Meditations in Exodus: 45. The Wisdom & Provision of God
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.
These chapters appear to be made up of blocks of information, each one different and yet each one highly significant in its own way. This block of the remaining verses in this chapter contains three distinct sets of information.
The first set of information (v.17 & 18) is about the route that Israel took at the Lord’s leading and in it we see the Lord’s wisdom: “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.” (v.17,18)
Their end goal is the Promised Land or what we have often called Canaan and in more modern times, Palestine, directly north on the cost of the Mediterranean Sea. However the most direct route to it was through the land of the Philistines (south west of what became Israel) and they were known for being marauders and that route, as it left Egypt, was heavily guarded by a string of Egyptian fortresses. Neither wanting His people to have to contend with the Philistines nor possibly have trouble with the outlying Egyptian fortresses, the Lord led them more to the east towards what is known as the Red Sea or Reed Sea, or Sea of Reeds. If Israel found immediate conflict with the Philistines the Lord foresaw that they were not yet a great fighting force but more of a motley mass of individual families, and they might lose heart and turn round and go back to Egypt. This is the declared reason of the Lord but as we shall see there might yet be another double reason why He took them this more easterly route but we will have to wait until the next meditation to see that.
We then come in the second mini-block of information (v.19) to what is an action based upon history: “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel 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.” (v.19) In Gen 50:24,25 Joseph had made his brothers make this promise which Moses now fulfils and Joshua will see is done (see Josh 24:32). It is a prophetic fulfillment sign that emphasises the strength of the will of God that had been declared to the Patriarchs and was now being fulfilled. Jacob had already been buried in Canaan and now Joseph can be as well (when they reach there! Amazing to think they carried Joseph’s bones around with then for what eventually turned out to be over forty years!)
In the final mini-block of information we see the Lord’s ongoing provision for this people – His visible guidance! “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” (v.20-22) In 12:37 we noted they had moved to Succoth, thought to be west of the Bitter Lakes, and now they move north east to Etham, thought to be nearer the Bitter Lakes in the north of Egypt.
Now note very carefully this is no random moving but they moved as guided by God and only when God guides. His provision of guidance is clearly visible and can only be described as divinely supernatural, a pillar of cloud by day which turned into a pillar of fire by night. Both of these pillars indicate the presence of God (see Ex 14:24). It would appear that subsequently the Lord often spoke to them from the pillar (see Num 12:5-6; Dt 31:15-16; Psa 99:6-7)
There are those (who presumably don’t read the text carefully) who would make suggestions for a variety of paths for Israel to take but I suggest there are sufficient names to make it quite clear. Some would like to suggest theirs was a random wandering but the Lord’s very obvious presence with them in these two ways challenges that. Now this is going to become significantly important shortly and so we will retrain making comments that are more applicable in the next study. Simply bear it in mind that Israel are where they are NOT by accident but by the Lord’s design. I will stop at that point.
However, there is one further point to be observed in passing, the final part of verse 18: “The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.” Although we were told earlier that the Lord didn’t want Israel to get into skirmishes with the Philistines, nevertheless they go out fully armed. One can only surmise that this was part of their “plundering the Egyptians” (12:36). Before they enter the Land many years will pass but when they eventually do they will need to fight both on their way towards the land and once they are in it. At least they are equipped for a fight even if mentally they may not yet be ready for it. Is there something for us to ponder on in that?
As I view what went on here, I sometimes wonder how the Lord may ‘interfere’ with our lives to protect us? Does He stop us moving into certain activities because He sees that in the long-run it will be harmful for us? Does He stop us doing some things because He sees that it would develop pride in us that would overwhelm us? He certainly gives us great leeway as our mistakes show, but I still have this feeling that He keeps us away from other things to protect us. Check your life and see if you feel the same – and then give thanks.