In September 2007, General David Petraeus appeared before Congress to report progress in Iraq and to dissuade Congress from any action to reduce the number of American troops in that region. As the commanding general of the multinational force in Iraq, he was the most powerful military leader on the ground. But he still had a boss. He reported to the Commander-in-Chief, President Bush.
God was the Commander-in-Chief of the Israelite people. Moses was God’s commanding general, but he was not calling the shots. God was the source of the strategic planning for the Exodus route. His leadership would have challenged conventional wisdom of the time. Though His plans didn’t seem to make sense, Moses had to trust God’s wisdom. Doing so meant the willingness to choose God’s plan over his own common sense.
First, God chose to abandon the most direct route. The Israelites could have followed a northern route, along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, through Philistine territory. Conventional wisdom favored this option. Leading this enormous mass of people would be difficult enough. It would have made sense to choose a route more frequently traveled and familiar. The Israelites didn’t expect peace at every turn—verse 18 says that they were prepared to go to war. Whether they anticipated opposition from the Egyptians or from the peoples they would face in conquering the Promised Land, they knew they had a challenging future.
Next, after the people traveled for a short time in one direction, God commanded the people to do a massive U-turn in the desert, a move intended to incite the Egyptians to come after them. God was forcing a confrontation with the enemy, an enemy who was more militarily equipped than they. What strategic foolishness!
Today’s reading gives us a picture of what it looks like when God is our leader. Our choices and path may not follow commonly accepted strategies for success, but we must be committed to following Him.