Training Ground

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God leads his people in a unique and personal way.

Exodus(35) (Part of the Rescued(34) series)
by Marc Webb(75) on April 21, 2024 (Sunday Morning(343))

All-Knowing (Omniscient)(9), God's Presence(6), Promises(14), Wisdom(4)

TRAINING GROUND

The early American Indians had a unique practice of training young braves. On the night of a boy's thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting, and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. He was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of the family and the tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick wood, and he was terrified! Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father who had been there all night long. His father was with him and protected him in a unique and personal way.

In our scripture this morning, the Lord has brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Over the past couple of Exodus sermons, the narrative has been interrupted by Moses in order to give important instructions to the Israelites from the Lord. He gave them instructions on who could eat the Passover meal, on observing the yearly Festival of Unleavened Bread and on consecrating the firstborn of men and animals to the Lord. Moses now returns to the exodus narrative, and we will see the training ground that God has marked out for his chosen people. They will need to go through this training to take them from being slaves in Egypt to living as his chosen people occupying the land that he promised their forefathers. The Lord’s training ground will be unique because it won’t be the short way, but it will be the best way – because it is God’s way. And his training ground will be personal because he won’t let them go that way alone. He will lead them uniquely and personally just like he does for those who believe and trust in him today. We can trust that his wisdom for the way he guides our lives is the best, we can trust that his promises to and for us are perfect and we can trust in his continual presence with us along the way. That brings us to our big idea that Moses wants us to understand this morning: God leads his people in a unique and personal way.

Before we begin to study our passage this morning from Exodus 13:17-22, let’s ask the Lord to open our hearts and minds to his Word. Heavenly Father, you have brought us to this place this morning to worship you. We have worshiped you through prayer and song and now we want to worship you through your word. Pour out your Holy Spirit on us. Open our hearts and minds and illuminate us so that we can understand what you want us to know and what to share with others we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our first point is God’s Wisdom and is found in Exodus 13:17-18. This is what God’s Word says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.”

When Pharaoh finally relented and let the Israelites go, God did not lead them through the Philistine country even though that would have been the shortest route to the Promised Land. (MAP) You see a map up on the screen with the wilderness wanderings. If they took the green route at the top, it would have taken them about two weeks to get to the Promised Land. That would have been through what was known as the Philistine country when Moses wrote the book. But God in his infinite wisdom took them the red route which would end up taking forty years. Moses, the author, tells us the reason the Lord didn’t take them the shorter route was because he knew that if they faced a war, they would change their mind and return to Egypt. That brings us to our first principle which is “God is All-knowing.” He knows everything from the beginning of time until the end of time because He is eternal. He knew that if the Israelites faced a war soon after leaving Egypt they would be discouraged and want to turn back. In fact, in Numbers 14:3, we see these words, the Israelites are speaking, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” This took place in the second year after their release from Egypt and they still wanted to turn around going back into slavery or worse.

Now you may wonder about verse 18 which says the Israelites went up out of Egypt “armed for battle.” If they left Egypt “armed for battle” why was God so concerned with them going to war? We need to look at the Hebrew meaning of “armed for battle.” “Armed for battle” meant that they went “in an orderly fashion.” Most commentators say they went fifty abreast just like an army would have. It would have been quite an imposing scene seeing one to three million people walking across the wilderness in “army-like” divisions. This may have kept some smaller tribes in the wilderness from attacking them, but God knew that if a people such as the fierce Philistines attacked then the Israelites would want to turn back. They may have left Egypt in battle formation, but they were not yet battle tested.

So instead of taking them the shorter route to the Promised Land, God led them around the desert road toward the Red Sea. It was a longer way, but it was the better way because it was God’s way. Now we haven’t said anything about the “hard” way. Even though the longer way would keep them from facing warring peoples, it was not going to be the easiest way, either, which we will see in the coming weeks. Both ways were going to be difficult for them, but the difference was that first, God knew what was coming and would guide them and second, God was in control. That brings us to our second principle this morning that “God is Sovereign.” There are a number of reasons, I believe, why God took them the long way around. One, the long way through the wilderness would be their training ground that God would use to teach them to trust in Him and mold them into a nation. I like what Ross says, “God maneuvered his people into a place where they could do nothing else but trust him.” Two, God was not yet done dealing with Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Three, God had given a sign to Moses for the Israelites that it was Yahweh who had sent him. Exodus 3:12 says, "And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Map) Again, as we look at the map of wilderness wanderings, we see that Mount Horeb is there toward the bottom of the arm of the Red Sea. If they had taken the shorter (green) route, they would not have come to Mount Horeb to worship the Lord there. We may think that this was an insignificant promise for God to keep but with what we know about the grumblings of the Israelites in the wilderness, this promise would remind Moses and the people that it was Yahweh who had called Moses at the burning bush, and that it truly was Yahweh who was leading them on the way to the Promised Land.

