When I was a child, the maps in my Bible got me through many a sermon. I was rarely interested in listening to the preacher, so I would flip to the back pages of the Bible to study the maps there. I would gaze at the contours of the lands of the Middle East. I would observe how Abraham had obeyed God and left his country and his kindred and his father’s house to journey to the land that God would show him. I would study the ancient world as the Patriarchs knew it. Best of all, I would see how God had miraculously delivered his people from their long captivity in Egypt.
Like just about every Bible, mine had a map that traced the route the Israelites followed after they escaped from Egypt and began to make their way toward the Promised Land. The map had a line in blue that began in Egypt and then traveled south for a time toward the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula. Eventually, it bulged north for a short while before dipping south again. Then finally it turned permanently northward and led the way to Jericho before it terminated on the banks of the Jordan.
The route the Israelites followed is far from straight and hardly looks efficient. Instead of taking a direct approach leading straight from Egypt to Canaan, the route appears to wander and meander, to turn this way and then that, to progress for a time and then bog down. It would be easy enough to look at a map like that and assume that it shows confusion or indecision, a lack of planning, and a lack of strong leadership.
Yet we know that all the while the people were following the Lord’s directives. He is the one who would tell them when to pick up and when to settle down, when to go straight, and when to turn to the left or the right. It was under his direction that they forded this river or turned away from that sea, in obedience to his command that they approached this mountain or avoided that plain. And if that’s the case, then the map does not truly wander and meander at all and does not truly show the least confusion or indecision. To the contrary, the map at the back of our Bibles shows the considered and well-thought-out plan of God, the route that existed in his mind long before he called his people to follow it. Their every step was deliberate and their every move was meaningful, for it was all the fulfillment of God’s good and perfect will.
There are times when it does us good to think back to our own lives and to picture them almost like a map—a map that traces our journey from birth to where we are today. And as we look at our lives so far, we can see how we passed through certain kinds of difficulties and avoided many more, how we scaled some mountains of joy but bypassed others. We can see how we turned this way toward success and that way toward failure. Our path through this life has been winding and twisting, rarely perfectly straight and rarely avoiding every hindrance and every stretch of wilderness.
And just like God was leading the Israelites on their journey, we can have every confidence that he has been leading us on ours. Just like every twist and every turn they took was within the wise providence of God, so too every step we’ve taken forward and every step we’ve taken back. He planned that we would approach mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, and he has used them all for his good purposes. And, just like he promised that his people would safely reach the end of their journey, he has promised we will reach ours. For like them, he is leading us to the Promised Land, the land of peace, the land of rest, the land where we most truly long to be.