Wilderness Seminary

Exodus 13:17-18 (Moffatt Bible) Now when the Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them along the road to the land of the Philistines, although that lay close at hand, for God thought that perhaps the people might have regrets and return to Egypt, if they had to fight their way; 18so God led the people by a roundabout road in the direction of the desert, towards the Reed Sea. 19The Israelites left Egypt in an orderly array. And Moses took the bones of Joseph; for Joseph had made the Israelites swear they would do this, saying, “God will be sure to remember you and you must carry my bones away with you.”

The background for this text is important. The children of Israel were free. God had already lead them out of slavery in Egypt. There were starting the journey toward the promised land.

There is significance to the children of taking the remains of Joseph with them. About three hundred and fifty years earlier, Joseph said God would lead the people out of Egypt and into the promised land.

Genesis 50:24-25. Then Joseph said to his kinsmen, “I am dying, but God will be sure to remember you and to bring you up from this land to the land that he swore he would give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

25Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath, saying, “As God will be sure to remember you, so you must carry up my bones from here.”

The oath made to the dying man was that when the children of Israel left Egypt and returned to the land of promise, they would take his bones with them.1 We are not sure what the presence of Joseph’s remains might have meant to the children of Israel. They might have given the children of Israel some assurance of God’s love, because the story of Joseph’s life was one of God taking care of a person through many trials.2

We have a couple of major sources of assurance of God’s love in our lives. The Word records the stories of many people who found comfort, protection, leading and justice in God. And there are modern testimonies too. These are the testimonies of those around us who God cared for during intense trials. From the modern stories, we are reminded that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not dead. He is active in the world and in our lives. Because God shows Himself in contemporary society, we have the hope that He will keep His promises and that we will receive the promise of eternal life.

Verse 17. The way of the Philistines might need a little explanation. The Philistines were in cities such as Gaza.3 The coastal region was where the Philistines were. The children of Israel were not going to go along the coastal route to reach the promised land.4

Just remember that the next time one of your California friends wants to rub salt in open wounds by telling you flowers are blooming when we have snow on the ground. Tell them that the coast is the way of the Philistines and God is leading His people to the promised land, bypassing the coast! We have to do that you know. Keep them humble. That will help make them better servants of God.

The way of the Philistines was a shorter distance to the promised land. One Bible commentary cites people giving estimates that the trip the way of the Philistines could have taken three to ten days.5

The question naturally arises, “Why did God take the children of Israel the long route to the promised land, when the way of the Philistines was significantly shorter?”

The commentator Matthew Henry reminds us that the Pharaoh was told the children of Israel would go three days journey into the desert.6 By taking the children of Israel south, into the desert region, God was protecting the honor and the word of the children of Israel. Had the not gone into the desert, the people of God may have become well known as liars.7

This emphasizes the need for honesty in our dealings. There can be a price to pay for honesty. The value of your reputation, however, is very high. Few things will out last you, but your reputation for honesty and for love is likely to live much longer than you do.

The children of Israel were not ready for the promised land. Perhaps, they needed a little education first. They prepared for the promised land in the Wilderness Seminary.

The Jewish people were not really ready for the promised land, because they did not really know much about the God who had rescued them from slavery. They also needed to overcome the spiritual and emotional reactions to bondage in Egypt.

The children of Israel might not have known much about God. The gods they knew were more associated with the king of Egypt and with slavery. A god that would give them freedom was probably a radical concept to the people. Through the giving of the law, the ordinances, and the covenant, the children of Israel would learn more about their God.

The time in the desert taught the people that God was not only the source of their freedom, but was their daily provider. He was the God of lasting liberation and love, not a god of slavery.

They might have learned what freedom was about too. Those who have never known freedom need to understand what it is lest they might abuse their freedom. The British novelist does an excellent job of explaining what freedom is. He says, “There are two freedoms - the false, where a main is free to do what he likes; and the true where a man is free to do what he ought.”8

Probably the most difficult thing for many Christians to learn is the difference between false and true freedom. The eternal liberty God gives us is an expensive gift. Our gift is better spent on lasting things than on junk trinkets from the dollar store of life.

