Weekly Devotions: Use Stumbling Blocks to Build Altars

Setting Up Stones: Taking the Long Way

Reading: Exodus 13:17-18; 14:4, 15

Lately I’ve been learning some things about the wilderness. The metaphor for wilderness wandering is sometimes so overused in church and other christian circles that it loses some of its impact. We hear it and think “cliche” instead of seeing it for what it really is: a wild and untamed place. A place away from the governance of kings, which is unclaimed by either side, which allows space for one to choose which side they will be on and which way they will choose. A refining place.

This morning on the way to work I was listening to a podcast message by Dharius Daniels called “I Didn’t See That Coming”, and I was struck anew by the words in Exodus 13:17-18. It says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country though it 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.”

For a long time I have understood that the reason the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness for so long was that they were disobedient and needed to learn to do what God told them to do. And that’s still why they stayed there, grumbling and complaining all that time. But it’s not how they got there to begin with. They got there because God was placing them in one uncomfortable place in order to avoid another uncomfortable place. The Israelites left Egypt dressed up for battle. They had on their fighting clothes. But God knew that if they had to fight a war so soon, they would turn back from their ultimate destination and give up. So He let them walk out of Egypt dressed for battle, and instead of leading them to actually fight someone, he led them to a place that looked impossible. And then he allowed them to cross through that impossible place just to land them in the wilderness. 

But if you read on a little further, his purpose for this was two-fold. It wasn’t just to prevent the Israelites from turning back into captivity. Exodus 14:4 says it was also to show the Egyptians that He was the Lord. Have you considered that? Maybe you’re going the long way not just because God is trying to protect you from an enemy that you don’t even know you aren’t ready to fight, but because he wants to show your enemy that He is God. 

Even though Moses knew this purpose ahead of time, when it was down to the wire and the people saw nowhere to go but into the waters, they still panicked. They still asked Moses if the reason God brought them out of Egypt was so they could die somewhere else. And God’s words to Moses were so profound. He says in verse 15, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” 

So many times we see what God has promised us, or we know we have heard a specific word or instruction from him, and we step out in faith only to panic when the going gets tough, and we cry out in fear. Maybe sometimes God is thinking, “Why are you crying out to me? I already told you what was going to happen. Move on!”

All of this is very easy to say, and not very easy to live out. But I want to encourage you to memorize some of these scriptures. Put yourself in the story. See your own struggles as the Israelites surely saw theirs. And remember that sometimes taking the long way is the path you are meant to take. Sometimes your struggles are to prove to your enemies that God is who he says he is. And sometimes when you are paralyzed in fear, God is saying move on. —Amanda