What a majestic scene! An entire nation enslaved for 400 years on the move. This tender scene shows a delicate people, fragile and broken, led by a caring and powerful God. God had the foresight to recognize that the people were fragile – a war certainly would have driven them back to the only homes they had known. What did slaves know about waging war?
Then, in an affectionate twist, the people that had long ago forgotten God, remembered Joseph, who brought them to Egypt to save them from a famine 400 years earlier. They remember the promise they had made to bring Joseph’s bones out of Egypt when the nation relocated.
Then, in a show of power and security, God provided a pillar of cloud to lead them by day and a pillar of fire to lead them by night. Day and night, God never left them. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been to leave everything behind, regardless of how dreadful the things they left, and to wander into an unknown, led by a God they had forgotten and had only recently become reacquainted with. But that’s God’s nature, isn’t it? To call us into the great unknown, terrifying and unfamiliar, yet with such a strong presence, it becomes the adventure of a lifetime!
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.