(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #10)
God had to use unprecedented plagues, ten of them, to get Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage. At last, however, Pharaoh did relent. The Israelites’ departure from Egypt was sudden and swift, a monumental undertaking that required over two million people to be put on the move literally overnight.
As Pharaoh grieved for his dead firstborn son in the middle of the night, he had Moses and Aaron brought to him. He told them, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also” (Exodus 12:31-32, N.K.J.V.). His request for Moses and Aaron to bless him evidenced just how broken he now was. His fellow Egyptians, for their part, felt the same way. They begged the Israelites to leave in haste for fear that Israel’s God would kill every last Egyptian before He was finished (Exodus 12:33).
The Israelites left but not before they asked the Egyptians to give them clothing, articles of silver, and articles of gold (Exodus 12:35). We might think the Egyptians would have resented such a request, but by that point they were willing to give the Israelites anything to get them to leave (Exodus 12:36). As a matter of fact, this plundering had been a part of God’s plan all along. Even before Moses had returned to Egypt, God had told him not only to have the Israelites make the request but also that the Egyptians would comply with it (Exodus 3:21-22). Just prior to the tenth plague, God had even reaffirmed His word regarding the plundering (Exodus 11:1-2). Going back even further, centuries earlier He had told Abraham that his descendants would be afflicted in a foreign land for 400 years and afterward come out with great possessions (Genesis 15:12-14).
And so the Israelites marched out of Egypt. There were approximately 600,000 adult men, which commentators reckon as over two million people when wives and children are added to the total (Exodus 12:37; Numbers 1:44-46)). A “mixed multitude” left with the Israelites as well (Exodus 12:38). These were people from other races, perhaps even some Egyptians, who chose to align themselves with Israel rather Egypt.
And how did God lead the Israelites as they made their way each day and night? The Bible says He went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). Wherever the pillar went, they followed. When it stopped, they stopped. The strange thing, though, about that whole process is that God did not lead the Israelites along the most logical route, the route any ancient g.p.s. system would have told them to take to get from Egypt to Canaan. That logical route would have taken them northeastward out of Egypt and up along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Okay, so why didn’t God lead them via that route? He didn’t because from His perspective there was a serious problem with the route. You see, since the Philistines controlled the territory beyond Egypt’s northern boundary and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Israelites would have eventually encountered them had they attempted to enter Canaan that way. As the story tells us, God didn’t want those Israelites, who had been slaves their entire lives and knew nothing about warfare, to encounter the Philistines, get scared, and decide to go back to Egypt (Exodus 13:17).
So, rather than lead them along that route, God led them by way of the wilderness that surrounded the Red Sea. That meant that they traveled a long distance south, in the opposite direction of Canaan, before they ever started traveling north again. As we will learn in the next post, God had another reason for having the Israelites travel this route. For now, though, let’s just employ this part of the story to learn the lesson that God doesn’t always lead us in ways that make sense.
Actually, what I should say is that He doesn’t always lead us in ways that make sense to us. From His perspective, of course, He always has His reasons for what He does. We might not know why He is having us take some path, but He knows why He is doing it. We might not see the logic of His will, but He does. I’m sure the Israelites didn’t understood why He was leading them along a route that took them further away from Canaan, but that didn’t mean that it was a wrong route. Truth be told, God was doing them a favor. He knew their weaknesses better than they did, and He led them along a route that kept those weaknesses from being exposed.
Please think back upon this story, Christian, the next time God leads you along a route that makes no sense to you. You are free to ask Him why He is doing what He is doing, but I can tell you from personal experience that He might not give you an answer that suits you. During such times the best you can do is boil everything down to the simple obedience of following the pillar. No, you won’t see a literal pillar in the sky like the Israelites did, but because you are a Christian, you have one major blessing they didn’t have. You have God the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you, and He is that still, small voice that tells you, “This is the way, walk in it” even when that way honestly doesn’t make much sense to you.