The Israelites could trust in God’s wisdom for them as he guided them from Egypt to the Promised Land even as he took them the long way around. This is important as we follow the Lord today and especially as we face the unknown. God’s way is not the easy way and most of the time it’s not the shortest way either. We can trust in God’s wisdom as we follow the path that he has laid out for us. We can trust that God knows what is going to happen before it happens and is in control of it. If you are a follower of Jesus this morning, you can trust that he will faithfully guide you along the path that he has mapped out for you and will be there with you at all times. He leads each one of us in a unique and personal way (Big Idea) Psalm 5:8 says, “Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies – make your way straight before me.” And Psalm 23:3 says, “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” Each one of us can trust in God’s wisdom and sovereignty for our lives. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is: Trust in the Lord’s wisdom and sovereignty as he guides me on the right paths.

The Israelites could trust in the Lord’s wisdom and sovereignty to guide them out of Egypt to the Promised Land and they could also trust in his promises made to them which brings us to our second point, God’s Promises, found in Exodus 13:19. This is what God’s Word says, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”

We are told that when the Israelites left Egypt, Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. How does this verse show us that the Israelites could trust in God’s promises? In Genesis 50:24-25, we see these words, “Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” Verse 19 is repeated word for word from Genesis 50:25. This repetition is important because it shows us that some 300-400 years before the Lord brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, Joseph was convinced that God would be faithful and keep his promise to his forefathers to bring his people to the Promised Land. Joseph knew that Egypt was not his home and didn’t want his bones to be buried there. Wierbse says, “What did his coffin mean to the generations of Jews who lived in Egypt in slavery? They could look at his coffin and be encouraged. During their years in the wilderness Israel saw Joseph’s coffin as a reminder that God keeps his promises. Joseph was dead but he was bearing witness to the faithfulness of God.” The presence of Joseph’s body would remind the Israelites that God was keeping his covenant promises.

The Israelites could now trust in the promises of God because what Joseph prophesied had happened. They knew that when God came to their aid, the promise to their forefathers and to them had been fulfilled. Since God kept His past promises they could trust in His future promises as well. This brings us to our third principle this morning that “God is trustworthy.” God kept his promises to the Israelites and the same is true for us today. Think about how and why you trust someone, anyone. It’s because they have kept their promises in the past that you can trust them to keep their promises in the future. And the same is true of God. We trust in God’s promises more each time his promises come true in our lives. Sometimes we can struggle with trusting the promises of God because those around us don’t keep their promises. The difference is you never have to worry about God’s promises coming true. God’s promises always come true. That brings us to our second next step this morning which is to Trust in God’s promises in and for my life.

The Israelites could trust in the Lord’s wisdom and sovereignty to guide them out of Egypt to the Promised Land, they could trust in his promises made to them because his promises were always fulfilled, and they could trust in His presence with them, which brings us to our third point, God’s Presence, found in Exodus 13:20-22. This is what God’s Word says, “After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

We saw back in Exodus 12:37 that the Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, where they rested and ate. Now we learn that they left Succoth and camped at Etham. Again, just like Rameses and Succoth, we don’t know exactly where Etham is today, but they would have known back then. Moses was making it clear by giving us the different stages of the journey that the exodus was a true historical event with true historical places. (MAP) Here is Etham which as you can see, they believe was somewhere on the edge of the desert near the tip of the Red Sea.

We are told that the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud by day to guide them on their way and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light. This allowed them to be able to travel by day or by night. This was one pillar not two separate ones. The fire was burning inside the cloud continuously but not visible during the day. Then at night when it was dark the fire could be seen. The pillar of cloud and fire never left their presence; it was with them at all times. It was always going ahead of them. The most important thing about the pillar of cloud and of fire was that it was the Lord’s presence in their midst. The Lord going ahead of them indicated a repetitive action. His presence never left them the entire time they were in the wilderness. This was indicative of his special relationship with his chosen people, reminding us of our big idea that God leads His people in a unique and personal way. He led them uniquely in a pillar of cloud and of fire and he led them in a personal way by being in their midst and among them continuously. The pillar of his presence would go in front of them, guiding them day and night, it would protect them from the Egyptians as we will see in later weeks, and it would be with them continuously. That brings us to our fourth principle that “God is Ever-present.” He is always with us; he will never leave us nor forsake us.