The King James says that God did not take the people through the land of the Philistines, lest the “repent” and return to Egypt. In Hebrew, the word translated repent has some meanings that do not really get translated in English. Within Hebrew, the meaning is there that the people would “sigh” or “breathe strongly” and have “pity” on themselves.9

There was reason for the children of Israel to sigh and to feel sorry for themselves, if they were to immediately tackle the Philistines in battle. Commentators describe the Philistines as “formidable“ and “very warlike.”10 This text shows a God who does not throw people to the wolves.

The well-known commentator Adam Clarke comments that the children of Israel would have become discouraged had they been asked to wage a military campaign against the Philistines. He describes the children of Israel at this stage, “Their long slavery had so degraded their minds that they were incapable of any great or noble exertions; and it is only on the ground of this mental degradation, the infallible consequence of slavery, that we can account for their many dastardly acts, murmurings, and repinings after their escape from Egypt.11

Emotionally, the people were not ready for war with a formidable foe. Matthew Henry observes the people’s “spirits were broken” by slavery.12 Those who have been degraded, dehumanized, put-down or enslaved often feel self-hatred. As a result of self-hate, they may feel they cannot and should not succeed. Being subjected to consistently abusive behavior can result in defeatist attitudes and approaches, and a sense of helplessness that shows itself in constant complaining and in other self-defeating behavior. Unfortunately, some queer people have been so broken by the abusive behavior of society and graceless churches that they live a very defeatist life style.

The desert experience helps people come to see themselves in a different manner. The Wilderness Seminary shows people they have no reason for self-hate, as they are God’s chosen. And that slowly starts to change people. Criticism and constant complaining are slowly replaced with promised land behavior.

Being in a wilderness situation is not pleasant. At times, it can be very painful and discouraging. You might even feel like God has abandoned you in the wildernesses of life. But there is good news. God has not abandoned you in the wilderness. He is acting, preparing you, each step of the way, for the promised land, for the heavenly, for service more meaningful than you can imagine. As you think of the deserts of your life, the closet of your life, the joblessness of your life, the broken dreams of your life, remember, you were not alone. God was with you.

A little history lesson for those who are young. And I find there are more and more young people each year. Not sure if anybody else has noticed that. Just cannot figure out why, but that is the way it works.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a well-known American general during World War II. He was promoted to the highest rank given a generals, when he was made a 5 star general. Eisenhower campaigned to be the president of the United States. When he became president of the United States, he said, “History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”13 You've found freedom in Christ, the freedom to be the straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-identified, queer, or questioning person you are. God did not give you that freedom, because you were weak and timid! God gave you that freedom because you are strong and are capable!

Like the children of Israel, we have a God who does not trust our freedom to the weak or the timid. Our Lord personally takes the responsibility for our freedom and cares for us personally. That is why there was a cross at Calvary, where the Son of God died for our sins.

Perhaps you would like to personally know a God who cares for you through the rough wilderness times, who cares so much His Son died for you. That is easy. Ask Him to be part of your life and tell somebody here about your decision, so we can support you.


Thank you for being with us even in wilderness experiences Lord. Create in our lives a wonderful joy of freedom, of true freedom. Amen.


1Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Kroll. The KJV Parallel Bible Commentary. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1994), 143.

2Warren W. Wiersbe in Bible Exposition Commentary: Pentateuch. (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Victor, 2001), 203, states, “Certainly the Jews could look at Joseph‘s coffin and be encouraged. After all, the Lord cared for Joseph during his trials . . . and He would care for the nation and eventually sent them free.”

3Rick Meyers. e-Sword. “John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible.” (Leiper’s Fork, TN: Computer Software. Ver. 6.5.0, 2002).

4Map 2 in The Open Bible shows the way of the Philistines as running along the coast of The Great Sea (Mediterranean Sea) across the Sinai to Gaza). Jean Alley, et. al. eds., The Open Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1998), Map 2.

5e-Sword. “John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible.”

6Rick Meyers. e-Sword. “Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.” (Leiper’s Fork, TN: Computer Software. Ver. 6.5.0, 2002).

7Matthew Henry says the people could have become known as “notorious dissemblers.” (e-Sword. “Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.”).

8cited in Wiersbe, 202.

9e-Sword. “Strong‘s Hebrew and Greek Definitions.”

10e-Sword. “Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible” and Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament.”

11 e-Sword. “Adam Clarke’s Commentary on Whole Bible.”

12e-Sword. “Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.”

13cited Wiersbe, 202.

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