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Turning back; going forward

Exodus 14:1
Then the Lord said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to TURN BACK and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.”

Exodus 14:15
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to GO FORWARD. 16 But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. 

I have been stuck in the book of Exodus lately; particularly in chapter 14.  Many are probably familiar with this chapter… It’s the moment when Pharaoh FINALLY agrees to free God’s people. & So immediately, they do the logical thing… they go. They leave.  & Quickly at that.  But then, God calls them to do something interesting…  He calls them to take the long way out.  Not the short cut, the straight shot or quickest route, but instead the longer, more complicated path.  Exodus 14:2 specifically says, “Tell the Israelites to TURN BACK…”

That’s odd. 

Shouldn’t God be calling them to GO FORWARD? To move FORWARD into  freedom? FORWARD to the promise land? FORWARD toward liberation?

Now fast forward to verse 15.  They are standing in front of the Red Sea; a barrier to freedom, to the promise land. Pharaoh and his army have changed their minds, are pursuing the Israelites and gaining quickly.  & What is God’s command to them in this moment? Verse 15: “Tell the Israelites to GO FORWARD…”

Again, odd.

Now would be the time to tell the people to “GO BACK.” Get out of here, change plans. Find a different route. But no… God says, “GO FORWARD.” Go forward INTO the barrier, the wall, the path that seems impossible… because I will make a way. & Sure enough God does.  God makes a way through their barrier, the Red Sea. 

The journey toward liberation & trust is complicated.  Far more complicated than we would prefer it to be. 

God’s people had a whole lot of trusting, developing, reshaping, & learning to be had.  & Oh how this is the same for me today.  I want the straight shot, the quickest route, the one with the least resistance, complications, & conflict.  I deeply desire the freedom, grace, liberation, & life God offers but so often run from the path that calls me to “TURN BACK.” To address the “Pharaohs” in my life that are keeping me from fully trusting & living in the promise land God has placed before me.

I run from (really I avidly go out of my way to avoid) the paths that cause me to question God’s guidance & GPS skills.  The path that feels as though I am lost or confused or stuck in a place that is forcing me to ask some pivotal questions…

Will I or won’t I… trust in the path God has called me to? 

Will I or won’t I… trust in God’s plans over my preference, Gods ways over my expectations, & God’s directing over my well-intentioned strategies?

& Oh how I crumble in the moments when God calls me to “MOVE FORWARD” through a very clear and obvious barrier; my “Red Sea” so to speak.  I stare at the impossible & question what on Earth God is thinking.  But, oh how God proves his love, grace, mercy, and power far surpass mine… every. time. 

See, the great irony in all of this is how God always had a plan.  A plan that went above and beyond what Moses or the people knew.  A plan that involved a promise land & parting a massive sea when God’s people didn’t believe they would ever be free.  Also, there was a method to God’s “madness.”  & I need to remember that.  Especially when I feel as though I am “turning back” when I should “move forward” or am “moving forward” when I think I should be “turning back.” 

The wandering not only developed the people but it confused their enemy; their oppressor (vs.3).  God was working upstream.  There was a method to the madness.  & Almost always that method is for the betterment & liberation of OTHERS.  See, the truth is, I like to make my own way.  A good, safe, comfortable way.  A way that benefits me, those I love deeply, & keeps all of us really, really… comfortable.  But see, God’s way is messier, less comfortable & far more fulfilling than that… 

God’s way forces courage out of the timid, strength out of the weak, & leadership from the least likely.

& So, my prayer is that we not run from times in life when we need to “turn back” & deal with our pharaohs & trust in God’s path toward restoration.  But also that we not cower in moments when we need to “move forward” & be brave & strong & courageous in facing the impossible… & to have the discernment to know the difference between the two.

Most of us tend to run from this kind of tension. This kind of wrestling, struggling, and then ultimately faith in God. The journey to freedom, toward liberation, is never an easy one. It calls for deserts & detours & wilderness experiences that almost make us lose our mind. But life in the promise land is life lived in freedom. Life lived with peace, trust, confidence, & the type of purpose and focus that only comes from traveling the road most run from. It is developed in the “turning back & going forward.” & Is birthed out of the the work & refining done in-between the two.

Creator God,

Help us to not dwell in what’s behind, fear what lies ahead, but instead live in what’s before us TODAY.  Give us the strength, courage, healing, focus, & discernment needed to know when to “go back” & when to “move forward.”   

Amen.

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