Scripture: Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.'” Exodus 14:1-3 ESV
Observation: While scholars debate the geographic movement of Israel based on the above ancient and extinct cities’ proposed locations, one matter is irrefutable: Yahweh’s intentions. As verse 3 indicates, Pharaoh will misjudge his scouts’ report and arrogantly assume that Israel’s God has abandoned them in their missteps to a dead-end trail, seemingly entrapped by marsh, sea, and desert. But God will soon reveal to Pharoah and Egypt his glory and that he is Yahweh: the I AM of Israel (14:4).
Takeaway: Turn back—all of us encounter moments in our lives when it looks like we are heading in the right direction, only to hear God tell us to turn back. Sometimes, as in the above story, it has nothing to do with our missteps. God may be setting the stage to reveal his glory, to show others that he is the one who guides us even when our change of plans makes no sense. Still, other times, what looks like the safest, most logical path forward may have more to do with us making sin-marred choices. Thus, it is a matter of repentance.
Interestingly, the biblical term “repentance” is derived from nomadic origin. When wandering in a desert (that looks all the same), nomads could not risk making a miscalculated course correction and running out of water. Instead, the wise ones would trace their steps back to their starting point and then recalibrate. Similarly, if we try to fix ourselves when heading in the wrong direction, we will further wander and risk perishing. So even when it doesn’t make sense, when God speaks to us (through his Word, prayer, and his community of believers) and tells us to turn back, we would do well to obey. And we can rest assured that what may seem like a waste of time and effort is accomplishing his purposes: to glorify his name, sanctify us, and guide us safely home to the place his Son has prepared for us.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you are sovereign over all your creation and that through the gift of your Holy Spirit, when we reach dead ends, an escape route remains. Would you please help us to heed the Holy Spirit’s direction when told to turn back, that we might persevere and bring you glory? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling