“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near, For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle” (Exodus 13:17-18).
I paused over these verses in our Women’s Bible Study, Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament, and marveled at the sovereign grace and mercy of God. His ways are so very different from our ways or what we might think is best.
The children of Israel had just witnessed multiple displays of the sovereign power of God over the mighty Egyptian Pharaoh. Imagine the transformation they experienced from poverty as slaves in a foreign land, to being driven out with the wealth of Egypt, equipped for battle, to go and worship Yahweh. God had heard their cries and provided in almost unimaginable ways. Pharaoh, the people of Egypt, and all the Hebrews came to know Yahweh in a dramatic way.
I can imagine the excitement of heading out to the land of Promise. The long-awaited promise was about to come true! If we were mapping the course or planning the best route to take on our GPS, no doubt we would all choose the shortest and easiest route, especially when navigating a large mass of people, animals, and possessions.
But God, in His sovereign, wise, and gracious way, knew that the shortest route would not be best for His dearly loved people. They were not yet strong enough in faith or trust in Yahweh to take the near route. They would have given up and run right back to Egypt when the going got tough. Instead, He sent them on a journey through the wilderness, where they could not easily turn back, in order to strengthen, sanctify, and grow them in reliance on Him.
Can you relate to some part of Israel’s wilderness wandering? Do you look back on a difficult journey or wandering in your life and see God’s hand strengthening, sanctifying, and growing you through the trial? As I have meditated on these verses, I have marveled at God’s grace and mercy to me in taking me through trials, or the long wilderness route. He lovingly draws me to Himself, sanctifying, and strengthening me. Much like the children of Israel, I do not always see the grace and mercy in the heat of the trial, but Sovereign God is there. His ways are perfect and not like our ways. He is about something greater and His ways are always for our good.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).