When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” (Exodus 13.17) So the children of Israel head South, not East. Why? Later on God is going to be displeased with the same group for not having the faith to head into the land based on the report of ten spies. It seems like their lack of faith was inevitable, so why not just let them get started with learning their lesson immediately?
A quick assumption is because God wanted to simulate baptism in the Red Sea. That He also wanted to give them the commandments and laws prior to giving them the land or let them see the armies of Pharaoh defeated by His Almighty Nostrils (see the “Song of Moses” in Exodus 15).
Can I offer instead, that God wanted to build their faith? They were not supposed to do the fighting anyway. By drowning in the sea, by hornets, by hail, whatever… God did the fighting, and they needed to see what God was going to be doing for them. Let’s apply this to our lives.
God has promised a Holy Land to the Christian, but the path is not direct. We are left on this Earth, wandering through a spiritual battlefield. The lessons that we learn are just as important as what the Israelites were learning: God will provide. The assurance of a promised land is real. Heaven awaits! But, let us get thirsty, let some problem of life arise, and see just how easy it is to let our faith be tested.
Some days it is easy to be a Christian. Everything is going your way and you remember to pray; you remember to give thanks; you remember to tell others about a Savior. Then there are days when God feels so far away. We look at each other and maybe think we have all been forgotten. Those are the moments it is so hard to remember that God’s grace is sufficient.
It is for our own strength that our faith is exercised. Why is the path through the valley of the shadow of death? Where we can long for the mountaintop ahead. God is always near. Nothing will take us out of His hand. Hold on, press on, He hears every cry. We have only to be silent, He will fight this for us.