When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by 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.” (Exodus 13:17).
Reading through the story of the exodus, I came across this verse some time ago, and thought it interesting that even though Israel had just seen Egypt utterly decimated by the 10 Plagues, God recognized that Israel still needed time to separate itself from Egypt in a peaceful way. Instead of throwing them “from height to height,” God gave them rest a time of rest and peace so they could be mentally and spiritually prepared for what was coming. We know they were already physically prepared, since in verse 18 we read “And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.”
Israel had the physical tools necessary to get the job done; God had already seen to that. However they did not have the mental and emotional (and likely – spiritual) tools that were needed. They had been slaves for generations. They were no Spartans, trained for battle from childhood. They were brick makers, bakers, and sheep herders.
And so God took Israel the long way. He destroys the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, He feeds them mana and quail from heaven, He provides water for the nation from a large rock, He meets them on Mount Sinai showing His power and giving His Law. He confirms His covenant and tells them of the conquest of Canaan they are about to embark on. He gives the instructions for building the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant. Then He fills the Tabernacle with His glory and rests on the Ark.
In all these things God takes the time necessary to prepare His people. He shows them what it means to be His chosen people, and does everything necessary to equip them to carry out His will. Rather than throwing them in the deep end, He shows them how to swim, then says “Go.”
We see the same in the New Testament. The Apostles live with and listen to Jesus for 3 years, day in and day out. The entirety of Paul’s life appears as one big preparation before he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. The church is in near-constant prayer and encouragement together from when Jesus ascends to the Day of Pentecost. We see God prepare His people, then tell them to act.
And act they do! Israel (after a bad miss), takes over Canaan. The Apostles preach and teach no matter what persecution comes. Paul goes across the known world teaching the Gospel. The church grows and spreads.
Things are the same for us. You may be in a time of preparation, or a time of action. It takes a genuine look at things to see which it is. If you are in a time of preparation, be prepared to take action when the time comes. If you are in a time of action, use what God has prepared you with to the best of your ability. But wherever we are, let us be faithful, trusting that God will lead if we will follow.