Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. [Isaiah 43:2-3a (MSG)]
When visiting New Mexico, we often drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The shortest route is north on I-25. If we’re not in a rush, however, the best way is the longer Turquoise Trail, a national scenic byway on the east side of the Sandia Mountains. In theory, this route should only add about a half-hour to the trip but it always takes longer. The whole point of going that way is to enjoy some breath-taking scenery, take a hike in the high desert hills, check out one of the bizarre roadside attractions (like the Tinkertown Museum), visit various art galleries along the trail, and stop for lunch (and more shopping) in the reborn ghost town of Madrid. Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination.
When the Israelites escaped from Pharaoh, God didn’t lead them the shortest way to the Promised Land; His reasoning, however, had nothing to do with sightseeing or shopping. The most direct route would have taken them northeast along a coastal road and directly into Philistine territory. Instead, God led them south southwest into the desert on the eastern edge of Egypt. Although they were armed for battle, the Israelites were anything but ready to face a military conflict. Having been oppressed for generations, rather than a mighty nation, they were a ragtag band of former slaves. While the longer route made sense, God’s next instructions certainly didn’t! He told Moses that Pharaoh’s men would give chase but that the Israelites should turn back and camp in such a way that they were exposed and trapped against the sea. Although God promised this strange tactic would demonstrate his power and glory, I can’t help but think that Moses was shaking in his sandals when reassuring the people that God had everything under control.
If the Israelites weren’t ready to face the Philistines a few days earlier, they were no more ready to face Pharaoh’s mighty army then. In fact, from a logistical point of view, by turning back, the novice warriors moved into an utterly indefensible position. That, of course, is exactly why God arranged it. Whether facing Philistines or Egyptians, the Israelites’ reaction to either would be panic. With the Philistines, they could have fled, even if that meant returning to Egypt. With Pharaoh’s army, however, they had no escape route. Although their sarcastic complaints to Moses revealed their lack of faith, pinned against the sea as they were, they had no choice but to trust in God. Since we know the rest of the story, that trust was well-founded. The people of Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground and Pharaoh’s army perished in its waters. After experiencing God’s miraculous deliverance, the Israelites no longer feared Pharaoh. They did, however, fear, trust, and believe in the Lord!
Sometimes God takes us the long way around for a reason; while it may be for the scenery, there’s a good chance it’s to take us away from trouble. On the other hand, sometimes God takes us on detours that seem to make absolutely no sense because they lead us into trials and difficulty. That usually happens when there’s something we need to learn. When we find ourselves between an army and the sea or a rock and a hard place, there’s no need to panic. We just need to trust in the Lord.