This Sunday Pastor Connie will help us understand the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus, which tells the story of the Israelites’ dramatic escape from their 400 years of slavery in Egypt.

I was browsing through some dusty old books to stimulate my thinking about these early writings, and I came across an interesting discussion about Exodus 13:17

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, ‘If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.'”

The Philistines were a rather warlike clan that occupied the area we now know as the Gaza Strip.  The most direct journey from Egypt to the Promised Land of Palestine would be the trade route along the Mediterranean coast, but instead God led them inland, away from the Philistines, through an inhospitable desert region.  Because of their continual rebelliousness, the Israelites wouldn’t occupy their new homeland for another forty years, a period which we call their “wilderness wanderings.” But according to this verse, the original reason God took them in this roundabout direction was to save them from an early military conflict that might send them scurrying back to Egypt and to slavery.

The very next verse informs us that

“The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle.”

Maybe God was protecting them from their own impetuosity.  Flush with their sense of victory over the Egyptians, they might think they were stronger than they really were.  They had been a slave people for several generations, and they would probably be no match for the Philistines.

Remember when you first became a believer?  Did you have a sense that you could face any enemy? Easily overcome questions and doubts unbelievers might throw at you?  Slay dragons?  It’s good there were no dragons around, because you would probably have been toast after the first fiery blast.  God led you away from where the dragons were.

You may have also spent years in your own personal “wilderness wanderings.”  However, if you look back at those seemingly wasted years, you may come to realize that they were, in fact, not “wanderings” at all, for God was leading you, as he did the Israelites, by his pillar of fire.  When you see your whole life in the context of God’s loving guidance, it will slowly dawn on you that what you might have thought was his harsh judgment was really a demonstration of his saving grace.

The moral:  Don’t look for shortcuts!

— Pastor George Van Alstine