HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

Researched paper on:

Why did it take 40 years to reach the Promised Land?

Image result for egypt to the promised land

Exodus 13:17-17:16
Judges 4:4-5:31

After checking the distance on the map of the location from Egypt to the promised Land I did a little search and here are the findings.

The laws of geometry teach us that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If only the Jewish people hadn’t skipped that class while enslaved in Egypt, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken them 40 years to arrive at the Promised Land. It seems, however, that God had other plans for our ancestors.

I have always been fascinated by how people go from point A to point B. Frequently, you have the same familiar dilemma, yet if you ask a group of people to find the answer, each person will come up his or her own unique way of solving the problem. It’s very much like a modern-day GPS. To get to Argyle International Airport from Kingstown, you could take the main road to the roundabout in Arnos Vale and take a right on the Windward Highway or come go to Marriaqua and take the Calder road. Why take the latter when the former road is shorter. That is what the Israelites did but they were in the plan of God.

While the initial directions for our journey may seem straightforward, we are often rerouted, or perhaps more accurately put, “recalculated,” to adapt to external factors: traffic (not an uncommon occurrence in the Bay Area), bad weather, the need to stop for gas and the like. Seldom are we actually able to travel on a direct, nonstop path?

As the Israelites scurry to leave Egypt, we learn that “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds” (Exodus 13:17-18).

Why does God feel the need to have the Israelites wander aimlessly rather than proceed directly to their destination? You would think that in fleeing from the enemy, in hot pursuit of freedom, they would want to reach safety as soon as possible.

This is how a Contemporary Bible scholar Avivah Zornberg notes, “The opposition of the road not taken (the ‘straight’ road) to the route chosen (the ‘crooked’ route) carries its own paradoxical resonance. Obviously, the straight road is preferable to the ‘crooked’; strategically, physically, and ethically; indeed, the metaphorical use of these expressions — the straight and the crooked paths — is commonplace in ethical writings. Yet, here, the Torah makes a point of God’s not taking the obvious route … Through this opening speech at the moment of redemption, we understand that the Israelites, even at this moment, are ambivalent about the movement to freedom”.

Zornberg points to very real challenges with journeying: anxiety, and uncertainty. The Exodus from Egypt is laden with a certain fear of the unknown, and it seems that God was worried that once the Israelites saw the challenges that would arise while wandering in the desert, they would prefer to return to Egypt, where, although enslaved, they at least felt a certain degree of consistency in their lives, a familiar routine.

This is a struggle that many people face at least one time or another in life: a reluctance to try something new, to veer off into uncharted territory, to stray from our comfort zones, all at the risk of travelling a path that is less familiar or comfortable.

As we learn in the Babylonian Talmud, “There is a long way which is short and a short way which is long” (Tractate Eruvin 53b). The journey of the Jewish people through the wilderness from slavery to freedom is undoubtedly filled with trials and tribulations, yet ultimately, through our circuitous route, we become a unified nation, a People of Israel — Am Yisrael, stronger from our experiences, more mature through our overcoming adversity and eventually, more assured that leaving Egypt was, in fact, the right thing to do.

In his poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” I think that there is something to be said for taking the easy route because it makes us feel safe. At the same time, I also think that there is something profound in taking the road less travelled, even if longer, windier and more dangerous along the way. Sometimes, the harder we work for something, the more we appreciate what we’ve accomplished once we arrive at our destination.

Author: Godfrey Gregg

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