By Ruth Lawrence, UK
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the word shepherd? When I was conversing with my brother on Gmail chat one day, he typed the word “shepherd” and the first word that popped up in my mind was “pie.” Actually my brother was trying to tell me about some shepherds he saw in Kosovo.
Apparently these shepherds lead their sheep by the same route each day and stay with them for the entire day. They are armed with a long stick to protect the sheep from rogue creatures that may try to carry them off.
This is the picture we see in the book of Exodus—a shepherd wielding a stick, leading and protecting the sheep. Moses was a shepherd in Midian when he was called by God to shepherd His people and lead them out of Egypt. But let’s get our focus right. Behind all that Moses did was God—He was the One wielding the stick to get the Israelites out, leading them, and protecting His sheep from rogue creatures that may try to carry them off.
In chapters 13 and 14 of Exodus we see that God isn’t only the one who can lead and protect His people, He’s also the one with the plan.
In the opening chapters of Exodus, we see that God’s people the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians. They called out to God to save them and God intervened by sending Moses. A showdown between God and Pharaoh soon ensued. And God was declared the outright winner. The prize: the people of Israel.
So the people of Israel were free to go. God could lead them to take the shorter route through the Philistine country, or He could lead them by the long way round through the desert. The writer of Exodus tells us:
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 armed for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18)
The desire for speed may make the shorter route a more expedient choice. But God was thinking about more than just speed, He had two concerns.
The first is that He was concerned for the Israelites, that if they were to engage in battle at such an early stage, they might change their minds and go back to Egypt. The second is that He planned to display His glory through the Egyptians that they might know that He is the Lord (Exodus 14:4-5).
So in God’s mind, the most logical route was to go by way of the desert. God knew what He was doing. He intended to part the Red Sea to get His people out—it wasn’t a contingency plan.
And God’s plan shows us who God is.
Firstly He is a God who cares about His people. He didn’t just rescue them and then leave them to work out how to get to the Promised Land on their own. He is in for the long haul, working out what is best for them and going with them every step of the way.
Secondly He is a possessive God. He doesn’t intend to let any other kings take possession of His people. He will protect them from any attempts of repossession.
Thirdly He is a God who keeps His Word. It may seem like a long time to the Israelites but God is fulfilling His promise to Joseph, which is what the writer of Exodus reminds us of:
Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel 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.” (Exodus 13:19)
This is just a snapshot of a plan that is actually part of a much bigger plan—a plan that involves God rescuing His people from slavery to sin not with a stick or by parting the Red Sea but through the death of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross. All the characteristics that we see of God in Exodus apply to God’s plan to rescue us from slavery to sin too. He didn’t just rescue us and leave us to work out where we go from there, He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us make it to the end. He is with us every step of the way, protecting us from anyone who would try to take possession of us.
Praise the Lord! He is our Savior and our Shepherd.