News and Updates
Escape from Egypt
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13.17-22)
Pharaoh had enough of the plagues and he finally let the Israelites go. “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.’ The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. ‘For otherwise,’ they said, ‘we will all die!’” (12.31-33)
The long cast curse finally came to an end and the painful yearning and prayer seemed ultimately answered. The strong fortress of Pharaoh collapsed and the formidable hurdle was dismantled and fell. The Israelites must now have felt relieved, happy and grateful. So they started packing, preparing for the departure. The sentiment of relief and joy was, however, mingled with a sense of uncertainty, worry and fear. “What if Pharaoh should change his mind?” You see, that was not unprecedented. After all, Pharaoh had changed his mind five times before. “How do we know that he will not change his mind again? When that happens, bad or even worse things would come up.” The Israelites had a point and they started packing, not taking time though, but hastily and hurriedly, not without a sense of caution or even worry.
Sometimes misfortune is a blessing in disguise; could a blessing somehow be misfortune? Wisdom like this is reminds us not to take our moment — glory or loss as the totality of life. In short, life is bigger than any moment of rise or fall, glory or shame. In fact, if we see closely, we glimpse the possibility of fall in the rise, and shame in the glory. If we see only the good and the success, we will be threatened when bad things happen. If we see only the bad, we can hardly walk, let alone survive. Such was the story of the Israelites who were about to leave Egypt after all the great things done by the Lord. Which way to go? The shorter route? “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter … So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.” (13.17-18)
Or the winding route through the wilderness? Do we therefore expect that this route would strengthen their faith?
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians?’ It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert! (14.10-12)
The Israelites’ enemy was not Pharaoh and the Egyptians behind them, it was among them — the heart of disbelief. The two routes revealed this enemy that stopped them from believing the Lord and journeying to the promise land. If they travelled on an express way, they complained and regretted when challenges came. Now they took a detour and were confronted with challenges, they also complained. In fact, the enemy emerged even when they finally settled in the Promised Land.
It was not where they were and what route they took, their enemy was among them — the heart of unbelief. I wonder what this escape from Egypt should mean anything to us. We have been in situations like the Israelites, either being pushed or challenged by crises, seeking the ways to the Promised Land.
Which way to go? Where and what is our enemy? Does a smooth path always mean God’s approval? Maybe, maybe not. Does a rough journey necessarily render disapproval of God? Maybe, maybe not. What if we, after travelling a while on the smooth path, run into challenges? Do we complain like the Israelites? When we encounter crises one after the other, do we complain like the Israelites? What and where is our enemy?
It is not where we are and what route we took, our enemy is among ourselves, the heart of unbelief. For the Israelites, their enemy emerged even when they finally settled in the Promised Land. I have seen people travelling on smooth path and settle down nicely. But that was only the beginning of a decline or fall. I have seen people living a life that has nothing but complaint, malice, and anguish. Of course, I have seen people like Paul who are content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. They can do all things through Him who gives strength. (Philippians 4.12-13)
God guided the Israelites’ way by pillars of cloud and fire. So it was not the route they took and place they were. That they attended to the presence and guidance of the Lord was what really mattered. 2016 comes in with challenges in many forms. There will be ups and downs, journeys of smooth path and of wilderness. May we attend to the presence and guidance of God in Christ who journeys with us with love, may the Holy Spirit pray for us with unspeakable sigh.
Let us give thanks to God
Let us pray to God