“Then the angel of God. Who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.”
– Exodus 14:19-20
In our text, the Israelites had just left Egypt after centuries of bondage. They were reluctantly freed by Pharaoh after he battled with God through God’s servant Moses. Pharaoh mistakenly battled with God and guest what? Pharaoh lost and lost big, there were the plagues of: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locust, darkness, and the most devastating of all plagues, the plague on the firstborn male, human or animal. Pharaoh initially refused to let the Hebrew people leave Egypt, then he said he would do so but lied and didn’t let the Israelites go. God being a forgiving God even forgave Pharaoh his lie but when Pharaoh lied a 2nd and 3rd time, God punished him by intensifying the focus of the plagues on Pharaoh, his officials, and the Egyptian people while leaving the Israelites free from there impact. Pharaoh hadn’t heard the saying that was turned into a play in the 1980s, “Your Arms Are Too Short to Box with God.” You have the advantage of time, something Pharaoh didn’t have, thus you should know that whenever humans battle with God, humans will certainly lose.
The direction the Israelites took when they left Egypt was set by God and they were obedient to it. Then God told Moses to have them do something that the Israelites thought didn’t make sense, God told Moses to have the Israelites set up camp near the sea even though Pharaoh’s army was in hot pursuit. In spite of their lack of understanding, these Hebrews did what Moses instructed them to do, however, you can be sure there was plenty of grumbling. By changing their direction, no longer running from Pharaoh but camping and waiting for him, the Israelites made it possible for God to actualize more of God’s plan. God’s angel moved from the front of them where the angel had been leading them out of Egypt and away from their former lives; also the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and went behind them. The movement of both signaled there was no ambivalence on God’s part, God was still leading them but now from behind. The movement of the angel and cloud signaled that God was doing something different and powerful, God was instituting a directional shift to further God’s plan for the Israelites. Think about what had taken place in the text. God had allowed God’s angel and cloud to lead the Israelites giving them a clear direction to follow both by day and night leaving nothing to chance. The people couldn’t say, “we didn’t know which way to go and that is why we are here when God wanted us there.” God recognized their potential for excuses and eliminated them before they could be uttered by giving them all the direction they would need from the angel and cloud. God, like every parent, knows that excuses are a part of their children’s verbal lexicon and was prepared to eliminate their potential excuses. God knew even when the Israelites were wandering in the dessert, their direction mattered; it mattered much more so than getting from point A to point B because the Israelites were following the Will of the One who orders steps.
People receive directions from lots of different sources – internally your direction comes from your hopes, your dreams, and your fears while externally your direction comes from your desire to “keep up with the Joneses” as that saying goes causing you to want to appear to be as successful as others. Your direction comes from the pressure you feel to look in a manner consistent with your position, your education, and your fame or notoriety. Your direction comes from your desire to have certain material things like houses, cars, vacations, toys or the latest iphone. People will tell you that the end justifies the means so you shouldn’t get bogged down in the details of how you do things as long as you accomplish your goal. But God cares about the details because some things are contrary to God’s will for your life and your ministry. Following God’s direction is essential if you want a God-centered outcome, one where you are at peace and have confidence in your goal even when circumstances suggest otherwise. Unfortunately, many people, including Christians, receive their direction from external sources, this is calamitous because to do so is contrary to what God would have Christians do.
God wants you to follow God’s direction in order to achieve God-centered outcomes in all that you do. Your lives should not be about taking shortcuts to achieve anything because to do so is to rob yourself of the blessings that God has in store for you. Sometimes you are on one path and Jesus says to you get off that path because He want to take you to the next spiritual level. To get off the path that is known can be confusing, even scary as it was for the Israelites in the text. Yet they followed God’s directional shift nonetheless and their reward wasn’t the immediate blessing many of them wanted or expected. Instead what they got was the Red Sea on one side of them and the mighty Egyptian army on the other side which threw them into panic mode. You know that because in v. 11 the Israelites asked Moses why he had brought them into the dessert to die? People have always expected God to quickly bless them before requiring anything of them. You may not be as bold, or as direct, in your complaints when God through Jesus Christ requires you to make a directional shift in your life as the Israelites were, but you, too, will complain and make such shifts reluctantly. When faced with directional shifts many of you think, “as bad as things may be, at least the bad is familiar so why should I change directions and go into the unknown?” Making such shifts are hard, not even all the modern technology at your disposal erases the spiritual demand to follow God’s direction. God says, don’t focus on your fears or your doubts or your inabilities but rather trust Me and know that I will take care of you. Growing spiritually is still very low tech, you still need to be faithful and obedient in order to grow spiritually. God is calling for a directional shift in your life as God called for a directional shift in the life of the Israelites. You don’t have to do it by yourself, God sent Jesus and the Holy Spirit to help you answer God’s call and make the needed directional shift.