Learning to Walk with God: Going Forward by Turning Back

Learning to Walk with God Can Sometimes Means Going Forward by Turning Back

Learning to Follow God

It will take our whole life to learn how to walk with God. Learning to follow God’s leading is to learn to trust and obey. It begins with that dramatic moment when God leads us out in our own personal Exodus at salvation, out of our bondage to sin, into the joy of knowing and following him. And the learning process continues ever so slowly, moment by moment, the rest of our days.

Going Forward…by Going Back

We’ve been looking at the dramatic flight of the Israelites out of Egypt at the Exodus. God has led them through the Wilderness Way and the Dark Way, and now we see he is leading them forward–by going back?! Yes. Let’s consider this together.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon…” Exodus 14:1

Suddenly ejected from Egypt, by now the Israelites have traveled by a longer unusual route, at night with fiery pillar lighting the way, and now they are instructed to turn back so as to appear to be lost. And we know from all the pages which follow, they are only beginning to learn how to walk with God!

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Meanwhile their former captor and his armies are hot on their trail, hunting them down. Just as God said He would (14:4, 8) God intentionally hardened Pharaoh’s heart that he would see their steps as a opportunistic miscalculation whereby to pursue them and exact his revenge.

God, we know, had other plans. In fact, the LORD’s plans were infinitely above the present circumstances in their scope. God’s plans were not just temporal, they were eternal. This wasn’t just about God’s just wrath upon an evil people but about displaying his sovereignty over their gods.

I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD. – Exodus 14:4

What about the Israelites? Was it cruel of God to use them to appear confused and thereby to use them to lure Pharaoh to them? Absolutely not. Like a mother bear just feet away from her vulnerable cub, they were not in any real danger at all.

The Illusion of Being in Control

The Israelites were turned back and panic was setting in. Despite God giving them a glimpse into His plan, all they saw was their enemy closing in for the kill. (More about their reaction next time.) Little did they know that in God’s plan they were very much surrounded by Him and still moving forward in God-wrought victory. I’m sure it wasn’t how they would’ve had it if they were in control.

I know that feeling.

Learning to Walk with God Means God’s Will, Not Ours

Learning to walk with God means putting feet to our faith. Believing faith is inseparably joined with a desire for God’s will above ours. When God saves a person, they would much rather stay in their sin and be His enemy than to bow in submission and repentance.

Some may ask, “But how do I trust and obey God?” The Holy Spirit gives saving faith, we can’t believe the Good News of salvation through Christ unless he imparts faith to us. And in that believing faith is the supernatural desire to want what God wants–for us to be saved and reconciled.

From the moment of a person’s new birth, if it is true, there is a desire to always ever want what God wants more than whatever it is we might want, no matter how much. And that, like a tiny sprout, grows into the kind of believing faith that matures to trust and obey the Lord.


The Christian reads this passage and exults in God’s strategic brilliance in orchestrating their rescue (a rescue that was promised 430 years earlier, mind you). We can’t help but rejoice in seeing the wicked cast down, but the best part is seeing God getting the glory due Him. It’s why we should always look forward with hope to that Day when, at long last, the Lamb receives the full reward for His sufferings.

Walking with God along the Dark Way

There is no greater joy in life than walking with God. Anyone who has walked with God for sometime will tell you: Walking with God along the Dark Way is lonely, frightening, and even heartbreaking, but Christ is always there leading us. Oh, what a life he blesses us with along the way!

As we discussed in Part 1 about God leading us in the Wilderness Way, learning to walk with God is a process. That process will take a lifetime, Immediately following the previous passage in Exodus 13 we read,

And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. (20,21)

God had suddenly and recently led the Israelites out of Egypt. Then He led them by the unconventional way toward the Red Sea. And soon (Ex 14:1-4) He would have them change course once more to even appear to be lost in the furious eyes of Pharaoh. But they hadn’t even gotten to that point yet. For now, He was reinforcing His guiding Presence via the cloud and the fire.

You might also like: Part 3: Learning to Walk with God: Going Forward by Turning Back

Seeing this story from the other side of the cross, and being reminded that all they went through was for my (and, if you are in Christ, your) example (1 Cor 10:1-7), and again reminded of the Wilderness Way already discussed, the lesson of the fiery guiding pillar moves me forward this day.

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My Lord will (without a doubt) lead me in unconventional, seemingly purposeless paths. He will (absolutely) have me travel through times of darkness if it is necessary to accomplish His good plans. But the fiery pillar of The Comforter will lead me through the night. His Word is, after all, “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105).

Move forward today in Spirit-given faith and the illumination given from the applied Scriptures. This is what it is to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

Following God in the Wilderness

Following God is learning how to how to walk with him, but not ahead of him. And it’s a lifelong process. In love he will lead us into the wilderness, often taking us ways we least expect, or want, to go. Over the next few posts we are going to look at lessons from the Exodus about following God in the wilderness.

When Pharaoh let the [Israelites] go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness towards the Red Sea. – Exodus 13:17-18

He Leads, We Follow

The way by the Philistines was nearer, but nearer wasn’t better. The children of Israel were learning who their God was, and who they were in Him.

You may also like: Part 2: Walking with God along the Dark Way

Leading them along the longer way, the wilderness way, was another example of the manifest wisdom of God. Moses and the million men, women, and children following him, and their bleating and lowing flocks and herds and hastily grabbed bowls full of unleavened dough were learning Lesson One in God’s primer: Trust Him. It’s a lesson they would have to return to again and again.

You may also like: Part 3: Learning to Walk with God: Going Forward by Going Back

He Leads in Love

God never leads His people by the obvious path. The nearer “way by the Philistines” is rarely the way the Spirit will lead us. God loves us too much to squander an opportunity to teach us dependence upon him. He wants to lead us, always, to Christ. We need not worry. He sees the dangers along life’s way we often do not. “He knows our frame and remembers we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).

following God

The broad way maybe easier but the narrow way is best. The way of the wise isn’t the easy downhill but upward (Prov 15:24). The strait (difficult) way is reserved for His own, just as the impassable cup of divinely-appointed and undeserved wrath was the Father’s will for His Son. It is a holy privilege to be counted among the Lord’s people. Better to be numbered among them and led like them.


The Lord will lead his children in the wilderness way at times. Life will have its dark, uncertain, and unsettling moments. This is not the directing of an inefficient or capricious deity, but the loving way of our Lord and Father. The Lord is my Shepherd, David wrote, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures and leadeth me beside still waters. Whether it’s our first time or our thousandth time, may God lead us along the wilderness way for a time, but he does so in love, and always back to Lesson One: Trust Him.