In Exodus 13, we find the children of Israel living out the deliverance of God. Under the leadership of Moses, God has miraculously and powerfully brought His people out of 400 years of slavery. Not only has He brought them out, but their captors sent them on their way with gifts and presents. He has brought them out under the same banner that He promised Abraham those centuries ago – to make them a great nation and give them a land of their own. That’s the destination – the Promised Land. But then something curious happens:
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 ready for battle (Exodus 13:17).
They were headed to the promised land, but God didn’t take them on a straight line. He instead led them in a far longer route. Why might that be? Perhaps one basic reason is this: God knows you better than you know you.
Take a look at verse 18: So he led the people around toward the Red Sea along the road of the wilderness. And the Israelites left the land of Egypt in battle formation.
The Israelites marched out of captivity in battle formation. Now here’s the thing: This was no army. They were brickmakers. Not one person among them had been schooled in combat. Israelites had done absolutely nothing to deliver themselves from Egypt. They didn’t fight one battle, lift one sword, or make one triumph. Yet when they walked out of Egypt, they walked out like they were the Roman legion. But God knew them better than they knew themselves. Though they were very confident, we read in verse 17 that God led them the long way because if they faced war they would change their minds and return to Egypt.
To put it simply, they were not yet ready. They needed the long way, whether they recognized it or not. Perhaps the same thing is true for you. And for me, for that matter. We think we’re ready. We’re in battle formation. We’re ready to do great things for the kingdom – at least in our minds. But God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows how we struggle with pride. He understands how quickly we might turn from Him. And He knows that lifting us too quickly will lose us.
So He takes us the long way. And that’s not the wrong way. Because there’s a funny thing that happens on the long way – you actually do become something rather than just go somewhere. In fact, you might say it like this: the most formative parts of your lives – the ones that fashion real character and dependence and faith and perseverance are often the most difficult. When you feel like you are wandering around in circles, when you don’t seem to be making any progress, and when you might even feel trapped – those are the forging times.
The book of James says it like this in James chapter 1:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.