Exodus 13:17-22 The Wilderness Way
I have to tell you that I have a particular fondness for the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, I bet they sure wished they could have made the journey in a year, but their disobedience kept them in the wilderness for 40 years. Only two of the original Israelites and the offspring of the Israelites made it to the Promised Land.
If you have ever read my testimony (Link to Heather’s Testimony in the categories section below this post) you will know that I gave up on God when I was 8 and it wasn’t until I was 48 that I even thought about God – and those forty years I consider my wilderness years. During that time I explored many religions, therapy, and other ways to alter the hurt feelings I still harbored because of my abused past. Nothing helped and I walked around in a desert of despair, in a wilderness of pain, with no hope, and no Promised Land. It was only after I asked God into my life that He started to direct my steps. I haven’t been the same since. If you are wandering in the wilderness, why not give God a try. He can handle anything you can throw at Him. I used to rage at Him, blaming Him for what happened to me in the past, accusing Him of not loving me. I had a hard time trusting Him, but one day I realized that my anger was misplaced and apologized to God. He told me (in my heart), “That’s ok Heather, at least in your anger you were talking to Me, after 40 years of silence.” He can handle our emotions. Just take a look at the Psalms, so many of them start out in anger, hurt, pain, and end up praising God. He loves us so much that He will listen to our hurt until we can finally stop and listen to Him. Then He can reach down and affect change.
Exodus 13:17 Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”
I love those words, “it came to pass” it did not come to stay, it did not come permanently. So many of the problems we face in life come to pass, and afterwards they are over. I know that that is not what Moses meant by it came to pass, but if you think about it the 40 years in the wilderness is but a blink of an eye in God’s economy. I wonder if the Israelites wondered at the roundabout way God was leading them. When I pray for things I want a direct line to what I prayed for, and so many times there are years and years, or way more time than I would like between the prayer and the response. Sometimes I think God has me tapping my foot in impatience while I wait for what seems to be an interminable period of time before a response. I know God knows the right timing, but in my two-dimensional view of time it seems an eternity for an answer. I am learning (through reading the Bible and my walk with God) to see that when there is a delay, God has a good reason. Here God knew that they needed time to learn to work together as a mighty army of God. The desert years will toughen them up, and teach them about God’s order and God’s provision. Much the same way our faith is built glory to glory, faith to faith, the people will walk with God in the wilderness. They will see God’s provision, the consequences of disobedience, and God’s greatness. Over time a relationship will be formed that will give them courage to go into the land of the Philistines. God knew his people well. We will see that when Moses sends the 12 spies into the land, all will come back with a report of a land flowing with milk and honey, but 10 will cause the people to balk at entering the Promised Land for they would fear the giants in the land. Two knew that God wouldn’t take the people to a land and let them struggle with giants on their own, that God would have a plan. Because of this fear and lack of trust in God after all God will have done for them, God had no choice but to wait for the next generation to come, a generation that would trust God in tough situations. Are we that next generation? Things are going to get tough on this earth as time goes on, that is why it is crucial for us to know His Word, to walk with Him, and to trust Him. To have faith and believe in Him. Only in that way will we be able to conquer the giants in our lives.
Exodus 13:18 So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.
They must have looked like a sea of people, there were 600,000 men plus women and children – that could be 1-2 million people in orderly ranks. God would have to establish order for the people’s sake. Those who crave freedom, no limitations, and the ability to go one’s way will often find themselves in difficulty, for there is an order to our world. We see it in the natural – with day following night, death following life, the seasons, etc. Jesus will also establish order in the crowds when he interacts with them, going out on a boat to be heard by all, sitting people He was about to feed in groups. Order is good.
Exodus 13:19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”(Genesis 50:25) This promise of Joseph’s bones being carried out of Egypt must have been told around campfires for 400 years of slavery – those bones offered a hope and a promise. And here we see a prophesy fulfilled, for now the bones would be carried out of Egypt.
Exodus 13:20 So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness.
Etham means desert place, and they are on the brink of disaster for Pharaoh will have a change of heart.
Exodus 13:21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.
God will use that cloud to protect the Israelites from the Egyptians, putting the cloud between them at a point of danger. Psalm 105:39 He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light in the night.
I wonder if sometimes once we come out of our Egypts that we struggle wanting to know God’s direction for our lives. He guides us but gently and subtly in most instances. Pastor Don once assured me that God was not like my earthly father, that God would not force me into situations, He would guide me and lead me, but the choice would be mine. Those desert places in the wilderness were hot for the Israelites, temperatures were steamy. When God gave them a pillar of a cloud I see it as sort of a giant umbrella, a giant covering, not just a pillar like on a building. This cloud would make cool shade for the people. When God wanted the people to move, He moved the cloud and the people scrambled to get under the shade, under God’s covering. Sort of reminds me of Jonah and that leaf that provided shade. The fire by night would provide light and comfort. Do you remember the old caveman movies where the fire protected the people from the terrors of the night. God made sure that His presence was known.
I used to be jealous of the Israelites because, in their wanderings God did so many signs and wonders for them. He lead them in this remarkable way, parted the Red Sea, gave them manna, etc. He did so many things for them I used to wonder, if He could do that, why couldn’t he prevent the abuse that I received as a child. Well, as time went by I am now realizing that there were things that the abuse helped save me from, things not apparent back then, but definitely apparent in looking back. I was caught up in the situation, not realizing that God saw the whole picture. Also, look what happened to the Israelites, they so quickly reverted to idols. You would think that if God did so many miracles, why turn to an idol? So I guess it comes down to how quickly we forget the good of God. Even I can at times grow lazy in my walk with God, and I have to really pay attention to His goodness and remember what He has brought me from. We tend to get used to the place where we are, forgetting how far we have come with His help. There are times when I need a good dose of thankfulness.
Exodus 13:22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.
How comforting. Day after day, night after night for 40 years God provided food and comfort, light and guidance. What a loving father we have.
Praying you have a blessed day.
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