As I sat down to write this afternoon, my entire being felt like a chaotic jumble of Christmas tree lights. Let me explain for those who are incredibly organized: there are some of us who, no matter how neatly we wound last year’s Christmas tree lights before putting them into storage, will open boxes this holiday season and find mysterious squirrels have somehow made nests of our strings of lights. Our hot chocolate will grow cold as we wrestle to unwind them, and midway through the fiasco we may just chunk them over the fence into the neighbor’s yard and go buy new ones. What began full of Christmas cheer or spousal bribery to feign happiness will end in us all deserving coal come the 25th of December.
I can imagine that this feeling of chaos, unsettledness, and a mixture of excitement and nervousness is universal just as the desire to feel settled and centered within ourselves is also universal. I can imagine that on the night of Israel’s emancipation there was an atmosphere of chaos as an entire nation plundered and fled in mass exodus. It is within this place of great transition that God enters in with a command for Israel.
Exodus 13 begins with God’s call for Israel to consecrate every firstborn child and animal to the Lord: to acknowledge, set aside, and redeem whatever was first to open every womb in Israel as rightfully belonging to God. As a mother, the reminder that my little one belongs to the Lord every day of his life is inspiration to pray diligently, trust God fervently, and steward my child’s heart well. God and I argue often with one another over who loves Samuel more, and God wins every time. The most challenging aspect of parenting for me is also the most beautiful: parenting with open hands.
God continues to remind Israel to tell their children of how the Lord had redeemed them. He rescued them “with [or by] a mighty hand” and he tells them so four times within this chapter. God wanted to be clear that Israel’s rescue was not haphazard or insufficient, but that He had rescued them with strength, sufficiency, and might. God establishes the Feast of Unleavened Bread so that Israel could remember and teach future generations of their liberation from Egypt. It was crucial for Israel to remember who God was and what God had done so mightily for them so that they could trust God’s capability and faithfulness in the future. God wanted the future generation of Israel to know that the same God who delivered them from Egypt would bring them into Canaan with the same powerful hand.
Maybe I am alone in this, but I so often want God to act immediately. I want the fulfillment of the promises immediately. I want the healing or provision of God immediately. I want the answer or wisdom immediately. I wrestle with impatience, which is probably why imaginary squirrels make nests in my Christmas lights each year (stupid sanctifying rodents….). While God does act and operate in the immediate at times, He most often acts in the process. God loves process. He is all about the process, the way of bringing something about rather than the thing itself. This is true in my own life, but also in Israel’s story. Israel was given a promise of God – that He would deliver them and bring them into the promised land – but there was a process in delivering Israel and now a process in bringing them into the promised land.
In verses 17-22 Moses explains how God led them the long way “of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” rather than sending them the direct route through the land of the Philistines. God does not leave Moses hanging in suspense as to His reasoning; Israel was not ready for the inevitable war that would come should they walk through the Philistine’s backyard. Interestingly enough, Scripture tells us that Israel came out from Egypt “equipped for battle” and yet God knew they were not ready for war.
God knew His people then and He knows us now. He knows how prone we are to want to fight battles in our own strength, only to find we are ill-equipped for war. God wanted to distance Israel from Egypt holistically as He drew them closer to Him in the wilderness. He would spend decades preparing Israel for war by teaching them to trust and rely on Him consistently for their victory and provision.
Sometimes the fulfillment of the promise of God in our lives is immediate, but most of the time there is process within the promise. God is a God of promise, but He is also a God of process. The wilderness seasons of our lives are not pointless, nor are they punishment. The wilderness was Israel’s training ground for war. The wilderness was vital for Israel’s freedom and for the fulfillment of the promise of God to bring them home.
Perhaps you are emerging from Egypt, you feel pumped and equipped for battle, but God’s about to take you into a wilderness season to really prepare you to take hold of the promises He has given you. Do not waste your wilderness.
Perhaps you are in the wilderness and feeling lost and listless; frustrated by what seems to be the delayed fulfillment of God’s promises to you. Be honest with God about your feelings and frustrations. Do not look back towards Egypt. Believe that there is purpose in the process that brings you into the promise.
Perhaps you are seeing the fulfillment of the promises God has given you; your harvest is rich from the fruit of your wilderness season. Speak that life-giving encouragement to those around you who are emerging from Egypt or wrestling in the wilderness; pour it out like water on to dry, desperate ground.
In every season may we remember the God who leads us with a strong hand into the place of freedom, into the place of promise.