When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. 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. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. – Exodus 13: 17-22
The Israelites are guided by God by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The desert was largely devoid of water but they were nearing the Red Sea. They had to rely on God for his guidance and provision through the pillars of fire and cloud. This was their first experience as a people being truly led by God. They needed practice following God through difficult and trying situations (the desert). They also needed to rely on God for water and food. God was with them.
God led them on a more difficult road, because he knew their faith in him was tenuous and if given the challenges of a war with the Philistines they might just backslide back to Egypt. God intentionally took the Israelites the long way around. How many times does it seem like we are on a “difficult road” only to learn later (if we have the eyes to see) that God needed us to walk that difficult road for a reason. The shortest path is not always the way God needs and wants us to go.
I am reminded of a hike I did a number of years ago with two friends up South Sister in Oregon. I was probably not in the best shape, but it was a hard hike that pushed me to my limits physically and mentally. As we neared the top we had to hike up through a loose rock called scoria. For every step forward you would slide about a half step back making progress very slow and frustrating. We eventually made the summit and it was totally worth the difficult road to the top.
The experience on South Sister taught me a couple of things about difficult roads: 1) difficult roads can lead to amazing vistas and summits; 2) our progress on a difficult road can sometimes make us feel like we are standing still or even sliding backward; 3) difficult roads are always easier if you have friends along to encourage you; 4) although God did not physically show up and carry me up the mountain, he was there and carrying me as much as I was carrying myself; 5) when embarking on a difficult road, bring God along.
Prayer: God help me to rely on your provision in my life, even when I am walking through dry, desert, times when it seems like you are far away.