Follow The Leader

"Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, 'Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.' So God led them around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 13:17-18)

No one really understood why they had to go a longer route, but it did not matter: as long as it was away from Egypt it had to be good. The shortest, most logical, route was an eleven-day journey, through the land of the Philistines. Hands up, who wants to go that way? There was no consensus of popular opinion, or gathering information from strategic groups; no referendum or democratic vote to decide the will of the people.

God was leading His people out of Egypt, and He decided to take them by the way of the wilderness. Yes, the journey would take longer than eleven days, but there was good reason. "Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt." God was not afraid of what was ahead. However, He knew that His people would be. Weakened by years of Egyptian living, of being downtrodden, and giving in to the demands of foreign rule, the people of Israel would prefer to negotiate a return to Egypt, rather than go to war. Despite the hardship and cruelty in Egypt, the people of Israel had achieved a level of peaceful co-existence.

There is a striking similarity between the Jewish people dispersed among the nations, and their fathers' peaceful co-existence in Egypt. After centuries of living among the nations, Jewish people, like their fathers in Egypt, have become accustomed to being the scape-goat, the butt of jokes and the general doormat. The Jew of the Diaspora today is the modern-day Egyptian slave of former times, but on a larger scale. Jewish communities in the Diaspora have worked hard to achieve a peaceful existence within their respective host nation. They have been driven to comply with foreign laws and forced to tolerate strange cultures. On too many occasions, over the years, the Jewish people have been singled out for "special treatment", regardless of whether they have complied. Even today, there are some communities where the Jewish people are considered lesser citizens. Living among the Gentiles has conditioned them to accept the demands placed upon them as "normal". In the face of such injustices they, like their forefathers, are prone to "change their minds" and want to "return to Egypt" , preferring the peaceful co-existence among the Gentiles, rather than return home to the Promised Land, amid conflict and strife.

The weakened condition of the children of Israel was good reason for not rushing head-long into war. On the other hand, their God was strong. Did He not demonstrate great power in Egypt? Was not the pride of Egypt humiliated? Were not the wise and powerful ashamed? Since none could stand against the God of Israel, why not simply press on with this "weak" people, protect them, and take whatever would come, obliterating all opposition and putting to rest any objection to Israel's claims to the Promised Land?

There is more to this than just the children of Israel being released from bondage. Let us follow God's lead.

The Scripture account describes the people of God being ushered out of the land of Egypt in an orderly procession. "And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 13:18) This was not a random rabble of stragglers, or an inebriated band of party revelers. This was a people saved from the brink of annihilation; over one and a half million people, plus livestock and possessions marching to the sounds of redemption.

This is the first appearance of the redeemed people, and it is awesome–there is order and structure. As one, they are the People of God, and His Purpose is their United Goal.

This magnificent event affirmed that Israel's coming out of Egypt was no accident. Neither was it a military coup or a people's revolution. This was the beginning for the nation of Israel. Previously, downtrodden and persecuted in Egypt, they had been miraculously assembled–a testament to all that they had been freed from slavery, never to return to the burdens of Egypt. Similarly, it conveyed to all that the people of Israel had a Divine call, and had been duly appointed to a life of Divine service. It was an affirmation of Israel's destiny, an enduring responsibility to follow the Divine call, which would ensure the Divine purpose being fulfilled.

This same testament has been affirmed again in modern times when we consider that the people of Israel have come out, and are coming out, of the lands in an orderly fashion. Whole communities have been uprooted from countries where they had survived for centuries–Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Russia. European Jews have returned to Israel en masse, following the Holocaust and World War 2. Today, the world has the opportunity to observe and compare these modern-day "comings out" with Israel's coming out of the land of Egypt, in the days of Pharaoh.

"'Therefore, behold the days are coming,' says the LORD, 'that they shall no longer say, "As the LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt," but, "As the LORD lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the lands where I had driven them." And they shall dwell in their own land.'" (Jeremiah 23:7-8)

As was in the days of Pharaoh, so too today, God is leading His people to the Promised Land.

For their part, Egypt and the nations could have played a strategic positive role by assisting Israel in achieving the Divine objectives. Sadly, they did not. Rather, Scripture records that the nations were in fear, and considered Israel a threat to their very existence. The message at that time, to Israel, and to God was, "Thanks, but no thanks! We do not want to be willing partners in the Divine purpose. We would prefer to go our own way."

Tragically, centuries later, this same attitude is re-emerging. Consider: the nation of Israel today standing miraculously, just as their fathers did. Assembled in the Promised Land, they are now freed from the lands wherein they were downtrodden and persecuted for centuries. Israel's existence in Egypt is a parallel to their existence scattered among the nations. Today, Israel continues to be on track to fulfil their calling and the Divine purpose, just as they were when they left Egypt. Likewise, the nations today could play a vital role by affirming Israel's calling and responsibility, and by urging them to return to the Lord their God, and to follow Him whole-heartedly. Sadly, the nations are repeating the errors of the past. They are saying, "We do not want to be willing partners in the Divine purpose. We would prefer to go our own way."

Pharaoh and the Egyptians could have been the first to pioneer the way for all who would be supportive toward Israel's calling and destiny. Instead, they showed what happens to those who work against God and His Kingdom. This ancient lesson is relevant and vital even for today's leaders. Many international leaders today would be wise to consider what happened to Egypt, and to heed Pharaoh's warning and pleading from the grave, "I was a fool; don't follow me!"

When the children of Israel came out of Egypt they camped in Etham, at the edge of the wilderness. (Exodus 13:20) This was the first occasion in history when Israel was alone with his Redeemer, "at the edge of the wilderness" . Poised for greatness the People of God beamed a clear and brilliant light to the nations–it was a message of hope, and an invitation to all to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. As the Psalmist declares, "The LORD has made known his salvation; his righteousness he has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his mercy and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God." (Psalm 98:2-3)

God's message to seek first His kingdom of righteousness (Matthew 6:33) still rings true for all today.

Despite centuries of Egyptian-type treatment from the nations, the people of God have survived. Israel lives because God is faithful. Moreover, every generation has seen the salvation of Israel's God. It might be difficult to fully comprehend why the people of Israel should have had to travel this arduous route–the long way round–but there is good reason, and more importantly, God is leading the way.

God is merciful. He demonstrates His love and faithfulness toward His covenant people, Israel, while also giving the nations the opportunity to observe and to respond favourably, to be willing participants in His Kingdom.

"Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, 'He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.' For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he." (Jeremiah 31:10-11)