a study through Exodus on how God shapes His leaders
Do you ever feel like the direction of your life is a bit roundabout? Like the journey you’re on is a bit meandering and not going in the direction you feel God is calling you? Take heart, God orders our way and leads us even when it feels like we’re going in circles. He knows the best way and sometimes it might not be the most direct route.
As the Israelites were leaving Egypt, they could have gone straight up and into the Promised Land. However, God knew that that would not be the safest or healthiest route for these newly freed people. So He took them a different way, a direction that may have felt a bit roundabout and indirect, but for the good of the people, it was the best way.
“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. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.’ And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.”
Did you notice the reason for God’s reroute? He didn’t want the Israelites to run back to Egypt the first moment difficulty happened. So He led them a different way. I’m sure the Israelites were wondering where they were going. I know I would have! Comments to Moses may have included, “Isn’t the Promised Land this way? So why are we going East?” God’s path to the Promised Land wasn’t the most direct, but it was the safest. So why should they doubt their leader and God?
Likewise, when our lives seem to be heading in a direction that is out of the way, let us remember that sometimes God’s path isn’t the most direct. But it’s always the safest. If we stick with God and His leading, the journey may be round about, but it is the best place to be.
Back to the Israelites. Their path into the wilderness may have seemed crazy, but what was their promise and hope? God went before them, not only in a theoretical, spiritual sense, but in a physical way. His presence was visible to all the children of Israel, so that if they doubted their course they could simply look up and see the presence and guidance of the Lord. Why? Because God went before them in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, and He never left the people.
What a beautiful image! Wouldn’t it be amazing to have God go before us in such a physical way today? Our lives would be so much easier! We wouldn’t have to agonize over which college to attend, which job to take, which city to live, which person to marry, all of that would be easy if God was a pillar of fire before us and showing us the way.
We may not have a physical cloud or fire before us representing God’s presence, but we do have the Holy Spirit within us. We don’t need to have God walking before us because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. However, we tend to want physically visible things. We think that a pillar of cloud or fire in our life would be easier to follow. It is true. Some things would be easier if God just showed up in a pillar of cloud and showed us the way. However, we would miss the power of the Holy Spirit within us. The Spirit speaks in a quiet voice that we have a hard time listening to. But because the Holy Spirit is in us, we can become empowered.
The Israelites could only follow the pillar of cloud and fire. It didn’t change their lives or work in their hearts. It merely went before them and reminded them of God’s presence. However, the Holy Spirit within us transforms us from the inside out and changes us so that we can not only remember God’s presence but become more like Him. We not only can follow the Spirit’s guiding, but we can become empowered by it. The key is that we must listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit and allow it to have free reign in our lives.
One promise we can share with the Israelites is this: God will never depart from us. Just as the pillar of cloud and fire never left the people of Israel throughout all their wanderings, so also the Spirit of God will never leave us nor forsake us. Therefore, when life seems to be heading in a roundabout direction, let us remember this truth that God orders our way and will never leave us.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”