On the journey from their Egyptian homes to the Red Sea, the Israelites could not miss, ignore, or misinterpret God’s guidance.
He physically inhabited the pillar of cloud and fire that guided them day and night. He audibly conveyed specific instructions to Moses. His angel accompanied them.
The shortest route to the Red Sea was a straight line from the Israelite villages to the seashore, but that course would have required the caravan to pass through hostile Philistine territory.
God knew the Israelites might return to their Egyptian homes if they confronted war, so he led them to the Red Sea crossing point via an indirect route. This itinerary gave Pharaoh’s army time to overtake the caravan.
God Respects Our Will
God’s indirect route illustrates the importance of his salvation plan and the premium he places on our will.
A sovereign Israel was part of God’s strategy to save the world through Jesus. However, this plan incorporated voluntary acts by the Israelites. They were not his automatons.
The Israelites could have stayed in Egypt after the tenth plague. Instead, they chose to leave for their ancestral homeland.
On the journey, the Israelites were free to follow the pillar of cloud and fire, chart their course, select an alternate destination, or return to Egypt. They chose to follow the pillar.
God had predetermined that he would not intervene if the Israelites encountered the Philistines. He had no plans to destroy this enemy. He intended to let the Israelites retreat from this danger.
God took these limitations into account when planning the Israelite escape. His circuitous route averted a Philistine confrontation, which reduced the risk of an Israelite turnaround.
God’s itinerary insured the success of his salvation plan, while concurrently respecting the will of his people.
God’s Wisdom Is Not Always Obvious
The wisdom of God’s itinerary was lost on the Israelites.
All they knew was that following his clear directions perfectly had left them trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. They were confused, angry, and full of doubt about God and his plans for them.
We sometimes find ourselves in the same predicament as the Israelites. We are sure that we are where God wants us to be, doing what he wants us to do. However, the purpose and wisdom of his plans are not apparent.
We just know that obediently following his clear guidance led to agonizing stress and disappointment. Like the Israelites, we become angry at him and full of doubts about his character and intentions.
God Has Multiple Purposes
God intended the Israelites to live free in their ancestral homeland, but he also had other goals.
God wanted the Israelites to recognize his greatness, trust his goodness, and understand the uniqueness of their relationship with him. He wanted them to realize that their future success would be primarily his doing, not theirs. He wanted them to avoid self-sufficiency.
God also wanted to establish a legacy that would justify faith in him forever. He wanted future Israelite generations to remember how he rescued their forefathers so that they would trust him amid their afflictions.
God used the Israelite journey out of Egypt, and their subsequent distress at the Red Sea, for these purposes.
Likewise, God uses our suffering to fulfill multiple purposes. He wants us to be successful—as he defines success—in the pursuit of our divine destiny, but he does not want our ascendance to lessen our dependence on him.
God wants us to understand the eternal significance of our relationship with him. He wants us to revere him beyond a superficial level and love him unconditionally. He wants us to recognize that he is the person who is ultimately responsible for our achievements, not us. He wants us to avoid self-sufficiency.
God also wants to build a message about his trustworthiness into our lives so we can share it with those within our circle of influence. He wants them to be aware of his faithfulness to us so that they will trust him during their distress.
God fulfills these purposes simultaneously, as we walk in harmony with him amid affliction.