January 29, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.’”—Exodus 13:17–19 (NIV)
Have you ever prayed and asked God for guidance about a situation, but you had a very specific way you wanted to see Him answer? Most of us have faced circumstances in which we believed we knew the best way things ought to happen or the right method for solving a problem. All we need is God to come to our aid and help our plans succeed, right?
In today’s verse, the Israelites faced a very similar situation. Pharoah had finally released them from slavery, and they were on their way to the Promised Land just as God had promised—hallelujah! Now, they just need their GPS navigation to give them the shortest route from point A to point B.
Based on their location, the quickest way from Egypt to the land of Canaan was right through the middle of Philistine country. According to biblical scholars, this route was known as the “Via Maris,” or “the way of the sea,” which was the most common way to travel between Egypt and Canaan. Bible commentator David Guzik explains, “It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought.”
So, why would God send the Israelites the long way through the wilderness where the roads (if any) would be difficult to travel and where food and water would be scarce? Just like the challenging situations we face in daily life, the answer is that God sees what we can’t. He anticipates dangers ahead of us and lovingly leads us on a different path that may take longer and seem more difficult but is ultimately for our good.
You see, God doesn’t give us shortcuts to His promises. We often need to undertake a lengthier journey that will lead to our deliverance. Because as today’s verse notes, God knew if the Israelites had encountered opposition from their enemy too early, they would have given in too soon and returned to slavery.
Bible commentator John Trapp noted that God “carefully chose their way out of Egypt; not the nearer, but the safer. He tempts us not above what we are able; but so orders the matter, that evils are not ready for us until we are for them.”
The Israelites weren’t ready to face the Philistines yet. God knew this and led them to the edge of the Red Sea where He put them in a position where they had no other choice but to trust Him to battle on their behalf. All they had to do was be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), a valuable lesson they would need as they entered the Promised Land—and one they couldn’t have learned any other way but the long way.
Pause: Are you facing a difficult situation in life right now and want God to answer your prayers in a specific way? What might He be saying to you by the way He’s leading you through it?
Practice: If you’re not in the habit of journaling, start by writing down a challenging situation you’re facing and what you’re praying for. As Jesus leads you through it, follow up with some observations about how He worked out your circumstances and what He spoke to you in the midst of them. Over time, you’ll have a written testament of God’s faithful hand leading and guiding you through life’s deserts and valleys.
Pray: Heavenly Father, You see the storm I’m facing, and You know the best way to get me to safety. Thank You for leading me—not through the quickest route, but the best one. Help me follow You, and give me eyes to see You, ears to hear You, and a heart that trusts and obeys You. Amen.
Rob Nieminen is a seasoned writer and editor who has written devotionals for Calvary since 2015. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL. He serves in the Worship Ministry at Calvary Boynton Beach and is an avid reader, an erratic golfer, and an aspiring photographer who loves to cook and spend time with his family.