Sunday, August 18, 2013

God Leads The People Out – With 24/7 Direction -- Exodus 13:17-22


Now it came about when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and they return to Egypt.”  Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.  And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God shall surely take care of you; and you shall carry my bones from here with you.”  Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness.  And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.  He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
This is a most exciting and encouraging passage of Scripture for the believer for many reasons.  In it, we find six ways God involves Himself with us directly so that we may live the abundant life:

1.     God directed them in a way that not only would serve His purpose and plan for them, but would also protect them from harm when they least expected it.  The text says He did not take them through the land of the Philistines even though that would have saved a lot of time and distance.  Had they gone that way, they either would have been in the midst of a war the Philistines were fighting or the Hebrews themselves would have been pursued as enemies by the Philistines for they would have been easy prey for plunder as they traveled across the desert.  Easy, fast – is not always the best.  As Christians we need to learn that lesson.  The Philistines were mentioned at least eight times in Genesis – they were known for their hawkish view of co-existence, being almost always at war.  They were dividers and invaders. And today, our Enemy is also well known to us.  It is he that God is keeping us safely from, if we allow Him to.

2.     God also knew His people.  He knew they would change their mind if left to their own thinking on the best route, or when challenged with adversity.  He had therefore to get them to the point where there really was no chance of return; a point where they could only and fully depend on Him.   Is not that the way He deals with us when He is taking us out of our Egypt?  He does not test us or try us or present us with challenges we cannot handle when we are weak.  As He yearns for us to be more dependent on Him, for the moment we trust Him fully, He also waits for the right time when we can handle the hardship that often comes our way – not without difficulty or necessarily with a ‘bring it on’ attitude, but in full reliance on Him.  Thus He did with the children of Israel as He led them out of their bondage.  And so He leads them around the land of the Philistines through the wilderness to the Red Sea where He will give them an incredible lesson in faith.

3.     God prepares us. We notice here that He led them out of Egypt in what the text calls a ‘martial array’.  In essence, in this case, that is in an orderly, perhaps lightly armed, excited, and maybe a little angry for all the years they were in bondage.  They were girded, and equipped for the long journey.  Some footnotes say they were five in a rank (really five large divisions, under five presiding officers, according to the usages of all caravans at that time).  Perhaps they carried one or more banners which added to their hype, keeping in mind that they were indeed finally carrying Joseph’s bones out of Egypt.  But clearly, not yet prepared to fight, let alone win, wars and thus only the providence of God could keep them.  What is God preparing you and me for?

4.     He facilitates the keeping of promises made by godly men as part of His plan.  God saw to it that Joseph’s bones were carried out of Egypt as Joseph’s brothers promised him many generations earlier (see Genesis 50:24-25).  Moses knew of that as the story had been told over and over and he facilitated that desire of Joseph’s in accordance with God’s plan.  On his last day of his life, my father who had lived the latter part of his life regretting he had given his brothers permission to sell his father’s property, made me promise him that we would not sell his property as long as I lived; he did not care what happened after that. I promised him his desire.  Looking back almost seven years now I can see that God had His hand in my father asking me to do what he did.  As a result of that promise, our second daughter and her family agreed with us that we would demolish the old house (which dad had allowed as one of the options, for his interest was in us keeping the land) and build a new one for both her family and my wife and I.  Two years after my father’s death, seven of us moved in and have been enjoying the benefits of that ever since, with hopefully more to come.  [I don’t recommend it for everyone, and it certainly works better when it a daughter’s parents rather than a son’s that are involved.]  The lesson for us is that we need to be careful what we are prepared to make others promise.  We need to ask ourselves if it is indeed within the scope of God’s will.  In my father’s case, he knew that ‘land’ and its ownership was a positive thing in his Christian worldview and thus he could make that request of his only son without guilt.  And I am so thankful he did.

5.     God causes us to travel through places of significance in our journey.  As we had seen earlier in Exodus 12:37, God had taken them out of Egypt (Ramses) via Succoth.  Now Succoth was the place where many generations before this, Jacob had stopped there and started to settle down (Genesis 33:17) after he had made peace with his brother, Esau.  Somehow, through the route of Exodus, God wanted to remind His people of their history and His part in it.  The place called Etham on the other hand, is introduced here for the first time.  That is where they camped, their first stop if you like.  It was just outside the pure Arabian Desert or wilderness, on the border of Egypt.  It is mentioned again in the book of Numbers.  Its meaning is identified as “with them” or “their plowshare”.  One can easily see the connection to the first interpretation as being an indicator that as they go into the wilderness God is indeed ‘with them’.  A ‘plowshare’ on the other hand, according to Wikipedia, is a component of a plow (plough). It is the cutting or leading edge of a moldboard that closely follows the coulter (one or more ground-breaking spikes) when plowing.  The connection to this interpretation is more difficult to determine. Wikipedia goes on to say, “The plowshare itself is often a hardened blade dressed into an integral moldboard (by the blacksmith) so making a unified combination of plowshare and moldboard, the whole being responsible for entering the cleft in the earth (made by the coulter's first cutting-through) and turning the earth over.  In well-tilled terrain the plowshare may do duty without a preceding coulter.”  Perhaps that was the place where the Israelites were to regroup after immediately leaving Egypt, collect their senses as it were, and prepare for the difficult journey ahead.  The lesson for us is that we are to be alert to where God takes us as He leads us out of bondage and into freedom.  What are we to be mindful of?  What is he doing with us?  And why?

6.     Finally, God does not leave us ever.  I note near the end of this passage that the pillar of fire led them by night and gave them light, while the pillar of cloud led them by day.  God provides the appropriate directional tools for the circumstances if we care to avail ourselves of them.  For us today, we have His Word, as well as His proven blessings time and time again in our lives.  We also have the comfort and wisdom of other men and women of the faith who have been through similar circumstances.  Finally we have the assurance in our hearts that He loves us and His grace is sufficient for us as His Holy Spirit lives and works in us. We are told that God “did not take those pillars away” from the children of Israel.  And neither has He taken away all these relevant available resources from us today.  And that is true, no matter where we stand in our side of the bargain.  They are there for us to count on and turn to.  But what a blessing there is for the true “full-time” believer who abides in these resources, at all times.

Are you living the abundant life God wants you to live do you feel you are constantly struggling, fighting to survive, unhappy?  If you are not living in His grace, go over the material above again and see which roles of God are you blocking Him from effectively taking in your life.  Then give thanks to God for His willingness to take those roles on for us.  Finally, do all in your power to ensure you are not thwarting His efforts to impact your life in those roles.  Find the roadblocks and get rid of them.
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