“Do you love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of,” writes the great American writer and statesman Benjamin Franklin.A leader is one who makes the best use of time. A leader’s efficiency is often assessed by the ability to achieve goals in the shortest time span. We all want our desires to be instantly gratified; our prayers instantly answered.
God appears to be a poor leader when we analyse his time management skills! For example, in Exodus 13 we find a very strange action plan of God. God actually wanted to take Israel from Egypt to Canaan. Any leader would choose the shortest route to get to Canaan. But Exodus 13,7 reads: “When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land.” Had God taken the Israelites along the shortest road, they would have reached Canaan in about two weeks’ time. This was not only the shortest route but also the easiest. As it was the main road, there was also the possibility to buy the provisions they needed in their journey. Besides, it was also the more secure route since it was often traversed by the traders and protected by the soldiers.
However, God led Israel through another route and eventually it took 40 years to reach the promised land. The Exodus account itself gives the reason that prompted God to opt for the longer route: “God said, ‘If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’” Had Israelites taken the main route, the Philistines might have fought against them and Israel was not in a position to wage war against such a mighty enemy. The prospect of war would have discouraged them and they would have preferred to go back to Egypt.
God’s plan shows that God chose for Israel not the easiest and shortest route but the safest route. God knew the strength and weaknesses of his people. He knew that they were just a crowd of slaves and not a disciplined army and they would not withstand the armed attack of the formidable Philistines. God did not want to lead his sheep to the den of lions. What a great comfort to know that God understands how feeble his people are and how fearsome the struggles they are to face. In his great care for his people he safeguards them from stronger enemies. Is it not true of our spiritual journey too? Is it not the same that Paul reminds us when he says: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability…” (1 Cor 10,13).
Further events indicate why God wanted his people to take so long to reach the land of their dreams. An immediate action of God was to accompany the people in a pillar of cloud during day time and in a pillar of fire at night. Thus the people had tangible sign of God’s presence with them. The cloud covered the people from the scorching heat in the wilderness and gave them shade for a comfortable journey. The pillar of fire not only gave the people warmth at night but also its light took away the terror of the dark mysterious wilderness. That means God accompanied the people giving them protection and guidance. May be God wanted to convince them of his never-failing presence with them. God’s long time presence with his people in concrete signs was intended to form a strong personal relationship between him and his people.
God was not simply travelling with his people but he provided for all their physical needs too. By miraculously meeting their basic needs for food and drink, God gave them the most important lesson totrust in him in all their necessities. Thus, the wilderness journey was not simply a roundabout wandering, but it was God’s way of forming Israel as a people who put their absolute trust in God. Had they reached the promised land in a few weeks, they would have missed unforgettable experiences of God’s protection and provision.
Of course, God’s way of time management yields the best results even when it appears to us as slow and even awkward.