“And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; but God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.”
When God delivered the Hebrews from the house of bondage and broke the Egyptian yoke of their captivity, his wisdom as well as power was most strikingly displayed. Such is the unlimited power of God that he could have released his people from bondage by the waving of his hand, or the utterance of a word; he could have instantly crushed the power of Egypt, and stripped the imperial throne of Pharaoh of all its regal strength, or he could have softened the heart of Pharaoh as easily as he could harden it: but his wisdom, as well as his omnipotence was to be demonstrated before the world. And having humbled Pharaoh and effected the release of the Israelites, he was able to conduct them in what way he pleased to their final destiny in the promised land. Having all power and all wisdom he was abundantly able to execute his design in any way that seemed good in his eyes. But in the redemption of Israel from the house of bondage, and their conduct through the wilderness, and their ultimate possession of the promised inheritance, God evidently designed to show forth the redemption of his chosen people from the bondage of the law and their ultimate entrance into the glorious liberty of the gospel. He therefore chose to lead them about. Instead of selecting the shortest route, or that in which the least impediments to their journeyings would require to be encountered, it was his pleasure, for a purpose worthy of himself, to lead them about in a circuitous and meandering course, which would constantly require the display of his power and wisdom, his cloud by day and his fire by night, to guide and protect them, and to show their entire dependence on him in every step of the way. Thus setting forth in the figure, first, that the salvation of his chosen people was in a way by him ordained, and their redemption from the curse, the bondage and dominion of the law, from the guilt, pollution and consequences of sin, and from the powers of death and hell, was altogether above the wisdom and power of men, and in a way in all respects baffling the wisdom and humbling the pride of the sons of men; showing that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. Second, agreeing with the experience of all the saints, every saint can witness with the inspired psalmist that when God broke their yoke of bondage and released them, in a spiritual sense, from the grasp of Pharaoh, and set them free from their bondage; when he took them up out of the horrible pit and miry clay, and put a new song in their mouth, and set their feet upon a rock, that he also established their goings. Had he allowed us to choose our own way, perhaps we would have desired to be conveyed by the nearest way, and on flowery beds of ease, immediately to the mansion of glory. Perhaps all the saints have struggled more or less against the way the Lord has been pleased to lead us about, especially when he has led us by the hand of Moses by the way of the Red Sea, hemmed in on every side, the sea before us, the enemy in hot pursuit behind, and towering mountains at the right and left. We, too, have murmured when led to the bitter waters of Meribah, and we were terribly afraid when he led us near to the mountain that might be touched only on pain of being thrust through with a dart, or destroyed. Like the Hebrews, we have feared that we were brought thus far to be destroyed, but still God has led us in a way which we knew not, and in paths we had not known. Truly he has found us in a waste howling wilderness, like Jacob, and he has led us about and instructed us, and yet he has kept us as the apple of his eye.
“God led them [the Hebrews] not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although it was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” The Philistines were a people with whom Israel was never on good terms of friendship, they were enemies, and always on the alert to draw them into difficulty, and bore about the same relation to Israel that the Arminians do to the church and people of God; and although, according to the natural geography of that country, a straight line from Egypt to Canaan would cross the land or territory of the Philistines, it was not the pleasure of the Lord to lead them that way, as it was a way of temptation too strong for the resistance and fidelity of the Hebrews, therefore to avoid the influence of the Philistines on the Israelites which God foresaw would have a tendency to ensnare them, and to bring them again into bondage, he led them by another way. How happy for the children of God is the lesson here taught, that God has established the goings of his redeemed people, and that he knows exactly what amount of temptations his grace shall enable us to bear, and orders our course accordingly. So it is said of the saints, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Corr. 10:13) God provides against all peradventures, chances or uncertainties, in all the provisions which he has made for the deliverance and salvation of his people. This form of expression cannot imply that there are peradventures or uncertainties with God, but that he has provided infallibly against them. He knew, as he only could know, what would have been the consequences if he had led them through the land of the Philistines: they must have seen war, and they would probably have been tempted to repent that they had left Egypt, and inclined to return thither. So in the way of life and salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, God has ordained that none can come to him but by Christ, who is the way; there is salvation in no other way. Men cannot be justified in God’s sight by any works of righteousness which they have performed, by any obedience to the law which they have or can render. When they are delivered from bondage and the yoke of their captivity is broken, the saints frequently show an inclination to lay their course through the land of the Philistines, that is, they have in them a natural inclination, after having received the Spirit, to be made perfect by the works of the flesh. The Arminian conditional system presents to their inexperienced eyes a smoother path, a shorter distance, and there are many allurements to draw them into the popular thoroughfares of the legal system, but God by his Spirit never leads his people in that way. Paul said to the Galatians, “This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.” If for any purpose God suffers his children to become entangled with the yoke of bondage, and to sojourn in the land of the Philistines, they always see war; for as certainly as the Spirit of truth is in them, they will find a principle of opposition to the corrupt principles and works of the flesh, and all the hosts of the Philistines will oppose the law of the Spirit of life which they possess, and all the powers of their flesh will adhere to the legal tendencies of the Philistine or Arminian doctrines, and, as the poet has very justly remarked, they
“Strive with a Do this and live,
To drive them to Egypt again.”
