God does something beautiful in Exodus 14, and I don't know how many times I've read right past it.
The Israelites have come out of Egypt and are headed for the Promised Land. God is leading them, guiding them by His presence in a column of smoke by day, a column of fire by night. Egypt...is pulling up the rear.
Pharaoh's suddenly seemed to realize that his entire work force is gone. Just...gone. They've all taken off for the desert and taken everything they own with him. His building projects, his social structure, the provision he's made through Israel for his own people are all threatened now that this entire nation of people is gone. And he's going after them.
At the sound of thundering hooves, Israel turns around and sees the chariots in hot pursuit, stirring up dust with every approaching step. They turn forward and see the column of smoke and know...this is the way we're supposed to go. And then...the smoke moves.
The presence of God circles back and stands behind the Israelite camp.
There's room for more than a little misunderstanding here. If you've been following the smoke for awhile now, and God's told you that this is His presence leading you, you're probably tempted to follow the smoke still. You're looking at God circle around behind you, right between you and the pursuing Egyptian army. And maybe you're thinking God is leading you into battle. He's leading you to a place where you have that final showdown. Israel vs. Egypt. Right here in the desert. If you continue to follow the column of smoke, this is where you end up.
But Israel doesn't do that. They don't engage Egypt here, and I think that's somewhat strange. Because I don't see any indication from God, or from the smoke, that they shouldn't continue to follow Him. God doesn't tell them that He's shifted positions and He's no longer standing in front of them.
The Scriptures tell us that, though.
The Scriptures tell us not that God was guiding them into battle, but that He had circled around merely to protect them. It says not that He had positioned Himself for war, but that He had positioned Himself for peace. Exodus says, "The column of smoke stood between Israel and Egypt." Between them. As a barrier. As God's way of saying, yes, the chariots are coming, but they have to come through Me.
And it's not gonna happen.
It's beautiful, really, and here's why: because as much as we love the God who goes before us, who guides the way to the Promised Land, and as much as we love the God who stands beside us, as He will do very soon in the Tabernacle, there's something incredible about the God who stands behind us, too. The God who is willing to back us up.
That's what He's doing here. He's saying, not only do I love you, not only have I promised you something greater, not only are we going somewhere together, but I stand behind you. One hundred percent. Whenever you need Me backing you up, here I am. Ready to stand between you and whatever powerful army approaches. You just keep looking toward Canaan. I've got this. I've got you.
I've got your back.