In John Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, he writes about the shocking death of young Chris McCandless. He came from a well to do family and graduated with honors from Emory University. His parents generously promised to pay for law school. But in the summer of 1990, fresh out of college, he left it all behind. Wanting to invent a new life for himself, he changed his name and dropped out of sight. This intelligent but stubborn, idealistic young man, craving a personal, transcendent experience, sold his possessions and set out for the Alaskan wilderness alone. In April of 1992, with no one to guide him, and no supplies but an old .22 rifle, he wandered into the wilderness of Alaska’s Mt. McKinley. Sadly, his dead body was found, just four months later by a group of hunters.
Setting out from Egypt, God led Israel in a surprising direction. Hebrew scholar Umberto Cassuto, in his commentary on Exodus, highlights the three possible routes to Canaan. The quickest was “the way of the sea,” running along the Mediterranean coast. The Egyptians took this speedy thoroughfare when deployments of troops were needed in the north. Taking the fastest route would have led the Hebrew slaves into the waiting arms of their enemies. The second option, mentioned in Exodus 13:17, was the “road through Philistine country.” While shorter, it would have brought Israel to the Promised Land too soon. They were in no shape at this time for military conquest. The Bible says in Exodus 13:18, “So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.” If we could all do a Google maps of Egypt, the Hebrews needed to go northeast, but God sent them due south, by the desert road.
Exodus 13:19 says, “Moses took the bones of Joseph…” More than a side-note, carrying the bones of their patriarch had meaningful symbolism. It was Joseph’s leadership that first brought them to Egypt during a horrible famine. They were keeping an ancient promise made to Joseph, but it also represented the closing of a chapter. The long, uncertain period of Egyptian bondage was finally over. Nothing was left behind.
Should they ever doubt their chosen route, leading the way ahead was a pillar of cloud, a visual manifestation of God’s presence. If today, you and I traveled to Egypt to trek through the Arabian desert to retrace the path of the exodus, an experienced guide would be a must. The God who designed and created this very wilderness region was now moving before them, showing the way to go. So often we hear of the “wilderness wanderings,” but this is a misnomer. The Lord led them on their way day and night. Exodus 13:22 says, “Neither the pillar of cloud by day no the pillar of fie by night left its place in front of the people.”
In our wilderness journey, through a sometimes wild, unpredictable, crazy world, we don’t have to go alone. The same light that led Israel will lead us – Jesus the light of the world. Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In dark times we can walk in the light of life. It may seem he’s taking us in the opposite direction, but he knows best. The fastest way can be the longest, for if we’re not ready when we arrive at the battle, we’ll turn back and have to start all over again. So, let’s take our eyes off our circumstances, fears, and problems and focus on the one who cares and goes before us.