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Crossing the Red Sea: Why God Brings Us the Long Way

Tissot_Red Sea_Waters Parted_Moses_Israelites

The Waters Are Divided, by James Tissot

“So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.”  (Exodus 3:8)

As the week of Passover, the “Season of our Redemption,” progresses, we ponder the actual exodus of the Jewish People out of Egypt and subsequently through the Red Sea.

When Moses took the Hebrew children out of Egypt, he could have taken a direct route and made it to Canaan in a little more than a week, even though he was shepherding over two million men, women and children.  Of course, we know that was not the route taken.

He took them the long way, a route that was indirect and involved the need for yet another miracle: the parting of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross on dry ground.

In contrast to the storyline in the recent movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale as Moses, Moses did not choose this route because he was confused and lost.

Moses did not act on his own either; he was guided by the God of Israel every step of the way.

But why would God choose such a long route when there was a shorter, more obvious direct route?

The Crossing of the Red Sea, by Nicholas Poussin

The Crossing of the Red Sea, by Nicholas Poussin

Seven Lessons Learned in the Long Way

Efficiency is king in this modern age.  The shortest, most direct route seems like it is always the correct way to go.

Let us consider some possible reasons why the shortest route may not be the best route for us, and why it was not the best route for the Israelites:

  1. The shortest route would have taken the Israelites through hostile Philistine country.

    They were not prepared to encounter such hostility.

    “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.”   (Exodus 13:17–18)

    Moses left Egypt with an army of mostly broken souls who had spent the last eight to ten generations as slaves in Egypt.

    To reach Canaan, they would have to fight the Moabites, the Amalekites, and several other nations before actually having to confront the cities and tribes of Canaan itself.  The Hebrew tribes were in no condition at that time to undertake such a challenge.

    God sometimes brings us the long way because we are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually unprepared to face what awaits us along the short route or at the end of our journey.

A man hikes in Israel.

A man hikes in Israel.

  1. God wanted the Egyptians to know that He is the LORD.  Though God had a covenant responsibility to bring the Jewish People out of Egypt, he was also concerned about the spiritual condition of the Egyptians.

    “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them.  But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”  (Exodus 14:4)

    Likewise, when God takes us the long way, He may have in mind the salvation of others.

  1. God planned to show His People His might one more time through the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh and his army.  This forever settled in their minds that they were rid of their Egyptian taskmasters—never again would they be capable of dragging the Israelites back into slavery.

    The Israelites were free.

    God sometimes brings us through Red Sea experiences so that we will have a deep and lasting revelation of just how free we are in Messiah.

    “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:32)

A 1919 Bible primer depiction of the Red Sea swallowing Pharaoh's army.

A 1919 Bible primer depiction of the Red Sea swallowing Pharaoh’s army.

  1. God wanted His children to know that there is no turning back.  With the Red Sea now sealing off the Israelites’ route back to Egypt, they understood that the food and delicacies that they were fond of as slaves were now a memory.

    “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.”  (Numbers 11:5)

    In the dry place between bondage and the land of milk and honey, the Israelites would be tempted to grumble about their present circumstances and see their past through rose-colored glasses, misremembering and idealizing their enslavement.

    They desperately needed to have an encounter with God at Mount Sinai where they would receive instructions for a new way of life—on how to follow God through his written statutes and appointed leaders.

    When Believers are brought into a place of new life in the Messiah but are not yet living as a new creation, we need to learn to depend on the LORD daily, and resist the temptation to fondly reminisce about former lives lived in sin.

    God sometimes brings us through Red Sea experiences so that we will not turn back to our lives enslaved to the forces of the world.

The Egyptians Are Downed in the Red Sea

The Egyptians Are Downed in the Red Sea

  1. God took the Israelites on the long way because He had great plans for them.  He had plans to transform them into a holy nation by giving them His word in the form of the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, written by His own hand.  He planned to create a civil and spiritual society by giving them the Torah or Five Books of Moses, which He would dictate to His prophet.

    He not only took them out of slavery into freedom, he recreated a people who were, in every sense, free.  They were transformed from cowering fearfully before the Red Sea to courageously fighting to take possession of the Promised Land.

    In the wilderness, the People of Israel would have an opportunity to meditate, study, and encounter God’s Word in ways they could not on the short way fraught with continual battles.

    In our own wilderness, away from the distractions and noise of the short way, we often are more attentive to the voice of the Lord.  It is in this place that we have an opportunity to prepare for a transformation—a new beginning. 

A stained-glass image of Moses and the Ten Commandments

A stained-glass image of Moses and the Ten Commandments

  1. God wanted to demonstrate to the Israelites that he could sustain them even in the wilderness.  He miraculously supplied this massive nation with water from a rock, Manna from heaven and even meat in the form of flocks of birds.