We can also trust in God’s presence with us today. God’s presence was with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. His presence was with the Israelites in the wilderness in the pillar of cloud and of fire. His presence will be with them in the tent of meeting and in the temple in Jerusalem. And today God’s presence is with his people as the Holy Spirit dwells in those who have believed in Jesus for salvation. If you have not accepted Jesus as your personal Savior, the Holy Spirit does not dwell inside of you. But you can have the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, with you this morning. Romans 3:23 says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The first thing you need to do is admit that you are a sinner. ​​ Romans 6:23 says that for the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. The second thing you need to do is believe in God’s son, Jesus, for salvation, that he came to earth to take your punishment for your sins. Romans 10:9 says, if you declare with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. The third thing you need to do is confess Jesus as Lord and then the Holy Spirit will come to dwell inside of you and guide you as the pillar guided the Israelites and much more.

So, if you’ve never accepted Jesus as your Savior, this next step is for you. My next step is to Admit that I am a sinner, believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again, and confess Him as Lord and be saved. If you just made that decision the Holy Spirit is now dwelling inside of you. Now there wasn’t room to put this under the Next Step section so if you made this decision today, please put it in the comments section on the back of your communication card that you made that decision so we can have a conversation because the journey has just begun. Now comes the process of becoming more like Jesus. Now’s the time to learn what it means to be connected to God and we want to walk with you in that.

If you have already accepted God’s free gift of salvation and have the Holy Spirit in you, you can trust that His presence is always with you. There may be times that it doesn’t seem like he is with you but like the Israelites in the wilderness you can trust that he is there. In Hebrews 13:5b-6a the writer of Hebrews quotes God from Deuteronomy 31:6, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So, we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” God is with us for the long haul, and we can trust that His presence will always be with us. That brings us to our fourth next step which is to Trust that the presence of the Lord is with me and will never leave me.

In 1984 Louise Degrafinreid of Braden, TN, astounded the nation when she persuaded an escaped convict from a TN prison to surrender. The prisoner, brandishing a gun, surprised Louise’s husband, Nathan, outside their modest home and forced him inside at gunpoint. Louise was not afraid of the gun. Amazingly, this grandmotherly woman with a confidence that had to be from God, began to talk to the prisoner and convinced him that he should put his gun down while she fixed him some breakfast. Surprisingly, the prisoner responded. She spoke to him about her faith in Jesus, and how the young man could have a better life if he accepted Jesus also. When the breakfast was ready, they had grace together and Louise prayed for the young man. They ate together, and by a miraculous working of the Spirit, the young man telephoned authorities, and before long, he was on his way back to a Tennessee prison.

Responding to questions, Louise Degrafinreid talked about the confidence that was hers in God – how she trusted God as ultimate authority, and therefore could overcome her fears. She was secure in the “pillar of cloud by day” and the “pillar of fire by night” that guided her life. It is everlastingly true. The cloud and the fire do not depart. The guiding and sustaining presence is ours always if we put our trust in God. The “pillar of cloud by day” and the “pillar of fire by night” were the constant presence that guided Israel throughout their journey.

So, there are a couple of questions for all of us to answer today. Do we trust the Lord for His wisdom to lead us on the journey of our lives? Do we trust that the Lord will keep His promises to us? Do we trust that His presence is always with us? Are we guided by the “pillar of cloud by day” and the “pillar of fire by night”? What about our church? Do we trust the Lord for His wisdom to lead us on the journey we are on? Do we trust that the Lord will keep His promises to our church? Do we trust that His presence is always with our church? Are we guided by the “pillar of cloud by day” and the “pillar of fire by night”? If we are then we can trust God for all these things. It may still seem that God is taking us the long way around and it may seem like life is still hard, but we can be assured and trust that His way is the best way. So, I pray that individually and corporately we will all be guided by the “pillar of cloud and of fire” trusting in the Lord’s wisdom, promises and presence in and for our lives and for our church.

As the Ushers come to collect the tithes and offerings and the Praise Team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Lord, you are faithful and your Word is true and everlasting. As we leave this place and go out into the world, help us to remember what the Holy Spirit has put on our hearts this morning. Help us to trust in your wisdom and sovereignty as you guide us on the right paths. Help us to trust in your promises in and for our lives. Help us to trust that your presence is with us and will never leave us. I also pray these things for our church as well. And mostly Lord, I pray that if there are those this morning who do not know you as their personal Lord and Savior that they would take that step of faith inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell inside of them. Lord, we pray for revival, we pray for spiritual awakening in ourselves, our church, our community and the world. Let it start with me, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.