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10. The Scenic Route To The Promised Land (Exodus 13:17-22)

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Life of Moses (10)

April 22, 2018

We live in a culture obsessed with time-saving devices. I get breaking news alerts from around the world on my phone the minute they happen. A wealth of information is instantly available at our fingertips. I can ask, “Hey, Siri, what’s the population of Paris?” and instantly she tells me. Just a little over a century ago, it took Hudson Taylor four months to travel from England to China and the same to send mail back to England. Now I can text or Facetime with my daughter half way around the world and instantly know how she’s doing.

So naturally, we expect God to work in the same way. I read books on time management and how to get things done more efficiently. Life is short, so I want God to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s unimaginable that He would be slow or inefficient in accomplishing His purpose!

Of course, from His eternal perspective, God is not inefficient or slow. He knows what He’s doing and He accomplishes His purpose right on schedule (Isa. 46:10). But from our time-bound perspective, God’s ways often seem incredibly wasteful, inefficient, and slow. To be faithful to the Lord and His cause, we need to divest ourselves of the modern way of viewing things and understand how God works. We need to know His ways, which are not our ways (Isa. 55:8-9).

This is important because many Christians claim that God wants you to be instantly healthy, wealthy, and spiritually victorious. They deny that sickness, suffering, pain, or poverty ever come from the Lord’s hand. If you’re sick, they say, don’t admit it—that’s a negative confession. Rather, claim your healing by faith! If you’re poor, envision living in a mansion and claim that by faith! If you struggle with problems, that’s not God’s will! Get slain in the Spirit or speak in tongues, and you will have instant spiritual victory! And, by the way, if you’ll send a nice check to the TV preacher making these claims, he’ll send you a special prayer cloth that you can use to get miraculous answers to your prayers.

That false teaching appeals to the flesh. Who doesn’t want instant success and instant solutions to difficult problems? If you had your choice between instant spiritual victory or fifty years of a slow, difficult battle, who wouldn’t choose the instant route?

Well, God would not! He had just delivered His people from 400 years in Egypt, much of it spent in horrible slavery. He delivered them right on schedule, according to His word to Abraham (Gen. 15:13-14), but that meant that many generations of Israelites lived and died crying out to God for deliverance, but without any indication that He heard their prayers.

Now, the Lord’s plan was to lead Israel to the Promised Land. If Moses had looked at a map, he would have seen that the shortest route from Egypt to Palestine with no rivers or sea to cross is to go straight north through Gaza into the land. But rather than go that way, God led His people around by way of the wilderness to the Red Sea (or, Sea of Reeds; Exod. 13:17-18). He had His reasons (Exod. 13:17): “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” Ironically, they soon would need to engage in war (Exod. 17:8-13). But God knew that initially, they weren’t ready, so He led them on this somewhat circuitous route that I’m calling, “the scenic route to the Promised Land.” I’ve never been to the Sinai Peninsula, but the photos I’ve seen don’t make me want to go there! But it was God’s way for His people. The lesson for us is:

God’s way of dealing with us is to take us on “the scenic route,” because His purpose is to teach us to trust and glorify Him.

First we’ll look at God’s way and then at His purpose.

1. God’s way of dealing with us is to take us on “the scenic route.”

When we used to live in Southern California and wanted to get to the Bay area, if we had the extra time we enjoyed taking the more scenic route up Highway 1 along the coast. The fastest way there is Interstate 5 which goes right up the middle of the State. But it’s hot and boring, so we preferred the scenic route. But there are four things about that scenic route that are also true of God’s “scenic route”:

A. The scenic route always takes longer.

It takes much longer to get to the Bay area up Highway 1 with its two-lane highway and many curves than to shoot up I-5. In Israel’s case, it would have taken less than two weeks to go directly from Egypt to Canaan, but God’s “scenic route” through the wilderness took them forty years!

