I’m sure it made no sense to the people. After 430 years of being brutalized by the Egyptians, the Lord moved in a massive way to deliver them. Now they were in the desert and heading “home.” Except instead of the nice path along the sea back home, the Lord was sending them the LOOOOOONG, circular way down through the parched and barren desert. Why?
“The people will change their minds and return to Egypt if they face war” (Ex 13:17).
They still had the mind of slaves. Even maybe some Stockhold Syndrome. There was a measure of comfort living in Egypt where they had homes and food and easy access to water. If they were to go to the land of Canaan and face war, they were not ready as they didn’t know how to trust the Lord and look forward and not back.
So the Lord took them the long way in order to purify them, teach them that he cared for them, and that he was able to provide for them. But again and again, they complained and hardened their hearts. They do so fiercely and so many times, that finally God had enough. He said that the whole generation would die in the desert except Caleb and Joshua (they had learned faith), but that the next generation would inherit the land.
Yes, God led them through a place that was harsh and hard, but he was constantly with them. He provided for them time and time again, although not always on their time table. He showed himself faithful. This time in the desert was to woo them to himself. Instead, they did not embrace the faith forged in hardship but rather hardened their heart.
That, my friends, is disturbing.
We all have seasons of suffering. Some more and some less. And sometimes, many times, we do not understand the ways of God in that season. (And sometimes those seasons can be LOOOOONG).
But we can complain about our circumstances and get angry at our leaders and even God, or we can learn to trust Him in the fire. We can grow. We can become the people he wants us to be.
That’s the power of fire. It does not leave people the same. It either burns something up in destruction, or it makes it pure. There really isn’t much of a middle ground in suffering.
The last few years I almost slipped. I almost let the fires destroy me. Not towards God but towards people. I’m on the way up and out. I’m not the same person. I just hope that with the things that are yet to come that I will not grieve the Lord, that my heart will be purged and cleansed, and that I will be for his pleasure.