Last week we commenced a new sermon series based on the book of ‘Numbers’. The title comes from the Greek and Latin versions of the Hebrew Bible and refers to the census in chapters 1 to 4 and 26. I prefer the Hebrew title, “In the wilderness” (taken from the first verse of the book) because the book records the journey of God’s people in the wilderness from Mt. Sinai right to within sight of the Promised Land on the east bank of the Jordan River.

Life wasn’t easy in the wilderness as you can well imagine and when Numbers begins, they’ve been in the wilderness for slightly over a year since their miraculous exodus from Egypt. No problems there except for the fact they could’ve taken a more direct, shorter, coastal route to the Promised Land, which would’ve taken 3 weeks or so. Instead, God leads his people southeast toward the Red Sea! Why did God do this?

Seems inefficient, pointless but it wasn’t as we read in Exodus 13:17-18, “It so happened that after Pharaoh released the people, God didn’t lead them by the road through the land of the Philistines, which was the shortest route, for God thought, ‘If the people encounter war, they’ll change their minds and go back to Egypt’.So God led the people on the wilderness road, looping around to the Red Sea…”. In other words, God took the people of Israel the long way on purpose!  

God’s reason for doing this unfolds as we read Exodus and Leviticus. He was essentially ‘discipling’ his people. His people had been in slavery for hundreds of years. Bondage thinking and lifestyle were a way of life for the Israelites. They may be out of Egypt but Egypt was not out of them. For this to happen, they needed to encounter God, his truths and ways. The Promised Land brought with it not only great opportunities but also significant challenges. They had to be prepared first before they could thrive and flourish as a young independent nation in order to be a blessing to the nations. 

If you are in the wilderness and struggling with why God is taking you the long way round, what might he be working on in your life? Whatever it is, he is preparing you for what’s ahead. God ways are not always about what’s most efficient but what is most effective. They are about what we need rather than what we want. The shortest way can sometimes be the longer way and the longest way can sometimes be the shorter way! Detours of life are not so bad if you remember that God’s way is perfect (Ps 18:30).

Have a fruitful week!

Mark