The Bible is clear that God does not seem to be in the big hurry that we’re in. He takes His time. For example, God called Abraham when he was 75 and promised to give him a son. But that son wasn’t born until Abraham was 100 and his wife was 90, well past her childbearing years. Keep in mind that God’s promise to Abraham was to make from him a great nation (Gen. 12:2). But God only gave him one son through whom to fulfill that promise.

Well then, surely Abraham’s son Isaac must have had a large family, right? No, in fact at first, Isaac’s wife Rebekah was barren (Gen. 25:21). After Isaac prayed, the Lord gave them twin sons, Esau and Jacob. But God rejected Esau and chose Jacob. Jacob deceived his father out of the birthright and had to flee from the Promised Land because his brother wanted to kill him. He worked there for his uncle Laban for seven years to gain Laban’s daughter Rachel as his wife, only to be deceived so that he had to work seven more years.

Eventually, he returned to the land of promise, but had a slew of problems there. His ten oldest sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt. He spent the better part of his twenties in an Egyptian jail before God elevated him to the second position in the land under Pharaoh. Finally, God led Jacob and his sons and their families down to Egypt, where we find them 400 years later when Moses’ story begins. That’s not exactly a fast track to fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham to give him the land of Canaan and make of him a great nation!

As we’ve seen, the route to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt wasn’t the quick way either. Moses was “educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and a man of power in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). He sure seemed ready to go. But when he set about at age 40 to deliver God’s chosen people, he failed miserably, fled for his life, and spent the next 40 years in the desert. Meanwhile, God’s people languished in slavery.

You see a similar pattern in the life of David. He was anointed as king as a teenager, but he spent his twenties running from the mad King Saul. He finally became king at age 30.

After the 70-year exile of God’s people in Babylon and their return to the land, 400 long years went by with no word from God. Finally, John the Baptist appeared on the scene, announcing the coming of the Messiah. Surely the Lord Jesus, who was without sin, would be ready to go by age 20! But, no, He was about 30 when He began His public ministry (Luke 3:23) and then it only lasted about three years before He was crucified.

You see the same thing with the apostle Paul. He was converted in his early thirties, but then spent two or three years in Arabia (Gal. 1:17-18) and another six to eight years in Tarsus before he began teaching at the church in Antioch. Later, when Paul seemingly could have had maximum impact for the gospel through his missionary efforts, God left him confined in Caesarea for two years because of a greedy governor who was hoping for a bribe (Acts 24:26-27). Then, rather than being released, he was transferred to Rome, where he spent more time in confinement.

And, if you’ve read any history of the church or missionary biographies, you know that the spread of the gospel has not been quick. The scenic route to fulfilling the Great Commission has taken much longer than if God had hired a time management expert back in the first century!

B. The scenic route is not the most efficient way to get there (from our point of view).

The scenic route doesn’t always make sense to us. Why didn’t God choose Abraham when he was 25 and give him Isaac when he was 30? Think of all those “wasted” years! Why leave Joseph in that Egyptian dungeon for all those years? Surely, the cupbearer could have told Pharaoh about Joseph much sooner, but the cupbearer forgot (Gen. 40:23). And God could have given Pharaoh the dream that led to Joseph’s release after two weeks or two months. But we read (Gen. 41:1), “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream ….”

Why leave Moses out in the desert for 40 years while the Israelites continued to make bricks under the cruel Egyptian taskmasters? Wouldn’t a couple of years of training have sufficed? Then, why not lead Israel directly into the Promised Land and save 40 years? God could have struck the Canaanites with a deadly plague and spared Israel the difficulty of conquering the land.

Why not get rid of the faithless King Saul and put the man after God’s heart in power much sooner? Why not send the forerunner and the Messiah shortly after the exiles returned to the land? Why not have the Lord Jesus begin His ministry at 20 and let it go until He was 60? Think of how much more He would have accomplished! Why not have Paul released from the corrupt Roman governor so that he could take the gospel to Spain, as he wanted to do? From our point of view, the scenic route is not very efficient!

