Sometimes the route God chooses seems laborious, circular, or full of so many stops and detours we forget where we are going. When we cannot clearly see ourselves moving forward, a fear of inadequacy sets in and we tend to strive harder so we can pinpoint some sort of tangible progress in our lives. The Israelites needed to wait several long months before God finished the plagues on Pharaoh, revealing Himself to both the Israelites and the Egyptians. Throughout this process, no new freedom came. The repeated answer from God, “You will see what I will do!” More waiting. God’s people remained slaves in Egypt.
Now, deliverance has come! The Israelites have finally left Egypt! Take a look at God’s travel plans:
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. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.— Exodus 13:17–18
The Lord knows whether to test our patience or our courage. It appears that while this route might not have been the quickest, it was probably the safest. God knows from which difficulties we need the greatest protection. He knows the condition of our hearts even more than we do—the areas where we will readily trust and obey and the parts of us that are still unwilling. The Israelites may have been armed for battle, but they were not yet ready to fight! When God takes us on an indirect path, we need to trust His discretion.
There was another battle the people of Israel had to fight. A battle of trust. And God actually orchestrates Israel’s travels so that they become hemmed in on every side with the Egyptians in hot pursuit.
Look at what God does next:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’”— Exodus 14:1–3
Consider this description of their path. “Backtrack, retrace all the steps you just took, all the way up to Baal Zephon . . . they stood at the waters of the Red Sea. To the north were strong enemy fortresses. To the south, blazing deserts. To the west, Egypt itself. They were boxed in. There was no back door—a geographical trap with no possibility of escape.” And Pharaoh and his army are on their way, racing toward them on their swift chariots.
Has God ever asked you to turn back? Perhaps you felt like you were moving forward in your spiritual, emotional, or personal life and suddenly you seemed to be wandering around in circles or heading backward. That can be a very frustrating and defeating experience, can’t it? Like the perfect scenario for snarls of suggested failure to start sounding off in our heads. Cue the mind’s racing plans to strive forward, despite God closing every door.
“The Lord knows whether to test our patience or our courage.”
I’ve been there. I found myself finally gaining ground in a particular relationship that, well frankly, always seemed to bring out the worst in me. I felt like I was beginning to make peace with our differences and learning to extend grace rather than criticism. Then bam! The right set of circumstances erupted, propelling me back to square one, baffled by how much ground gained with such hard work could suddenly be lost so quickly. In those moments, we wonder why God allows such things. In my own life, God has used those times of defeat to show me several things:
Do any of those resonate with you? One universal thread weaves through all of the above scenarios: Exodus 14:4 says, “I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.”
God will not waste this return trip, of that we can be sure. But God was not merely asking the Israelites to backtrack to build trust, He also created a scenario to defeat their enemy completely. Look carefully at what God was doing. “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly” (Ex.14:8).
Suddenly, however, the Israelites have a change of heart. “When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord” (Ex. 14:10).
Not so bold now, are we? Sometimes God may call us to retrace our steps, and other times He may call us to go back and face our enemy. The Israelites had been marching “out defiantly” but now they were quaking in fear. The command most often given in Scripture is “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid.” When God forces us to face our enemy, He is gaining glory for Himself by showing us a dramatic display of His power and deliverance, working to drive out fear once and for all. Up until the thunderous roar of the Egyptian chariots, I would dare bet the Israelites did not even entertain the possibility that they had any fear of the Egyptians. But when God put them in the right circumstances, their courage vanished.
God desires to rid us of our fear. He wants us to trust implicitly in His deliverance and protection. He will even use our fear to gain glory for Himself by defeating those things of which we are afraid. When an attack comes into your life, look for God to gain glory for Himself through it. And look for fear to be vanquished.
But in this immediate moment, surrounded on all sides, there is no deliverance in sight. All striving ceased. They remained boxed in with nowhere to go and nothing to do. The people began to do what we naturally default toward when our deliverance doesn’t come in our timeline. They started looking for someone to blame.
“God desires to rid us of our fear. He wants us to trust implicitly in His deliverance and protection.”
And Moses’ leadership skills are critically questioned. We see Moses’ habit of crying out to God for direction displayed here again. As soon as the self-doubt set in, Moses cried out to God.
When God puts us in a place where our only hope is Him, we have no choice but to lay down our fear of inadequacy and embrace God’s sufficiency. We don’t have what it takes and we know it. We stop trying so hard and rely fully on God for the outcome, realizing He is the only one adequate to secure a good one.
 Charles Swindoll, Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1999), 189.
by Erica Wiggenhorn
Everyone thinks you’ve got it together. But inside, you’re asking, “Am I enough?” No matter how good we look to others,...
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