Why the Red Sea and Not the Land of the Philistines?

Exodus 13:17-22 (ESV) When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” 18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” 20 And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

Exodus 14:4 (ESV) And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” 

Romans 9:17 (ESV) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

God could have taken Israel up by a road through Philistine territory, and yet he says that he would not take them that way so they wouldn’t see war and change their minds and return to Egypt.

News flash! Pharaoh came after them bringing war when they went toward the Red Sea! What’s the difference?

The difference is that God was working his eternal plan to be exalted in the eyes of the Egyptians who saw their king as a “god” amongst the other deities of their pantheon. Verse 4 of Exodus 14 says, “…and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”

God, through judgment, intended to show Egypt that there is only one God, and Pharaoh is not that God. 

The Lord brought this judgment by fighting for Israel and defeating the Egyptians, and as Moses said, the Lord would fight and they just needed to be quiet (Exodus 14:14). 

There is an implication here that is worth exploring. The Bible doesn’t play “what if”. It tells you God’s plan and shows us what happens when we hear and obey and when we hear and don’t obey. 

Let’s play “what if” for a moment for fun. Let’s say Israel rebelled and decided the short route through the Philistines was more palatable and they took that route, what would have happened? 

My guess is that the Lord would not have fought for them, they would have been routed, and they would have returned to Egypt an absolute mess. 

In fact, we are going to see this with them for the rest of the Old Testament in spite of the marvelous example of God fighting for them if they would only obey. 

Both ways carried conflict, but one had God’s divine help.

What can we learn?

  1. We can rebel against God, and when we do, there is no guarantee God will act on our behalf. 
  2. We can obey God, and when we do, we can know he will act on our behalf. 
  3. God’s way, although explicitly stated to Moses, may sometimes not be as explicit for us yet we know his purpose and must act in faith even though the path may come with similar resistance to another path. Israel’s ways out of Egypt both carried warfare. One way, God would fight for them. One way, God would let them get whipped. There is no guarantee of a way that is without conflict and hardship, but there is a way that leads to life. Proverbs 14:12 (ESV) There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
  4. Often we may be faced with a way of less resistance and one with maximum resistance. The best way forward may not always be the easy one. It is our daily joy to seek the Lord through the indwelling Counselor Holy Spirit and his Word to know God’s way and walk in it knowing that even if it comes with much difficulty, he will fight for us, and all we need to do is be quiet. 

Why the Red Sea and not Philistia? God had a plan, and when they walked in it, they saw glory. 

Seek the Lord’s way, act in informed faith, and wait for the Lord’s help. He will surely never let us down. 

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