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.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. – Exodus 13:17-18
If they face war, they might return to Egypt. You might be tempted to think something like this: Why would a mighty God lead people around difficulty… especially when most of the Bible is filled with God taking people straight through the middle of difficulty and providing them a way to make it through? (Much like He had just done by leading them out of Egypt). In other words, doesn’t this approach seem weak? Doesn’t it feel timid? Doesn’t it sound un-God-like?
God can lead the 300 to defeat the hundred thousand. (Judges 7)
He can bring down walls and deliver cities to those marching in circles. (Joshua 6)
He can bring down a giant with a sling shot toting boy. (I Samuel 17)
So why would God fail when the Israelites saw war? I’m glad you asked. God would not have. They would not have fought. They would not have stood their ground. They would not have prayed and trusted God.
They would have fled. Ran. Tucked their collective tails and scurried away. This is easily identified as their M.O. Miracle after miracle they consistently complained when things didn’t go their way, often blaming God for their freedom while claiming oppression, prison, and slavery would have been better.
God, being the intelligent Creator that He is, knew exactly what their response to war would have been. They would have gotten completely out of Dodge. Promptly.
The bottom line is that God won’t use people that aren’t willing to be put into usable situations. You can’t start a prison ministry if you aren’t willing to step through that barred gate. You can’t go on an overseas mission trip if you won’t walk on a plane. You can’t witness miracles if you aren’t in over your head trusting God and following His commands. And you certainly can’t defeat an enemy while running in the opposite direction.
It’s not really that God can’t… it’s more that He won’t. God loves us so much that His plan fully includes us. We are a part of the plan… we are the plan. It’s operation ‘rescue people’. And He was willing to let His Son go in order to pull it off. We have a part too. We have to accept. We have to listen. We must obey.
In Matthew 15:21-28 a woman confronts Jesus and He turns her away. While there is likely a bigger story here, she still played her part. She reasoned with Him and pleaded with Him. And He changed His answer allowing her daughter to be healed. The opposite happened in Matthew 14:22-33 when Peter walked on water. He played his part and stood with Jesus on the waves in the storm. But when he was distracted, he began to sink, losing the favor His Savior had previously given him.
I’ll stop with those and just claim there are a plethora of stories where Jesus acted in response of us. Humans. People. Even in the old testament when man talked directly with God they would reason and ask Him to reconsider. He did. Moses got his brother Aaron on the payroll of the Egyptian exodus after arguing his inexperience to God. Abraham convinces God to spare Sodom if only 10 righteous are found in it. Lot convinced the angels to allow him to flee to a small town after they commanded he run to the mountains.
The point is… we have something God gave us. A choice. We can accept His commands. We can speak with Him and lift our concerns to Him. Or, we can simply deny Him. The Egyptians made a habit of ignoring God. And He knew it. Still loving them in spite of their disobedience, He gave in to their contempt and took them the long way around, knowing all too well that if he blessed them with the shortcut, they would have bolted before looking to see if God was still with them… or even bothering to recall the countless situations He had already delivered them from.
God can, if you can. He doesn’t require us, but history shows He won’t empower us if we aren’t willing and trusting. If we won’t equip the full armor of God, you can safely bet He isn’t going to be toppling armies before us. David beat Goliath because he was willing to sling the stone. The walls of Jericho fell because the horns blew after the march was complete. When commands are followed, miracles are witnessed. When obedience is observed, God provides.
I have tried eating triple cheeseburgers and praying for weight-loss. It just doesn’t work that way. God gave me the ability to make my own choices. If I can’t give my own life some effort, why should He? When I stop yelling “Supersize!” at every drive through window I pass, God becomes more attentive. When I start exercising and tossing out late night snacks, I feel burdens lifted. God cares. And He works in our lives.
He does not need us to do anything and we cannot earn anything from God. But we still have our work to do anyway. Most often, that work is bending a knee. Sometimes its bending an ear and following instructions. But the ones that had the best relationship with God… the ones who favored the most through trying times and impending danger… they were the ones who dropped everything and lived in a constant relationship with Jesus Christ. Listening, sacrificing, following, obeying.
God didn’t strike down the enemies of the Egyptians in this passage because they wouldn’t lift up the sword. They complained about the conditions of their freedom, they complained about the travel, they complained about the food, they blamed God and Moses for every inconvenience. Their alternative was slavery, torture, and most likely an early death. Yet they just expected to live posh lives while God delivered every nicety unto them.
What we often forget is that the story of the Egyptians isn’t just a lineage narrative. It’s a parallel to what God has also done for us. We are facing an eternal life of unimaginable negativity. (grossly understated, of course) And Jesus has delivered us from that as well. But while on our journey, we will face the enemy along the way. Just like the Egyptians, we can either run, endure more, and fully risk losing our path… or we can fight with God on our side. Better put, we can fight on God’s side.
I can’t help but wonder why God isn’t more active in my life. And then I remember the Israelites and I can plainly see when I’ve chosen to pick up the sword and where I’ve simply complained to God while doing nothing. How embarrassing when I find out God is leading me the long way around. It shows my lack of faith, my unwillingness to obey, my fear, and my inability to see the concrete past where God has kept His promises and provided. It’s not a testament to what God can’t do… its about what I didn’t do. Its a mirror image of my failure and a reminder that life is easier in the trenches with God than it is on the outskirts without Him.