James D. Slopsema is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:
But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea . . .
The Lord had devastated the land of Egypt with ten terrible plagues. Finally the hard-hearted Pharaoh was compelled to release God’s people from their slavery.
God was very careful, however, as He led the church to the land of promise. He did not lead Israel along the most direct route to Canaan. That would have ended in disaster. God led His people rather in a most indirect, roundabout way that would take years to travel. But this was necessary to ensure Israel’s possession of the land of promise.
How utterly foolish and unnecessary this must all have appeared to Israel. Yet, how infinitely wise is the Lord our God.
God is still leading His church to Canaan. And He still is leading her in a most indirect, roundabout way that often appears unnecessary and even, perhaps, somewhat foolish. Were we in the lead, we would, no doubt, take the most direct path. But then we would never reach Canaan’s shores.
How thankful we can be that God in His wisdom is leading us.
And He will be leading us in this new year.
He will be leading us in His wisdom to Canaan.
Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years.
But God had not forgotten His covenant with Abraham. He had promised to Abraham and his seed the land of Canaan. In faithfulness to His covenant God had delivered Israel from their slavery. And now He was bringing Israel to the promised land where He would live with them and shower them with all His covenant blessings.
This is a picture of the work of God in every age.
Both Abraham and Israel understood full well that the earthly Canaan which God promised them was not the final fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. The earthly Canaan was only a picture of the heavenly Canaan, where Abraham and his seed would one day dwell with God in the perfection of His covenant. And the true spiritual seed in Israel looked in hope for this better Canaan.
To that higher, heavenly Canaan God leads all those who are the true seed of Abraham.
The true seed of the covenant are the elect of every age. In the Old Testament this seed was found almost exclusively among the natural descendants of Abraham. In the New Testament this seed is found in every tribe, tongue, and nation under heaven. They can be identified by the faith God has given them in Jesus Christ.
To the heavenly Canaan God leads all the true seed of the covenant. Our present life as believers is really a spiritual journey. We have been delivered from the spiritual slavery of sin. God is leading us to Canaan. Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan was merely a type and picture of this higher, spiritual journey.
To the heavenly Canaan the Lord our God will also be leading us in this new year.
To enter into Canaan, God’s covenant people must fight and overcome their enemies.
This certainly was true with respect to the people of Israel in the Old Testament. The land of promise was inhabited by the Canaanites. For Israel to possess the land required that the Canaanites be destroyed in battle. Yes, God would lead Israel in battle and would give them the victory; for He had promised them the land of Canaan. But to gain the land, Israel must fight and overcome.
In like manner the church of every age can enter into the heavenly Canaan only after she has fought and overcome the enemy.
The great enemy of the church is the power of darkness, the devil and his host along with the world of the ungodly. They do not possess the heavenly Canaan as the Canaanites did the earthly Canaan in the Old Testament. Yet they do stand over against us and oppose us as we travel to Canaan. They seek to lead us far away from God, far into the paths of sin so that we never reach the heavenly Canaan.
Also in this new year we can expect the attacks of the powers of darkness. We and our children will be tempted in thousands of different ways this year to forsake the Lord our God and to walk in darkness. These temptations will be very deceptive and powerful.
As so we must fight. We must fight to overcome the alluring temptations of the world. We must fight to remain faithful to the Lord our God. We must fight to keep our feet on the path of righteousness, which alone will lead us to Canaan’s shores.
We must fight again also in this new year, even as we have fought in years gone by.
As God’s people face their enemies on the way to Canaan, the victory is assured.
Certainly Israel’s victory over the Canaanites was assured.
Israel, of course, could not overcome the Canaanites in her own strength. She had been a slave nation for the past 400 years. She had no military strength of her own.
Israel could overcome her enemies only in the strength of the Lord. The Lord must lead her into battle. The Lord must equip and strengthen her. The Lord must destroy the enemy with His great wonders of grace.
And this is what the Lord had promised Israel. Had He not for the sake of Israel just destroyed the world power of the day with ten terrible plagues?
Victory over the enemy, therefore, was a matter of faith. All Israel had to do was to cling by faith to the Lord’s promise of victory. By faith in God’s promise she would have the courage to engage the enemy in battle. By faith in God she would be strengthened to fight valiantly. By faith she would overcome.
In like manner is the victory also ours over the powers of darkness.
Our victory over the devil and his hosts is assured in Jesus Christ. Jesus has secured our inheritance in the heavenly Canaan through His suffering and death at the cross. And He has also promised to lead us to our inheritance, in the power of the cross. The powers of darkness may strive to keep denying us what is ours in Jesus Christ. But Christ will lead us in battle against our foes. He will preserve us in the face of every temptation. He will lead us in the way of righteousness.
Victory over our spiritual enemies therefore is merely a matter of faith. Clinging to Jesus Christ by faith we receive the power of the cross to triumph over our enemies. By faith in Jesus Christ we go from victory to victory. We need not fear the battle before us. All is safe and secure in Jesus.
Also in this new year we can expect to march from victory to victory by faith in our Lord.
God led Israel to Canaan the roundabout way.
The shortest way to Canaan was in a northeasterly direction from Egypt through the land of the Philistines. This was about a hundred-mile journey that would have brought Israel to the borders of Canaan in a matter of weeks. But God led Israel in a southeasterly, direction through the wilderness of the Red Sea, requiring Israel to cross the Red Sea and travel through the terrible wilderness of Sinai.
God did this “lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.”
Had the Lord led Israel to Canaan on the most direct route, Israel would most certainly have had to defend herself against the Philistines.
But Israel’s faith was not strong enough at this time to confront and overcome the Philistines.
The Philistines were a very warlike people. Even the great power of Egypt had not been able to bring the Philistines under control. Should Israel face the warlike Philistines at this time in her history, she would have in weakness of faith cowered in fear. She would have changed her mind about entering Canaan and would have fled back to Egypt to her slavery.
And so the Lord led Israel the roundabout way through the great wilderness. In the wilderness He would place Israel in situations that would not overcome her in her weakness of faith. Through many trials and afflictions and over many years, He would slowly strengthen her in her faith, so that eventually she could face the inhabitants of the land of Canaan and overcome them in the Lord.
In like manner does the Lord also lead us.
Our faith is not strong enough to withstand every trial and temptation. There are certain situations and circumstances that are too great for us, and would overwhelm us. There are battles for which we are not yet ready, which at this point would mean horrible defeat.
And so the Lord is very careful as He leads us to the heavenly Canaan.
His providential leading may at times puzzle us. Were we in charge of the course of our life, our wisdom would often dictate another direction.
However, the Lord is leading us with a wisdom that is infinitely greater than ours. In His great wisdom He controls the course and circumstances of our life so that we are never overcome by the enemy. He brings us again and again into battle with the powers of darkness. We are tempted on every hand. But the Lord will never allow us to be tempted above what we are able. In all the temptations of life, God always provide a way of escape. Also, through the trials and temptations into which the Lord leads us now, He is strengthening our faith for greater battles to come.
But always God is leading us infallibly to the heavenly Canaan where His covenant with us and all of Abraham’s seed will be perfected.
In this way He will also lead us again in this new year!
Let us commit our way unto the Lord!