Trusting God in Life's Deep Water

Several weeks ago, I began a chronological reading of the Bible via the YouVersion Bible app for iPhone. It's been fun to see the grand story of Scripture materialize in this way. I highly recommend it, especially if you're not in the middle of a plan or study already.

Just a few days ago, I found myself in the thirteenth chapter of Exodus. By now, God has rained down upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians all manner of horrendous plagues that ought to have convinced any clear-headed man to "let God's people go!" But, as the historical narrative goes, Pharaoh's heart was "hardened" by both Pharaoh himself, and God, so that he would not relent.

In one climactic act, God through Moses and Aaron communicated to Pharaoh that He would strike down and kill the first born male of both man and beast, as both a sign of God's sovereignty and in judgment for Pharaoh's sin of unbelief (Exodus 11:4-5). In the midst of this horrific scene about to play out, God instructs the people of Israel to place the blood of an animal sacrifice upon the door posts of each home. In so doing, He would "passover" those homes, sparing all of those inside (Exodus 12). 

This powerful tale, of course, pre-figures what God would do for all of His people one day in the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ. I'm sure you've read this portion of the book of Exodus, and its counterpart, the crossing of the Red Sea by the nation of Israel after Pharaoh lets the people go (only to foolishly change his mind again, and ensure the wiping out of his army).

But, in the middle of all this action, two relatively obscure verses caught my attention that I could not remember from previous readings (Exodus 13:17-18). Let's take a look (you might consider grabbing a Bible and turning to a map of the region).

Why This Way?

Have you ever wondered why Israel took the so-called "Red Sea" route (there are a few potential routes that historians have identified)? Frankly, I always assumed that somehow they just got cornered up, and had no other choice. Or, maybe Moses failed his high school topography course. It turns out something much more profound led to the part of the Exodus story that Charlton Heston made famous.

In verses 17-18, we're told that it was God Himself who led the nation of Israel along this path that would necessitate a most unlikely chain of events, namely, the literal parting of deep of water so that some one million people could cross from one side to another on dry ground.

Given the reaction of the people when they find themselves cornered by the approaching Egyptian army, it can be deduced that this was not their idea of good military strategy on Moses' part. Already, having barely left the Egyptian zip code, they're ready to surrender, and go back into slavery (Exodus 14:11-12).

Of course, we know how the story ends, but still, the lingering question is: why did God choose this route? Wasn't their some other way?

Verses 17-18 make plain that there was in fact another, much more direct route (the Way of the Philistines along the Mediterranean) that Israel could have taken out of Egypt into the land of Canaan. But God, in his omniscience, knew that Israel would retreat (in their sin of unbelief) back to Egypt upon encountering the Philistine army.

God could have delivered Israel from the Philistines, but God apparently did not desire to simply deliver Israel from their troubles. Instead, God intended to teach, mold, and shape the nation through a display of His omnipotence (power). This would benefit not only Israel at the time, but would provide for all of us today a story that continues to serve as a backdrop for our own struggles, trials, and tribulations.

More Than a Story

The story of the Exodus, powerful as it is, isn't intended to be a cute Sunday school story, or network television special. The Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, in all its detail, is intended to provide for us the historical account of how God delivered His people from literal, physical enslavement to an evil ruler, and illustrates how He would ultimately, and sovereignly, lead all of His people out of enslavement to sin and death.

In the middle of all this, verses 17-18 provide for us a basis for trust in God when the literal story of our own lives take twists and turns that seem unlikely, irrational, painful, and even unacceptable to our finite, limited vision and wisdom (Isaiah 55:8; 1 Corinthians 1:25; 3:19). Israel could not have known what God knew. They could not have accomplished what God accomplished.

John Piper insightfully wrote that on any given day of your life, God may be doing 10,000 things in your story of which you will never be aware (at least, not until eternity). One of the things we learn from Exodus 13:17-18 is that God is sometimes leading us down the road less traveled because of His intimate awareness of our weakness, fear, anxiety, and sinful proclivities. 

For Israel, this meant being led into a place of certain and impending doom in order that their unbelief might be exposed, and God's sovereignty might be put on glorious display.

Reading For All It's Worth

As we read these Old Testament historical narratives, the trick for us is to not allow the details to be assumed, so that we simply shrug our shoulders and walk away unaffected. Instead, we must search out how the story points us to Christ, and the work He accomplished for us on the cross (Luke 24:27). 

A word of caution: We should be careful to not extrapolate applications not intended by the text. Not everything that applied to Old Testament Israel applies to us today (and, we can be grateful for that!). 

That said, here are some questions to consider when God appears to be leading you along the road less traveled:

1) How does the story of Israel's exodus help me understand what God is doing in my life, or in my family?

2) How does this encourage me to exercise trust in God when the facts and circumstances of life appear to dictate otherwise?

3) Can I identify places in life where God delivered me, sustained me, and showed His faithfulness, so that I can trust Him today?

4) In the midst of my own trials, where am I prone to exercise unbelief?