We have all had that time when you are driving along and then comes the big orange flag with the word spread across it, “DETOUR.” Or you are driving, as I was one night, and the state trooper or police officer blocking the lanes pointing you down a different road than the one you need to drive on. This one time it happened to me in the middle of the night driving back and this policeman instructed me drive down this road turn right, then turn right and then turn left. As he gave these instructions it seemed simple enough but shrouded in these instructions was a sense of vagueness that confused me, which road do I need to turn right on, how far down is it?
Eventually, I made it home, with no GPS, but the sense of assurance that eventually I would have cell reception again. This detour was mild and short, not a great inconvenience, besides slight anxiety. However, we might face greater detours in our lives. Ones we do not plan for and cannot plan for. Some might be minor bumps in the road while others seem to cause you traverse great barriers. Plans do not go the way you think. The day you planned did not happen. Parenting challenges, marriage problems, relationships with co-workers or your parents change. Job opportunities that you get turned down. Medical news that causes your life to halt, or trips to doctors that come as a surprise. Your dream or your plan was changed in a moment. You are enjoying your life, or at least moving in your life and then comes the big orange flag “DETOUR.” Just like those unexpected roadblocks challenge our plans, we often attribute these detours to life. These detours, much like the one I encountered while driving, can be unsettling and full of uncertainties. Now imagine leaving your driveway and immediately getting this flag, that is exactly what we see in the story of God’s people.
Now after spending a large amount of time in a short period time, of about 24 hours. We see the people of God set free. Saved from Pharaoh, slavery, set apart as God’s own possession, to serve him and him alone. They were instructed on the celebration of the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread that they were to celebrate annually in the promised land. They were to consecrate the firstborn and were to have the sign and seal of the covenant, circumcision, applied to every male. Now we enter the next section of the story of God’s people in that they are leaving Egypt and going to the Promised Land. In verse eleven we see something important, Moses writes, “When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites…” The Lord did not only save his people, but he will bring them into the land he promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This week we will see that as their journey begins God has greater things in mind for them and a glorious goal, That God will fulfill his past pledge and God will be with them on their journey.
God’s glorious goal (vs 17-18)
Now interesting as they set off on their journey, we find out the way they did not go. Moses writes that they did not pass through the land of the Philistines although it was the quickest way to get to the promised land. It can be hard to depict these things in words, but I will try my best to do so. This is like needing to go to Harrisonburg, Virginia which is northeast about 200 miles. But you go to Raleigh, North Carolina which is southeast 200 Miles, then drive up to Harrisonburg. This is no slight detour but a major diversion. We are not left to be able to speculate about what this happened, it is not that Moses didn’t ask for directions or someone had the map upside down, this is God’s design, and we find out why God made them take this detour, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” God’s concern is for the people of God. He knows them very well. He knows if they were to see war and conflict then they would easily turn back and go to Egypt. This will be one of the complaints that comes up again and again. You would think that the people of God would never want to go back to to that place where they were bitterly enslaved and worked tirelessly. The place where they received beatings, and heavy burdens. Yet they will, God knows this. He knows that they would quickly and effortlessly return to Egypt. For as much as this was difficult for them there was a certain security, they had in Egypt that they did not have on their own. Egypt was a powerhouse in military terms. Egypt was a superpower empire that spanned close to 3,000 years. The land was fertile and growing items would be easy. Although in the last years they had seen these supernatural signs and wonders done that ruined the land. Egypt generally was the place of security and safety. Now compare that to the wilderness. Some people love the wild, hiking, observing, enjoying but we like it in small little doses. The wilderness is not the place we want to live, we will spend one or two nights under the starts, but rarely would we want to live in the wild. The reality is the same for the people of God, they are now free, but with this freedom means they would be exposed to war, elements, self-governance, international relations, and provisions. God would supply all their needs, but this would be a response of faith on their part.
The people when confronted with these challenges will have them desire to turn back. This is literally new territory for them, they had never left the land of Egypt. Pharaoh wouldn’t let them leave even for a week. The glorious plan in all of this is God knows the people’s hearts, he also knows what his glorious plan for his people. Time and time again the people of God would rather return back to the land of Pharaoh than go to the promise land. This would be a time of testing for the people of God as we will see. Yet let us think about one key aspect. God’s end goal is not their happiness and comfort in this life. If it was then they would have walked straight into the promise land. Yet God’s end purpose and goal was for them to dwell in his promised land that he might dwell with them. He does this knowing the path they need to take. They will be tested; they will be disciplined. But even before they begin, they take the long way around. The easiest and most direct path is not the path the Lord sets them on. He takes them the long way around because he knows what is best for them. He knows what they can handle.
How often do we think this? Why would God place these hurdles in our lives? Why would he make us go through this suffering? Or to watch others suffer? Why would he lead us on this path? Why would God test us? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10, a passage that we will come back to time and time again.
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor 10:1–5).
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…” “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:11–13).