C. The scenic route is the most difficult route.

Sometimes when we used to drive up Highway 1, the road had been covered by mudslides. I recently saw on the news that it was completely closed because of a huge mudslide. But even when it’s open, there are all those curves! Last summer we were in Maui, where the most scenic road is the road to Hana. I saw a T-shirt that read, “The Road to Hana: Turn left, turn right, repeat 620 times!” It wasn’t exaggerating! Plus there are 59 one-lane bridges in 52 miles! It’s called “the Divorce Highway” because of the strain it can put on your marriage to drive it! But everyone agrees that it’s the most scenic route on Maui!

As we’ve seen, God’s scenic route was not the easiest way to get to the Promised Land. It would have been much easier if God had promised Abraham a son and six months later Sarah announced that she was pregnant. It would have been easier if Jacob had told Laban, “I’ll work seven years for Rachel,” and Laban had said, “Seven weeks is enough.” It would have been easier for Joseph if after he resisted the seductive attempts of Potiphar’s wife, he had been rewarded with the number two job in the land, rather than with years in an Egyptian dungeon. The same could be said for Moses, David, Paul, and other servants of the Lord. Why didn’t these men claim their deliverance by faith and get on with enjoying the victorious life? God’s scenic route takes longer, it’s not the most efficient way, and it’s the most difficult route.

D. The scenic route is the most beautiful in the long run.

That’s why we take it! It’s worth the longer time, the inefficiency, and the difficult hassles because in the long run, nothing is as beautiful. In California, straight, four-lane, 70 mile-per-hour I-5 just doesn’t compare with Highway 1 up the coast!

The reason that God’s scenic route for His saints is the most beautiful in the long run is because God is with you and there is nothing to compare with a life lived with Him. If Israel had traveled straight north into Canaan, even if God had taken out the Canaanites, they would have settled into a comfortable life in the land. As it was, they spent forty years camping with God and His people in the barren wilderness where they saw Him miraculously provide manna each morning and water from the rock. They had the pillar and the cloud of God’s presence protecting and guiding them.

The logistics of providing for two million people in the barren desert were overwhelming! If you lined them up at 50 abreast, they would have stretched forty miles into the desert! To provide for that many people would have required 30 boxcars of food and 300 tank cars of water every day of their journey! But which in the long run would have been the more beautiful way of life: to be a part of that great company in the wilderness, seeing God provide for all your needs, leading you by the pillar of cloud and fire, and knowing that you were the objects of His loving care? Or, to settle down in suburban Jerusalem in a nice house with a two-donkey garage?

So, God’s way is to take us on the longer, inefficient, difficult scenic route, which in the long run is the most beautiful. But, why? What is His purpose for taking us that way?

2. God’s purpose for taking us on “the scenic route” is to teach us to trust in and glorify Him.

The basic aim of the fallen human race is independence from God. We want to save ourselves or at least to have a hand in the process. We want to direct our own lives, perhaps with a little help from God, so that we can share the credit. But we don’t like being totally dependent on God.

It all boils down to, who gets the glory? If I can help God in the process of salvation, then I can share some of His glory. If I can live the Christian life by my strength, then I can take the credit. But God says (Isa. 42:8), “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another ….” And so He takes us on the scenic route to break us of our self-dependence so that we put our trust in Him and glorify Him. Note three things about trusting in the Lord:

A. Trusting in the Lord requires seeing your weakness and need, but His power and provision.

As we’ll see next time (Exod. 14:1-4), the Lord specifically directed Moses to take Israel to a place where a large body of water was in front of them and the Egyptian army was bearing down behind them. They were trapped. Why would God do that? So that Israel would see their own utter weakness along with God’s power and provision when He parted the sea and delivered them from Pharaoh’s army.

