Charting Israel’s Course, Exodus 13:17-14:9

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.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.” –Exodus 13:17-18

You may read Exodus 13:17-14:9 here: Bible Gateway.

While Egypt buried its dead, the Hebrew slaves left as a free people.

The Israelites left Succoth and camped first at Ethan before going to Baal Zephon to camp by the sea.

The shortest route would have been the road crossing through the Philistine country. But, as stated in the opening verses, God reasoned that He didn’t want them to face war and lose heart. This sounds strange since verse 18 tells us “The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle”.  Layman’s Bible Commentary helps clarify: “The expression used here has been understood to refer only to the orderly way in which the Israelites (nearly two million people, counting women and children) departed Egypt. Others understand that the Israelites did come out of Egypt at least partially armed, but all seem to agree that Israel was not at all prepared to fight a full-scale battle at this point in time.”

To me, the coolest part of Israel’s departure was how God led them. “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.  Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people,” (13:21-22).

The Israelites must have felt safe and secure with God leading them in this visible manifestation. However, they probably questioned Moses’ directional sense when he told them to turn back and camp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. But Moses was simply following God’s marching orders. Knowing that Pharaoh would think the Israelites are confused in the desert, God would harden Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh would predictably pursue them.

Sure enough, according to the NIV Life Application Study Bible, six hundred Egyptian war chariots bore down on the helpless Israelites as they found themselves trapped between the mountains and the sea (14:9).

But what appeared to be a foolish idea to the Israelites, God would use for His glory “and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD,” (v. 4).

Reflect

Have you ever felt like you were treading backwards instead of moving toward your intended goal? I know I have. In retrospect I can sometimes see how God’s direction, which seemed confusing at the time, ended in blessing. Other times, I’ve just had to trust that He is working everything out for my good since He sees the end journey from the beginning.

I admit, during the confusing times I’ve thought: if I only had an obvious directional sign—like God leading the Israelites in a pillar of cloud and fire—then I would know God’s will!  But then God reminds me that the Israelites didn’t own a direction manual like we have in the Bible. God manifested His presence to them not only to show His visible presence, but also to protect and lead them on their journey to the promised land.

I’m reminded that we are not only blessed with access to God’s Word, but we also have the same assurance of God’s presence and leading. For example, God’s Word tells us how to discern His will:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will,” (Romans 12:2).

And though we can’t see God, we read in Scripture: “He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being,’” (Acts 17:25-28).

And when I flip over to Psalm 9:10, I’m reminded that no matter what we face, the Lord never forsakes those who seek Him. What a great assurance! So when in doubt, reroute, to God and the Bible that is. When we seek and pray, He’ll light the way. . . . Have a great week!

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