Lessons from Israel: No.21 : God of Understanding
Ex 13:17,18 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 armed for battle.
Having just finished with the explanations for holding the annual Feast of Unleavened Bread, as a reminder to future generations, the text takes us aside to a small piece of godly strategy which is clearly stated here, but which also has some further repercussions which will become obvious in a future meditation. The strategy that is stated is simply the way God led Israel and why. There was a direct route up to Canaan from Egypt but that would have taken Israel through the country of the Philistines, to the south west of Canaan, and this was guarded by a number of heavily guarded fortresses. Now what is interesting about this is the Lord’s understanding of His new people: “For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” The Lord knew that this people who had been sheep farmers were not yet ready to be turned into an army. The Lord understood His people.
Now, this may seem so simple and so obvious that you may be wondering why we are taking time to even consider it. Well the truth is that often in life when things seem to be going wrong for us, or we are confronted with difficulties that seem to be beyond us, we grumble within ourselves, wondering why it is that the Lord is either leading us this way or why He is allowing this to happen, with the inference that the Lord hasn’t a clue about how we’re feeling and about our inadequacies. No, we need to readjust our thinking because the Lord does understand everything there is to know about us.
In Psalm 139 David reveals incredible insight when he writes, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” (Psa 139:1-4) He knew that the Lord knew him, knew everything he did, knew every thought he had, knew how he reasoned and acted and spoke. Oh yes, the Lord knew him through and through – and He knows us similarly.
Oh yes, the Lord knew this people and He knew they were not yet ready for battle. He knew that He had to build their faith and their trust in Him, and that would mean that He would have to take them through a number of circumstances that would deepen their understanding of Him. Yes they would have to cross the Sea of Reeds, they would have to journey through the inhospitable desert and they would have to meet with Him at Mount Sinai to be constituted a nation. All these things would be part of a long learning process that the Lord would take them through. By the time they come to the end of their time at Mount Sinai they should have learnt sufficient of the Lord to be able to step out in faith and take the Promised Land.
If you study the moaning, groaning and rebellions of Israel in their time in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land, you will see that the Lord tolerates those ones before Sinai, but not the ones after Sinai. It is as if He says, “I understand before Sinai you were still learning, but by the time you left Sinai, you had received so much revelation of me, you should now know better than to grumble and rebel.” The lesson that should perhaps come out here, is that although the Lord understands us and understands our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, that doesn’t give us an excuse to be disobedient. Have you noticed that the Lord in His grace allows His new children to get away with a lot it seems, but as they go on in their walk with Him, His requirements for a holy life become more stringent. Part of maturing is coming into greater understanding of who we are and what we should be. The Lord understands us and so as we mature His discipline seems to become more obvious (though many of us don’t realise it.)
The writer to the Hebrews understood this when he wrote, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account,” (Heb 4:13) having just warned his readers to persevere in the faith. Shortly afterwards he added, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness,” (Heb 5:2) and then added at the end of that chapter, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:12-14) Yes, God understands us, but He also expects us to mature. While we are ignorant (v.2 above) He deals gently with us, but then He expects us to learn as the days pass and with that learning comes responsibility. We need to learn the significance of two words: ‘understanding’ and ‘accountability’. God understands us, but He does hold us accountable as we grow (or should be growing). Let’s remember that.