1. God Always Leads His People
17 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.” 18 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. 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” 20 And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
Notice with me that God always leads His people the right way. The right way is not necessarily the quickest way or the easy way. We think the right way is the quickest. If God were using Google Maps to find the route it would show the two options, then it would show a third which is God’s way.
If you wanted a direct route to Canaan, you would have gone the well-known route by the sea. This straight route would have gotten them to the Promised Land in less than 2 weeks. God had a different route in mind because He was not concerned with the quickest route but the best route.
God knew if they went the way by the sea 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.”
Canaan was to the north but God led them south into the wilderness.
The ESV says they were equipped for battle but the original says they left in formation. They were not ready to engage in war yet. In fact, even about a year later when they saw the enemy they wanted to go back to Egypt.
Numbers 14:3–4 (ESV)
3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
We must seek to believe and trust God even when it seems to us that God is doing the exact opposite from what we think. He knows what He’s doing and sometimes its best to take the long way home. God was out to do a work in His people. This is true for us. He is more concerned in our growth and maturity than efficiency. God is not always efficient but is always leading us.
God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.
18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.
21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
In between these verses, we read an account of Joseph’s faith. Remember Joseph? 400+ years before he made the Israelites promise to take his bones and bury them in the Promised Land. Joseph’s faith was amazing. When the resurrection of the dead takes place, Joseph reasoned that he wanted to come up out of the grave, open his eyes in the land of God’s promise. He believed God 100%.
So, God takes the Israelites on a long tour of the desert, about 40 years long…and Joseph’s bones rattle around in the coffin every step of the way.
God is doing a work within His people. He is also doing something else…watch what He does…
2. God Always Works in a Way That He Receives Glory
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” 6 So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, 7 and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
Two more times in this section we read that God hardened Pharoah’s heart. God is continuing to do this so that He can continue to receive glory and judge Pharoah and the Egyptians.
The Lord makes it look like the Israelites are wandering aimlessly into the wilderness to the south rather than going directly to Canaan. God does a work in Pharoah and he and his army begin to pursue Moses and Israel.
4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
God placed the Israelites between the desert and the sea. If you were a military strategist, this would have been the worst move possible because Israel was a sitting duck. They were trapped with no where to go.
This strategy was in fact, used by God to lure Pharoah and his army into His trap. God was going to receive glory at Pharoah’s expense, just as He had done throughout the plagues.
To Pharoah it seemed like Moses and the Israelites had no clue what they were doing. Actually, God knew exactly what He was doing.
This is very much the same strategy God used against Satan when Jesus was going to the cross. If this is God’s Son, Satan must have thought, then why is He being handed over to sinful men? Why is He being beaten? Satan must have thought, We have Him now!
I’m sure especially as Jesus hung on the cross dying, Satan thought his victory was near. He has finally beaten God. As Jesus breathed His last breath Satan began to cheer. He thought he had won. Then, the resurrection. Satan was tricked and defeated. A dead Savior beat the prince of darkness and God received all the glory at Satan’s expense.
Here’s how Paul puts it…
Colossians 2:15 (ESV)
15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
God is at work in the heart of Pharoah. He has just realized that he let his entire workforce go. He is having second thoughts. Then he receives the report that they are wandering in the wilderness without any sense of where they are going and that they are now camping at the Red Sea.
5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?”
They don’t have a second to lose. He summons all his army, chariots, horses, military equipment and leaves to chase these slaves down and bring them back.
3. God Always Fights for His People
10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
God is always doing multiple things at the same time. Here He has set a trap for Pharoah and his army. Here he has also given His people the opportunity to trust Him and mature.
Pharoah is in hot pursuit and the Israelites are seemingly trapped. What do they do?
they feared greatly
cried out to the Lord.
Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?
12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
They marched out of Egypt defiantly or really confidently trusting God. Then the first sign of trouble it all goes south.
We can understand their panic. We have probably panicked over much less. But they have seen God do so much for them. They saw all the plagues and how God protected them. They experienced the Passover and how God had protected their homes from death. They left Egypt and saw how God caused the Egyptians to hand over their gold and jewelry as they walked out together. They saw how God was leading them through their wilderness journey and the first sign of trouble they are ready to quit.
When I said God was doing many things at once in these events…He’s doing something even for us. We will look at this passage in 1 Corinthians 10 throughout our time in the Book of Exodus because God has recorded it for us for a reason…
1 Corinthians 10:1–11 (ESV)
10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
As soon as things looked bad, at the first sign of trouble they wanted to go back and be enslaved again. Even though their lives were very difficult before, it seems at least there was some stability. Especially, when they looked at this event and it looks bad it can make what’s really bad look better.
They began to complain to God and to Moses, they say things very sarcastically, we told you so, we told you to just leave us alone, now look what you’ve done…
They were afraid. They have entered into a spiritual battle. Beloved this is what spiritual warfare looks like. It is not what our Charismatic friends and family might say. When faced with a trial will you trust God or trust yourself? Will you look for God’s mighty hand leading you or will you look to the enemy and be afraid?
In case we think this response is okay, all we need to do is read God’s take on it in the Psalms…
Psalm 106:6–13 (ESV)
6 Both we and our fathers have sinned;
we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
7 Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
10 So he saved them from the hand of the foe
and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.
11 And the waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.
12 Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise.
13 But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel.
According to the Psalmist, how did Israel lose this spiritual battle?
They continually entered into a cycle of forgetting all God did for them.
did not consider your wondrous works
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love
They forgot God’s previous works for them. When we forget God when faced with trials we are afraid. So, when the NT tells us these things are written down for us so we won’t be like them…this time we must not be afraid and complain to God but trust Him even when our backs are up against the Sea and Pharoah’s army is heading our way…look up and see God’s salvation…
13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
What brings God glory is when you are in the middle of a trial or suffering and you say I don’t care about all that God…just give me Jesus. I know because I’m your child You are doing something I may not understand what but I trust You in all things, the good and the bad.
That’s the response of a mature believer…