“But God led the people about.” He leads them, it is not his method to drive them. When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and they hear his voice, and they follow him, but a stranger they will not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers. As God led the Israelites from Egypt, and through the wilderness, going before them in the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, so he goes before his spiritual Israel, by day and by night. Instead of scaring or lashing them along, after the Philistine or Arminian fashion, uncapping hell, and showing them the horrors of the damned, to urge them on, he goeth before, and causes them to behold in him such irresistible attraction that they feel sweetly constrained to follow where he leads. He gives them such confidence in his wisdom to lead them, that they desire no other leader, and their experience enables them to say, He leadeth me into green pastures, beside the still waters. But he leads them by the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea, not because that way is the nearest, or smoothest, or most flowery, but because in that way he will be glorified, and his people shall be taught many important lessons which they could not so well learn in any other way. What important lessons did he give them in the wilderness and at the Red Sea? How was his mighty power and discriminating grace displayed, when he made a path for them through the Red Sea, on dry ground, and when the same miracle by which their deliverance was accomplished, destroyed all their enemies? As he led the Hebrews, so he leads his spiritual people, often into wilderness trials, where the beasts of the forest prowl, and where their howlings sometimes alarm them, and to the sea where their way seems, to all human sight, cut off, the enemy advances, and they are hemmed in, and they think there is but a step between them and death, but how seasonably his help comes; his rod is extended, the sea divides, the way of escape is opened, and a song of deliverance breaks forth from their joyful tongues.
“The children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” Not in the panoply of military warfare, for God himself fought their battles, and gave them victory. The manner of their harness is described in chapter 12:11, “And thus shall ye eat it [the passover]; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s passover.” In this manner of harness they ate the passover, and immediately left the land of Egypt, and their harness did not become old, or require to be repaired or replaced during the forty years of their pilgrimage in the wilderness. Here again we have a vivid figure of the way in which the Lord strips his people for the race, and in which he harnesses them for the christian warfare. They are not clad in the armor of men, in coats of mail, nor armed with implements of carnal warfare, for they are not to fight against flesh and blood; the warfare is a spiritual warfare, and their weapons are spiritual, and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds. They are well harnessed at the outset, for they have on the whole armor of God, having their loins girt about with truth, and having on the breast-plate of righteousness, and their feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, and, above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith they shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; and the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:13-17) As the Israelites went up out of Egypt harnessed, and wore the same harness all the way in which the Lord their God did lead them until they had accomplished their whole journey and entered the promised land, so the redeemed family of God whom he has redeemed from sin, death and hell are called to be marshalled under the banner of the great Captain of their salvation, and all their armor is of God, their weapons are spiritual and mighty through grace, and they cannot decay or wax old, nor will they ever require to be superseded by any newly invented armor. As the Hebrews went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt, we may rest assured that not one of all the sons of Adam shall ever go up out of the land of Egypt, or be delivered from the house of bondage, in any other harness, nor without this harness. True, men may make profession of religion, they may display much zeal and courage, they may impose on the saints, but until God breaks their yoke, and puts on them the harness, they have no discharge from bondage, and can never know experimentally the glorious liberty of the sons of God; they are all Ishmaelites, and under the covenant that gendereth unto bondage.
March 1, 1862.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 147 - 153