Exodus 13:17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:
18 But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.
19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
20 And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.
21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:
22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
One thing we learn throughout the Bible is the importance of trusting the LORD. God sees the big picture. We see just a very small fraction of the picture. We read in verse 17 that God did not lead the nation of Israel the short way into the land of Canaan. He knew the children of Israel were not ready to face enemies. They were not prepared for war. We know that God would eventually lead them into the land of Canaan and the first enemy they encountered melted like butter at the appearance of the nation of Israel. It was the LORD that caused Jericho to fall without a fight. From the time that God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage until the time they entered the land of Canaan many things happened. An entire generation, except for two people, died out in the wilderness. God provided food and water and protection for the nation throughout that time. A younger generation would enter the land of Canaan. This generation would have had the opportunity to learn the mighty power and wisdom of God in a great way. The children of Israel needed to learn to trust the true God.
In verse 18 we see that God led the people around, rather than on a straight course. He led them the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea. We read that the Hebrews went out of the land of Egypt “harnessed’. What does that mean? The meaning of the word translated as “harnessed” means “arrayed for battle by fives”. God organized this group of men, over 600,000 of them, into squadrons that would move out in an organized manner that would keep them together and safe. He would be their forward guard and their rear guard. He needed them to stay together and be in manageable groups. Moses would likely have some assistance from the elders of the nation in managing this large group of people.
We need to remember that Israel had spent over 400 years in Egypt, not as free people, but as slaves. They did not have much liberty at all. They did not know how to function as a free people. We know how it is when people are cooped up for a long time and then all of a sudden they are free. They do not know how to manage that freedom. They need someone to guide them. The nation of Israel needed to be guided by the LORD. Moses was the human leader, but God was the ultimate leader.
We read in verse 19 that Moses took the bones of Joseph with them when they left Egypt. Joseph had made the people of his generation promise him that when they would leave Egypt, they were to take his bones with them and bury them in the land of Canaan. Joseph was long dead. There was no life in his bones. It really did not matter where those bones were buried. However, symbolically, Joseph wanted to be buried in the same place where his father was buried.
The LORD honoured that request and He guided Moses to take those bones with them as they left Egypt. Joseph trusted in the LORD. He knew that some day God would bring the nation out of Egypt. He knew that the LORD had promised Abraham that his descendants would one day take control of the land of Canaan, and Joseph wanted his bones to rest in that land. Joseph had lived in that land as a young man and now, some 400 years later his bones were going to go back there.
Verse 20 gives us a brief description of the route that God led them in. Verses 21-22 show us God’s protection over the nation as they travelled. God did not send the Hebrews out to try to find their own way through the wilderness. Israel would need to trust in the LORD as they journeyed out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan.
God’s leadership was very evident. He went before them in a pillar of a cloud by day, to lead the way and in a pillar of fire at night to lead the way. Both of these were for Israel’s protection. The pillar of cloud would keep the enemies from being able to attack during the day. The pillar of fire would give light for the nation of Israel at night and also protection from enemies.
There are people who are scared of the dark. They like to live in the city where there are city lights, or they like to have a night light on in their house. They do not want total darkness. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows how to give us protection in any and every situation we face. He is the Light of the World.
This was true for Israel in this new adventure they were on. It was true when they entered the promised land and it was true as they continued to take over that land. As we read the Old Testament we find that Israel faced much trouble throughout her history. The question might be asked: If God was leading them, then why all the trouble?
The answer is quite simple if we pay attention to God’s Word. God was always there to guide them. They were not always willing to follow God’s leadership. We read that during the wilderness wandering, Israel tempted the LORD ten times. These were major avenues of doubt that were completely unnecessary. The LORD had already proven Himself well able to lead them. He brought them out of Egypt with a strong hand. Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt were greatly damaged through all the plagues. As we will see, Pharaoh’s brokenness lasted just a very short time. He would soon come storming after Israel. We will also see that Israel failed to learn to trust in the LORD. They immediately blamed Moses for bringing them into the wilderness. They assumed they were “dead meat” before Pharaoh. They assumed they would be slaughtered in the wilderness. They were completely wrong. The LORD would tolerate their lack of faith to a degree. He would continue to show Himself strong on their behalf. However, they would also lose out because they continued to doubt Him.
The LORD was teaching them that they did not need to see everything. In fact, the LORD knew that if they could see everything, they would have fainted and never made it. The LORD knows everything and He will guide His faithful children safely through life. Safely does not mean without any challenges. It means that He is with His child in the challenge and He wants to strengthen His child through the challenge.
Most of the children of Israel never learned this lesson. Most people today never learn that lesson either. People fret and worry and get sick worrying about things. Our imagination is very powerful. The devil likes to play with our imaginations. He likes it when we are fearful.
God has led me through some difficult challenges in my life. I am not going to go into detail on that now. Sometimes I was at a place where I just did not see how I could make it through the challenge. In some of those challenges, I was a husband and a father. Thus the challenge did not just affect me, but it also affected my wife and children. What I have discovered is that when I humbled myself before the LORD, He brought me through the challenge and He strengthened me in the inner man through those challenges.
The important aspect for me was to be His child. Those who are on the outside looking in, will not find God to be there with them. They may cry out to Him, but they just do not have the assurance that He is with them. That is where the majority of the nation of Israel was in the book of Exodus and still is today. A few, like Moses and Joshua and Caleb, believed in the true God and they found Him faithful. Sometimes they failed to trust Him and it cost them. However, their souls were safe through it all.
God wanted Israel to rest in Him. God wants you to rest in Him today. You may be facing a challenge that you see as being very big. You may even see it as too big. If you truly know the Lord as your own personal Saviour and Lord, He will help you to see that you will never face a challenge that is bigger than He can handle. This is why the Bible talks of eternal LIFE. It is not a sprint or a jog. It is a moment by moment life in Christ. Those who have this life will find hope and comfort in the true and living God in every situation they face. The more His child trusts Him, the more His child grows in confidence in Him. The Christian life begins with repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. It builds by the daily reading of God’s Word and finding a true local church that will teach you how to trust in the Lord in all things.
Psalm 56:3 What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.
Can you honestly agree with the Psalmist on that? If not, why not turn to God right now and ask Him to forgive you and save you. Then get into a good, Bible-believing church that will encourage you in the Word of the living God. Don’t settle for the hype that dominates so much of modern day religion. Ask God to guide you to a true church that will feed you from the true Word of God. We are praying for each one who reads these devotionals. We may not even know who is reading them. We know there are people from various countries that are receiving them, as well as our sermons. We praise the Lord for being able to be used of Him to encourage others to know His peace and blessing.