God knew the hearts of the people and he led them the long way around because he knew they would immediately turn back to go to Egypt. We need to heed Paul’s warning that we need to be cautious to think we stand on our own or else we will fall. God might not give us what we want, when we want it because he knows we are not ready for that yet. He has a far greater and glorious plan. He might lead you the long way around to protect you and stop you from falling, to stop you returning. God might make you walk a path that you would never choose for yourself because he knows your heart better than you. We often do not think about the difficult and long journey’s that believers had to traverse in the Bible, Abraham left Haran, Lot left Sodom, Jacob left his home, Joseph was imprisoned, Moses fled Egypt, and David wandered in the wilderness fleeing Saul. Long before they reached or understood God’s providence, they faced difficult times of preparation. God did this to fulfill his glorious goal for their lives. One of our favorite verses is found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Now we cannot spend adequate time on this verse, in such short time so let me draw your attention to one word that we often overlook. It is only three letters long but if missed we would often question what is before us. Paul does not say that God gives us all good things. He does not say that God gives us happiness, pleasure, comfort, or a myriad of things we would call good. God promises in Romans 8 that all things will work out for good. The best and the worst will all work out for good. In his tremendous book by Thomas Watson, “All Things for Good.” He shows that the best and the worst things all work for good. Watson explains that the worst things are not good in themselves but because of God’s glorious plan they are for good for the godly.
“Do not mistake me, I do not say that of their own nature, the worst things are good, for they are a fruit of the curse. But though they are naturally evil—yet the wise overruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them—they are morally good. As the elements, though of contrary qualities—yet God has so tempered them, that they all work in a harmonious manner for the good of the universe. Or as in a watch, the wheels seem to move contrary one to another—but all carry on the motions of the watch: so things that seem to move cross to the godly—yet by the wonderful providence of God, work for their good.”
This journey for the people of God will be difficult, most of them will never see the promised land. God led them the long way so that they might move forward rather than return back to Egypt.
So, to with us, God’s glorious goal is for us to persevere until the end, to continue this journey until we cross the river. We will constantly feel a pull from the old self to return to the slavery. We will want to turn back to sin, but as we see God uses the long journeys to bring us home not turning back. We might not ever know the reason God takes us down a certain path, but we can know his concern in not about our wants or desires, but his glorious plan to bring us home. His plan to glorify us. That all things come not by chance but by his Fatherly hand.
God’s past pledge (vs 19-20)
The second portion of our passage includes a strange comment in our ears that as they are leaving Egypt, they grab the bones of Joseph. The opening of Exodus reminded us that this is not a stand-alone story. Pharaoh might of forgotten who Joseph is but the sons of Israel did not. As they were leaving, they collected Joseph’s bones. The author of Hebrews explains Joseph’s faith in the solemn promise that his brothers made to him, “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones” (Heb 11:22). Joseph even before the people of God were enslaved by Pharaoh knew that the exodus would happen. Now what is important that this was done through faith. What did Joseph have faith in, the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not yet seen. What did Joseph have assurance of and a conviction of? Genesis tells us clearly, “And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Gen 50:24). His had the assurance that God would visit them, and the conviction that God would not only bring them out of Egypt, but also bring them to the promised land he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The author of Hebrews points out this is not the geographical dirt which is within a geographical boundaries, but they were seeking a homeland, not the land they left but the better country, the heavenly one. The city designed by God (Heb 11:14-16). There are two promises in this action of carrying the bones of Joseph, there is the promise that Joseph’s brothers made, but more importantly the one God made to their fathers. God was not only going to save them out of Egypt but to bring them to the promised land. As they walked through the wilderness somewhere in the items carried through the wilderness was a box written on the outside Joseph’s bones. A reminder they have not found their final resting place. A reminder of the destination and not the drive.
God’s immediate imminence (vs 21-22)
The third aspect that we see in this passage is that God, leads them all the way. That although they will face difficulties, challenges from outside but also inside the camp. God is still with them. God hear their cries in Egypt and he visited them. He saved and delivered them. He also travels with them. He leads and guides them. With the cloud during the day and fire by night. Two objects a cloud and a fire to do two different things, to lead them and to light their way. We see in this time God’s great provision for all the things that the people of God lack, he guides them and provides for them. The Pillars of Cloud and Fire have practical significance to provide shade for them but also light at night. But what is significant in this as well is that God is with them. God is not some distant being whom merely tells them to go and find him or gives them a long list of commands before he would dwell with them, but he is with them night and day. This against shows in contrast to the Egyptian gods that the Egyptians would go to sleep or on long journeys and leave them defenseless. Not the God of the Bible, he made the day and the night and rules over all. He went with his people. He did not depart from them day or night for their time in the wilderness as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to his unfaithful people (Num 14:14). God did not leave his people, they will try and leave him, but he will not leave them. So to with us today, Jesus ascended into heaven and promised he would be with his disciples until the end of the age. He promised to send to his people his Spirit who would be their helper. Again, as the author of Hebrews writes, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5–6). Why can we have confidence in the path which the Lord leads us because he has promised us he will not leave us. As the Psalmist writes, even though we walk through the valley of death we can fear no evil, because You are with us (Ps 23:4). Paul ends Romans 8 not only telling God of our certainly of God’s glorious plan for good, but also that nothing will be able separate us from the love of God. No matter what path we walk, God the Father gave his only Son, why would he then just up and leave? Christ died, rose and now is interceding for us. What would separate us from Christ’s love? Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death, life, angels, rulers, things that we face today or things that await us tomorrow, anything in all of creation. Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:31-39). Some of us have had to walk through difficult paths in our lives and have seen and can attest to this truth, some of us are walking on the difficult path now, while some of us the difficult path is has not been set before us yet. However, we can be reminded of God’s glorious goal, God’s past pledge, and God immediate imminence.