So, they learned their lesson, right? In Exodus 15:22, after the miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea, Israel went three days into the wilderness and found no water. Surely they knew that if they trusted God, He could provide water, right? But instead they grumbled. They hadn’t yet learned to trust in the Lord. In chapter 16, the people complained about being in the wilderness with no food and threatened to return to Egypt. But God provided manna. In chapter 17, again they needed water. But rather than trusting the Lord who had already miraculously delivered them and provided water and food, they grumbled. Then (Exod. 17:8), Amalek fought against Israel.

Why were they having all these problems? Weren’t they God’s chosen people? Weren’t they the ones through whom God’s promise to Abraham and His purpose would be fulfilled? Wasn’t God leading them? Then why did He allow all of these problems? Because God’s way is to take His people on the scenic route because His purpose is to build a people who trust in Him for His glory. But we don’t trust Him as we should until we see our weakness and His faithful power and provision.

B. Trusting in the Lord requires remembering that He always keeps His promises.

We read (Exod. 13:19): “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones from here with you.’” I chuckle whenever I read that verse. You know how hectic it is to leave for a family camping trip. You have to pack your suitcases and get the car packed with all the camping gear. There’s always so much stuff! I wonder, “How am I going to get everything to fit into the car?”

So picture Moses getting ready to lead two million people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. I’m sure that their wagons didn’t have a lot of extra room. They’re just cinching down the pile of stuff when Moses says, “We forgot Joseph’s bones! We’ve got to make room for Joseph’s bones!” Actually, it was his mummy! With all of their household goods and kids and animals and food and water for the trip, they had to find room for Joseph’s bones! Why did Moses take Joseph’s bones? Genesis 50:24-25 tells us:

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.”

Carrying Joseph’s almost 400-year-old mummy back to Canaan was a visible proof that God always keeps His loving promises. Every time they broke camp and moved to a new location in the wilderness over those 40 years (at least 41 different camps, Num. 33:5-49), Moses had to load and unload Joseph’s bones! Perhaps some of the kids saw this old man loading and unloading that coffin and asked their parents, “Why is he doing that?” If the parents knew what was happening they would have replied, “Taking that coffin back to the Promised Land shows that God is keeping His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

You can’t trust someone who doesn’t keep his word. But if that person always keeps his word, you can trust that he will do it the next time. But remember, God doesn’t operate on our timetable! It was 400 years before Joseph’s bones made it out of Egypt! It would still be another 1,400 years before God sent the promised Savior. Now it’s been almost 2,000 years since the crucified and risen Savior ascended with the promise (Acts 1:11), “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” But because God has always kept His promises, you can trust that He will keep that one, too!

C. When we trust in the Lord, He gets the glory and we get the blessings.

The familiar Ephesians 2:8-9 makes this point: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” In its entirety, being saved from God’s judgment is a free gift of His grace (see, 1 Cor. 1:26-31). That way, He gets all the glory, which He alone deserves. But what do we get? We get the blessing of His salvation! We get every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3). When we trust in the Lord, He gets the glory and we get the blessings.

Conclusion

When God’s eternal Son came to this earth and took on human flesh, God led Him on “the scenic route.” It was the most difficult way imaginable, the way of the cross. When Jesus began to tell the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the Jewish leaders and be killed and raised up on the third day, they thought that He had lost it! Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him (Matt. 16:22)! But Jesus rebuked Peter (Matt. 16:23): “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

God’s way is “the scenic route.” If the route is long and hard, it’s so that you will learn more deeply to trust and glorify our gracious Lord!

Application Questions

  1. How would your life be different if you viewed your schedule from God’s “scenic route” perspective rather than from our culture’s efficient perspective?
  2. In 1956 five young, godly missionaries were martyred in Ecuador. It was seemingly an inefficient waste of potential. But why was God’s difficult way the best way?
  3. Some Pentecostal preachers claim that all trials are from the devil and that we need to rebuke him by faith. Why is this not biblical? How should we pray when trials come?
  4. Study the following Scriptures to see different ways God uses to teach us to depend more fully on Him: Exod. 2:11-15; 2 Cor. 1:8-10; 4:7-11; 12:7-10; 2 Tim. 4:9-18.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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