    God also wants us to radically rely on Him so that He will supernaturally demonstrate to us that He is our provider, even in the toughest of times.

  2. God wanted a people who would trust in His leading.  The Bible reveals, however, that the Hebrew People whom God had been supernaturally delivering and sustaining, balked at entering the Land that He promised them.

    Of the twelve spies that entered Canaan, only Joshua and Caleb brought back a positive report.

    Joshua agreed with Caleb, who confidently proclaimed, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”  (Numbers 13:30)

    The others complained that the land was filled with the Nephilim, the fathers of the Anakim (a tribe of people living in the hills of Judah and Philistia), saying, “We saw the Nephilim there.  We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”  (Numbers 13:33)

Moses and the Messengers From Canaan, by Giovanni Lanfranco

Moses and the Messengers From Canaan, by Giovanni Lanfranco

Because the generation that God delivered from Egypt proved unwilling to follow God’s lead on their way to the Promised Land, they died before entering it.

Only Joshua, Caleb and the second generation of freed Israelites were allowed to enter.

The wilderness-born children knew nothing of slavery, so they did not have a victim mentality, nor did they idealize enslavement.  Instead, they were trained for battle by sporadic confrontations with the many nations that attacked them along their 40-year journey toward Canaan.

This new generation were raised up to know only the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses; they became an army of seasoned warriors ready to take the Promised Land and settle it.

We are also engaging in battles along our journey, growing in wisdom and improving our strategies as we shed worldly thinking, learn from God’s Word, and progress toward God’s promises and blessings.

Reading through the Haggadah during a Passover Seder.

Reading through the Haggadah during a Passover Seder.  (Photo by Sandor Weisz)

Taking the Long Way Through Our Wilderness

We typically try to plan out our lives using a pre-set schedule of events.  The plan includes finishing college by this age, getting married by that age, purchasing a house before having children, etc.

Life often doesn’t follow our carefully planned itinerary, however.

Consequently, we may feel that we are wandering in a wilderness of our own, moving in a different direction than we had planned.

God knows us better than we know ourselves (or are willing to admit) and there can be many reasons that God takes us the long way through the wilderness.

For one, attaining our goals without proper spiritual growth can drive us further from God.

For example, some who have achieved their goals think that it is due to their hard work, wisdom, skill, education or talent.  They think that God had nothing to do with it.  They might be on a successful track in life, but they do not know that they are spiritually lost.

Another reason that God might be taking us through the wilderness is that it is a perfect place to learn how to depend on Him.

Others are in the wilderness because they disobeyed God’s leading, and now they are in a place where they must seek it.

If your wandering is because of disobedience, the answer is simple: turn toward God, turn toward obedience.

“Draw nearer to God and He will draw nearer to you.”  (James 4:8)

A woman stands on a mountain peak in Israel's desert.

A woman stands on a mountain peak in Israel’s desert.

In the wilderness, we might feel that God is unnecessarily holding back from answering our prayers.

We ask Him, “Why, Lord.  Why?”

He answers by leading us to the parable of the widow who never gave up seeking justice (Luke 18:1–5).  He seems to be telling us to be persistent.

We might answer God with a bit of His own wisdom by quoting Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

But God responds, “Be patient.  I am still doing a work in you.”

As the Israelites were led by the cloud during the day and the pillar of fire by night, we must allow God’s Spirit—that still small voice—to lead us through our wilderness toward His goal for our life, His Promised Land.

Bike riding in Israel's Negev Desert (Go Israel photo by Alon Ron)

Bike riding in Israel’s Negev Desert.  (Go Israel photo by Alon Ron)

Comfort in the Wilderness

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”  (Hosea 2:14)

As we celebrate the Passover, we are told in the Haggadah (the Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder or ritual meal) to believe that we, too, were freed from Egypt.

The God who performed all those miracles, who led His children through the wilderness, is the same one leading us today.

If God does not bring us on the shortest path to His goals—to the place that He has promised to bring us—then He has His reasons, and it is for our good.

It is our job to keep moving forward on His path, not ours.

So, as you journey, do not be anxious about tomorrow, but engage in what God is doing in your life today.  Yeshua (Jesus) promises:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”  (Matthew 6:25)

Passover Seder (photo by Rachel Barenblot)

Passover Seder (photo by Rachel Barenblot)

God has in mind His best for us, and we should not lose faith at the sight of obstacles like the Red Sea or the battles we must engage in to reach our destiny.

Do not give up on what God has promised you, even though it seems slow in coming.

And though it may be the long, dry way, don’t cry to God about it—go forward.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to Me?  Tell the people of Israel to go [nasajourney] forward.’”  (Exodus 14:15)