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Detours on the Road to the Promised Land

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We’ve been studying the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land at our church. Their story is not one of starting at Point A, and following a straight line that ends at Point B. Their path was a tortuous one, and if you saw it drawn on a map, you might have one of those, “What the heck???” moments. Clearly, a guy resistant to stopping and asking directions was driving, you might think, because they made a little side trip that took them a looooong way from where they ultimately hoped to end up.

Had Moses been drinking Crazy Juice?
Shouldn’t he have appointed a Designated Driver?

Turns out, their Forty Year Road Trip was not only a fact, it was also a metaphor, filled with metaphors, for something much, much greater.

We search for meaning in our lives, because in our hearts, we know that we are on a journey as well. We’re on our own trek through the wilderness, and it’s awfully hard to see past the bend in the road that is Today, to what Tomorrow might hold. We think we know where we’re going, and maybe we do. Many of us have a very specific goal in mind, and that goal is our Promised Land.

The Israelites had been slaves. They’d been slaves for generations in Egypt. Four hundred years worth of slavery had been more than enough for the children of Abraham. God had made promises to their forefather, promises of a land they could call their own, and it was high time for Him to get moving on keeping those promises. Getting out of Egypt, and out of slavery, sounded mighty good on the front end of this excursion.

But on their way on the Great Road Trip to End All Road Trips, things got a little tough, as they will, on Road Trips. There were a few bumps. No bridge to cross the Red Sea. An army pursuing them, ready to haul them back to Egypt. No food. No water. Weariness. More attacking armies.

Admittedly, any of these circumstances would be enough to squash the joy of YOUR family’s road trip, wouldn’t you agree? And poor Moses, the Pater Familias, had a whole lot of whiners who’d gone along for the ride. Day after day, the cry went up: “Are we there yet???” And there were plenty of Israelite Alpha Males who’d gone along, who were pretty sure they knew how things could be better handled, to help the Israelites reach their goal: the Promised Land.

Was there anything wrong with a slave longing to have his own land? Where he could build their own home, and enjoy the fruits of his own labor?

Absolutely not!

It was, in fact, God’s promise to them (Gen. 12:7; Gen. 13: 14-17; Gen. 15:18; Gen. 17:8).

There was nothing at all wrong with having such a desire.

So…um…why, oh, why, did He not just take them there? From Point A, to Point B? Shortest route possible? He was God, after all. He knew the way.

It appears that the reason had a lot to do with there being a purpose in the aforementioned side trip: where God led them. Because make no mistake, despite the huge detour, He was leading them. Cloud by day- a cloud that possibly helped protect them from the burning rays of the desert sun. Pillar of fire by night, probably providing them with a night light and with heat, on cold desert nights.

So where did He lead them on that “detour”?

The southernmost point on that map, the most “out of the way” location on their trip, was Mount Sinai. And Mount Sinai was the very place where God entered into a covenant with Israel, where He promised to be their God, as they would promise to be His people. It was also the mountain where He gave them His law, whose commandments served to define them as a people.

Here’s my point: I have a dream. I bet you have a dream in your life, too. Just like the Israelites, many of us have goals: a place we’d like to reach in our lives.

My dream is of forging a new career for myself, as a writer, and maybe even writing a book someday.

What’s yours?

Is there something – some desire, some heart longing unfulfilled, that is eating up your energy, your thought life, your efforts? Is there something that you are devoting yourself to?

It’s not wrong to have a dream. Just as it wasn’t wrong for a nation of slaves to long for their own land where they could have their own homes. It’s not wrong to have a dream for which you are striving.

But the journey we’re on: sometimes, we move from point A to point B, directly. Sometimes, like the Israelites, we take more detours than we’d like. But it’s in those detours, the places that we’ve been led that don’t necessarily fit in with our original plan, that God reveals Himself to us in the “not yet”.

What He wants, more than anything, is our longing to have Him be our guide. What He wants is to share the journey with us. To call us His own, and for us to in turn, call Him our dearly loved and depended on Father. To be in a living, loving, vibrant covenant relationship with Him.

Principle #1: Detours can be God’s way of calling us to Himself in the Not Yet.

When Moses stayed on top of Mt. Sinai receiving the law from God, and was MIA for 40 days, the Israelites got up to no good. In the absence of their leader, they talked Aaron into making a calf idol for them that they could worship: something that seemed familiar, and that reminded them of the “good old days” in Egypt. The way the folks back there used to worship.

God would have none of it, and told Moses, at first, that He was going to destroy the whole unfaithful lot of them, and start over with Moses, fulfilling His promises through the offspring of Moses. Moses interceded for the people, begging God to forgive. God agrees in chapter 33 of Exodus to forgive, and even promises to send His angel to go with them. But He Himself was unwilling to go with them.

Again, Moses intercedes, and again, the Lord relents, and promises that His Presence will go with them.

What Moses knew, and what the nation of Israel needed to learn, was that achieving the thing you desire more than anything is well and good, but that thing achieved without the joy of the fellowship with His Presence in your life, is a thing that’s not really worth having. He knew that our hearts remain restless, till they find their rest in Him.

It’s the RELATIONSHIP, stupid!

Principle #2: It’s not the “Getting There”, so much as the “How We Go About Getting There“. 

If it’s acclaim we aspire to, or acquiring wealth that motivates us? (And, at their most basic levels, those desires spring from true human needs: the need to feel loved, and the need to feel secure that our physical needs will be met.)  Desiring to be loved, or to have enough money, in and of themselves, are not wrong. But fame and fortune alone are pretty much worth nothing, if we’ve missed the joy in the journey that comes from taking that journey in the Presence of the Father, in close fellowship with Him.

Just as the Israelites were tempted to go back to what had been familiar in Egypt, the worship of idols, worshiping the idols of this world will not truly get us where we’d like to go.

Likewise, being willing to compromise what we know to be true and right, which is, at heart, our own integrity, for the sake of “getting there faster” won’t take us where we hope it will. Shortcuts can be ruinous to the spirit.

In the same way, stepping on a fellow sojourner in order to more quickly achieve your goals will end up poisoning you, on the inside.

So much of what we long for will turn to ashes in our mouths if we haven’t earnestly sought to align our goals with HIS goals for us.

And His goals for us are these:

 1) that we love Him, first, best, and most. That He would be our pearl of great price, for whom we’d give up anything and everything.


2) that we treat our fellow sojourners with the utmost care, concern, and respect on our way.

Don’t buy into the lie that life is all about you achieving your dream, and that it’s all up to you to get yourself to your Promised Land.

It’s not.

God has something for you in the journey, in the detours.

Put more succinctly:

1) Love God.

2) Love your neighbor as yourself.


Yet in another way, so hard to do, as we wrestle with how to walk that out, in light of own desires and dreams.

If these thoughts have pricked your heart, as they did mine as I was thinking through them, invite Him to take you wherever He’d like you to go on your journey. Make Him, (perhaps again) your pearl of great price. Resolve to treat your fellow sojourners with the love and kindness you’d like to receive, yourself.

How do you see God’s hand at work in your path?