So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18 NLT).
After one full year of seminary in Texas I was sure I had made a mistake. About Texas, not seminary.
True to the song, Georgia was always on my mind. I was single and far from home. I didn’t really know anyone out there. Having left the rolling green hills of north Georgia, the terrain around Dallas-Fort Worth was just plain ugly. How in the world did I end up in Texas? Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ well-known story, I made a plan to return to my father’s house, at least until I could transfer. I had a speech worked out and everything.
But it never happened. I stayed in Texas. Indeed, the ways of God are beyond searching out.
A Roundabout Way
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, we are told, they left the land of their captivity with a “high hand.” The phrase suggests to me a euphoric fist-pumping parade. Some translations simply say they were “marching out boldly.” They were on their way to the promised land.
Egypt and Canaan (the promised land) were connected by a well-traveled highway. It was the shortest and most direct route between the land of their departure and their intended destination. But Exodus 13:18 tells us that God didn’t lead his people that way. Instead, he took them south on a roundabout course through barren terrain that eventually took them to the Red Sea.
And the Red Sea suddenly looked like a death sentence. Pursued by Egyptian chariots, the people were convinced that Moses had led them to their graves. They blamed Moses and regretted having ever left the life they knew in Egypt. But let’s not be too hard on the Israelites. The Bible tells us a couple of things that they could have never known.
For one thing, that easy road went straight through Philistine territory. The Israelites were not ready to face that enemy. In later years they would engage the Philistines, plenty of times in fact. But upon leaving Egypt they were not ready for that challenge. God was at work to guard them from defeat and discouragement.
But why the Red Sea? Wasn’t that just as discouraging? Why that out-of-the-way route? At the Red Sea God revealed his power and he showed his people yet again that he could be trusted. God would have to do things like this over and over again. As has been observed, it didn’t take Moses very long to get the people out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the people.
Meanwhile Back in Texas
Today you may be wondering: If God is faithful to guide me, and if God is good, then how did I end up here (and why?).
I don’t want to sound as if the answer to this is easy. I simply point to the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites to remind you that God doesn’t always take the path we’d take if left to ourselves.
For the next few weeks we’ll be walking with the Israelites on their trek from Egyptian slavery to the rich land God had promised to give them as a home. With every step of this journey we’ll be giving attention, in one way or another, to this basic truth: God is doing more than you know in the roundabout journey that seems to be nowhere near where you want to be.
If you were to look back and map your life to this point, you might see a route that was at times unplanned and unwelcomed. But never unfruitful. Long after Moses, the apostle Paul would frame the idea in a slightly different way when he wrote, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
God won’t lead you out of Egypt and bail on you at the Red Sea.
So back to Texas. I ended up being there longer than planned. But I was called to pastor my first congregation – a wonderful and very patient group of people in southern Oklahoma. And after that I went to Houston and reconnected with a hometown girl who eventually became my wife. God was so good to me out west – in ways I never dreamed of while plotting my return to the east.
Whatever path you’re on right now, God is with you. He makes a way, and his way is good.
Trust him and keep moving.
Gracious God, guide us as you will. As we journey with you, calm our fears and forgive our complaining. Make us bold to trust you, especially when the path takes us to hard and threatening places. Make our steps firm and keep us close to you, bringing your work in us to completion, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.