After leaving Egypt, going south on the desert road, they set up camp at Etham, on the edge of civilization. But just after the last tent peg was driven in the ground, God said to Moses in Exodus 14:2, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea…” Does anyone else hate turning around? God had them reverse course, and set up camp in a different place. Take note of where – between Migdol and the sea. In the Hebrew, Migdol means tower, elevated stage, or raised bed. It could have been a large cliff, watchtower, or walled city. Following the cloud, the Bible says, “…so the Israelites did this.” (Exodus 14:4) They set up camp with the beach on one side, and Migdol on the other.
Why the change of direction? Pharaoh’s Gestapo was spying on Israel as they traveled. Watching them spin around in the wilderness, they looked confused. They were shocked to see them set up camp, trapped by the sea. Here’s what God said to Moses in Exodus 14:3, “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”
After all the plagues, Pharaoh’s stubborn, arrogant heart still hated the Hebrews. God knew while Pharaoh licked his wounds, he couldn’t wait for a chance to unleash his army, like a pack of rabid wolves. The sudden change in direction was part of God’s big plan to make the Israelites appear confused and trapped, like lost puppies in a dark alleyway.
Notice again Exodus 14:4, “…But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” This is repeated in Exodus 14:18, “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
Here’s the big reason God orchestrated this crisis. He wanted to gain glory over Pharaoh so everyone would know he alone is Lord. We call people who crave more fame “glory hounds.” We know them as self-obsessed, unhappy people. But why would a loving God want more glory?
For those who play electric guitar, their favorite knob is the gain. When the gain is amped, their instrument stands out above the rest. That’s why lead guitarists have gain pedals. Flooring the pedal, the song crescendos, taking it to another level. God’s glory is on display all around us in the things he has made – waterfalls, canyons, stars, and sky. But, there are certain times when he will turn up the gain for us. When there’s a breakthrough, and God floors the gain for his glory, it’s always an act of love to bless us as we journey through life. When his glory is magnified worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, temptation, idolatry, and discouragement get minimized. Enthralled with God’s majesty and power, we’re happier and more at rest.
Though Israel couldn’t see it, this crisis was a gift, an unforgettable, historical moment they could always point to and celebrate for generations to come. Hebrew professor and scholar John Bright, in his book A History of Israel, writes, “Israel remembered the exodus for all time to come as the constitutive event that had called her into being as a people. It stood at the center of her faith from the beginning onward…A belief so ancient and so entrenched will admit of no explanation save that Israel actually escaped from Egypt to the accompaniment of events so stupendous that they were impressed forever on her memory.”