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 armed for battle. Exodus 13:17-18.
Imagine that you are a newly-liberated Hebrew, all-set to dwell in the new home-land that God has promised you. You are at Succoth and there before you, heading east and then north is the road to that home-land — Canaan. But Moses is ignoring it. He is taking you (and all the rest) south — into the desert! Has the man no sense of direction? “Oi, Moses. It’s this way, not that.” But Moses is adamant: “This is the way the Lord wants us to go.” And then, I’m sure, there would have come a loud one-word chorus: “Why?”
I must confess that I am always asking, “Why?” Why doesn’t the Lord answer my prayer and fix this … or that … or the other. Why does he decline to do what, to my mind, is clearly the best thing he could possibly do? Why is he so slow to respond to matters that need his attention so urgently? With God, it always seems to be delay, delay, delay. If it’s not “No,” it’s “Not yet,” whereas I want yeses and I want them now.
But this passage tells me that God always has his reasons. In this case, the reason for not letting the Hebrews take the direct route to Canaan was that they would have had to do battle with the Philistines and that might well have sent them running back to Egypt. God knew they weren’t yet ready for war. But note the last sentence in verse 18. The Hebrews themselves thought that they were ready for war. They were “armed for battle” … which must have made God’s refusal to let them take the obvious route to Canaan all the more bewildering.
I recall that, in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, most of the disasters that overtake Christian on his journey to the Celestial City stem from his refusal to accept that the way he is told to take can possibly be the right one.
Teach me Thy way, O Lord, teach me Thy way
Thy gracious aid afford, teach me Thy way.
Help me to walk aright, more by faith, less by sight;
Lead me with heavenly light: teach me Thy way!