L-rd, Are You Sure This Is Your Leading?
This portion finds the Israelites finally out of Egypt. After the 400 years of slavery, they are finally free to travel to their land—land flowing with milk and honey. They are traveling according to the L-rd's leading—pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. What was the result of the
L-rd's leading? In the short-term view, it yielded dismal results:
1. They took a roundabout route. Instead of using the direct route—from Goshen due east to Canaan (about 7 days' travel), the L-rd led them in a semi-circle: first due south, then east, then north (40 days' travel). His reason? The direct route was heavily guarded by a series of Egyptian forts and the L-rd knew that they were not ready to do battle with the Philistines.
2. They were confronted by Pharaoh, breathing down their necks. Pharaoh, who is symbolic of Satan, couldn't accept that his source of free labor was gone. He collected his army and chased after them. Israel found itself surrounded by the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army.
3. They ran into all sorts of privation—heat, lack of water, lack of meat, etc. The land of Goshen where they had lived was a fertile country, with plenty of water from the Nile, and a good supply of food. It was the most productive part of Egypt (Genesis 47:6). We can see why the Israelites would have a hard time adjusting to the desert.
Why did the L-rd lead them into these experiences? Sometimes we think that if the decision were up to us, we would have made different decisions. As Scriptures tell us, “The L-rd's ways are not like our ways," (Isaiah 55: 8-9). For one thing, the L-rd usually leads us with long-range results in mind. This is especially true here.
The Israelites were shaped by their pagan environment in Egypt. In order for them to come into the land of Canaan and occupy it, they needed to have those pagan values flushed out of them. They would need to learn how to follow the L-rd in the desert, so that they could follow Him in combat in Canaan.
We get so incredibly impatient with the L-rd sometimes. We examine events in our lives and can't understand why the L-rd leads us in a particular way. We like to give the L-rd advice on how to do His job; or else, take over completely. We would be wise to stop and remember the words of Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am G-d" and meditate on the words of the song in this passage: “Who among the gods is like You, O L-rd? Who is like You—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).