Have you ever had one of those moments when the Holy Spirit stretches out His big highlighter and causes the words to just jump out of the Bible? I had one of those recently while reading a children’s Bible story book to my son.
When the Hebrews left Egypt, God send them through the desert. You can read it for yourself in Exodus 14. I remember studying this in graduate school—how there were shorter, more direct paths to the Promised Land. God sent them southeast when their destination was northeast. He sent them toward the Red Sea, for which they had no boats, when they could have walked across that little spit of land that is now the Suez Canal. He intentionally put them ‘between a rock and a hard place’. (This idiom apparently comes from a Greek myth, but nobody knows for sure. I tried to look it up.) So why would God do that? And what does it mean for me?
1. It brought Him greater glory—both among the Hebrew people and among the nations. “I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (Ex 14:4). Sure, He’d already sent ten plagues and miraculously allowed millions of people to just walk right out of slavery, but that wasn’t enough. They needed to see and experience His direct deliverance. That meant a trip through the desert first. The desert preceded the Red Sea: the dryness preceded the trial, and the trial produced the glory.
2. With God, it’s rarely about the destination. God’s primary purpose was not “to get to the other side.” This dramatic deliverance should have helped the Hebrews trust Him later, like when there was no food or when the spies came back with a discouraging report. It didn’t work, but that was the people’s problem–not God’s.
3. God ensured that it would be a LONG time before Egyptians could chase them again because Pharaoh had to re-build his whole army. The Hebrews couldn’t see this at first. All they saw was the sea and the army (the rock and the hard place).
Now what does all this mean for me?
It means that God sometimes directs me (and you) through something difficult on purpose. The trials, the challenges, the ‘dry spells’ have purpose. His goals (our spiritual maturity and His glory) are not the same as our goals (finishing, accomplishing, succeeding, relaxing, or something similarly self-aggrandizing).
Just like Jesus’ time in the wilderness, those dry places in our lives refocus and test us. The Hebrews focused on the test: What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? . . . For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness (Ex 14:11-12). They blamed Moses and saw only the ‘common sense’ outcome, which would have been tragic. Jesus, on the other hand, remained “full of the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1). Even when Satan directly and specifically tests Him, His focus on His Father never wavers.
“A saint doesn’t know the joy of the Lord in spite of tribulation, but because of it.” –Oswald Chambers (MUFHH)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. –James 1:2-4
This is the pattern for me to follow. Knowing that the struggles and the trials have purpose makes them easier to endure, but I still tend to dwell on the circumstances. He calls me to maintain my focus on Him at the same time. I need to think, “He brought me to this place so that He could deliver me.” In His deliverance, I will find greater joy–joy that I could never know without this trial. And He receives greater glory–glory that I would not be able to offer Him without this same trial.