God is not known to take His people on shortcuts. This was never truer than in the case of the Israelites leaving Egypt.
There were two ways to get to where God was taking them. One was shorter, but it went straight through their fiercest enemy’s territory. The other was much longer and went through the wilderness. The text says this:
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.”18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. ~Exodus 13:17-18
Curiously, we are told that God’s people are equipped for battle, yet, God will not allow them to take a shortcut. The reason given is because they might turn and run away when they see war.
Hmmmm. Does anyone else find that a seeming contradiction?
They were equipped for battle. But God knew they lacked confidence. They had the ability to fight well but God knew their fear would likely overcome them before they ever drew their swords. Why?
These people had been enslaved. They were broken. They were tired, weary, and heavy laden. God knew they needed time. Time for what?
Time to consider the words of Joseph, their ancestor, as Moses carried his bones out of Egypt just as he has prophesied. Time to rest under the stars in the desert. Time to watch the pillar of cloud lead them day after day. Time to watch the pillar of fire illuminate the darkness night after night. Time to watch as their Father led them tenderly. Time to trust Him as they moved to a new place they had never known. Time to adjust to the idea that their entire lives were changing completely. Time to learn patience, providence, and gratitude. Can’t you hear him speaking to their hearts?
Follow me. Watch for my cloud. Watch for my fire. Do not worry about which way to go on the long, long road ahead. One day at a time, children. Your faithful Father is leading so you do not have to. Watch for me. Wait for me. Listen to me. Trust me. Walk with me. Follow me.
What mercy! What a good, good Father we have!
On this long way around, God would use the Red Sea ahead to destroy their enemies fully and finally. He would use the wilderness to sufficiently humble and prove His own people true. Though we often lack understanding, we can rest assured that God has more than enough reasons to take His people the unique ways in which He takes them.
God is not one much for shortcuts. There is no easy way to glory. God warns us when we are tempted to take shortcuts because he knows how apt we are to run away when fearful conflict arises. War causes fear and God would rather have his people take the long way through the wilderness than a shortcut through wars too frightening for us. Even though we are equipped for battle, God takes extra care to ensure that we do not become entangled in fights he has not fitted us for.
“Note, God proportions his people’s trials to their strength, and will not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able…God knows our frame, and considers our weakness and faint-heartedness, and by less trials will prepare us for greater.” ~Matthew Henry