrew first-born in the process of getting them out!) Moses tells them not to be afraid…to stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation. Moses tells them to take a good, last look at the Egyptians and then keep their mouth shut! God is fighting their battle! LOVE IT!! Why do I love it? Because I totally could see myself! God moves and proves Himself strong for me over and over again, and yet I still have times of doubt! I face a new and different battle on my way to the promise and begin to fear! You know what I took from this last night? God does not want us to fear or doubt Him! He tells us to stand firm…don’t give up or become distracted..and watch God work! I read this and think about how God is telling us to take a good look at our bondage…take a good look at the past because I am about to work in your life and you won’t be seeing it again! Does that excite you this morning? No matter what the past has been like, no matter what your sin and bondage looks like or how many generations in your family have battled the same issue…God is telling you to look it square in the eye, unafraid, and watch Him work salvation and deliverance in your life! We don’t have the power but He does! And our job is simply to keep our doubting and unbelieving mouths closed!
For some reason in life we think that worry, anxiety, fear and doubt are our job. Like if we truly just relax and trust God we will be taking it easy. So, we must worry and complain and verbalize our distrust in God’s power and promise for us. I believe it hinders God. I believe that is why Moses told them God would fight their battle but they needed to close their mouths! I am sure God and Moses would have welcomed some Praise…some Thanksgiving and Worship, but since the Israelite people had not developed and matured (they had just come out of Egypt, after all, and God understood that!) their best bet was to say nothing. I don’t believe, nor am I implying, that our words are magical but I do believe, as the Bible says, out of the mouth the heart speaks. What I’m saying is that most of the time, especially in a pinch, what you truly believe will come out in your words. The Israelites were full of doubt and that is indeed what was coming out of their mouths.
Learning to praise, worship and verbalize thanksgiving to God in our scariest moments is not easy. It takes a giant step of faith because we are certainly more comfortable expecting the worst. Here is the thing: if we spend time getting to know Jesus then we aren’t just spouting off proclamations or formula prayers when we thank Him and praise Him in the storms. Genuine worship and thanksgiving in the hardest seasons of life comes from actually knowing and trusting in the goodness of God. See, the Israelites needed to get to know Him personally and in time and over many years, a few of them did. Joshua and Caleb knew the GREAT I AM in such a way that no matter how looming the enemy or large the battle, they trusted in the power, faithfulness and goodness of God. And they did indeed inhabit the Promise.
A long post today! But my heart is to encourage you that if God is taking you the long way around you are not alone! The long way around molds you into the great man or woman of God you are meant to be…it prepares you for the Promise! And along the way, you can stand firm and unafraid. You can look your past and your bondage in the eye and tell it So Long! You can walk this incredible journey of knowing your Deliverer quite personally and letting the praise and thanksgiving He deserves genuinely flow from your lips.
The way may seem long but the journey is life-changing!