When Your Back Is Against the Wall
Due to technical issues (I forgot to start the recorder), there is no audio file of this week's sermon.
Have you ever felt like your back was against a wall? Ever been between a rock and a hard place, with nowhere to turn? Or maybe you’ve put in a lot of time going down a winding avenue of life only to find it is a dead end.
As Exodus opens 400 years have passed since our last reading. God used Joseph to bring his family to safety in Egypt, and there they prospered and became numerous. The new pharaoh, who didn’t know, or chose not to remember, what Joseph had done for the Egyptians, saw the Israelites not as honored guests in the country, but as a threat. He institutes a series of persecutions against them. First enslaving them, and then outright genocide.
The people cry out to God and God remembers the covenant he had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and acts to deliver them. He sends his servant, Moses, to lead them out of slavery. (You know the story.)
At this point in the story Moses has led God’s people from slavery to freedom, and all 2-3 million of them are marching toward the Promised Land. It’s the Exodus from Egypt! Free at last for the first time in over 400 years. The NT confirms this is a picture of our salvation from sin, the wicked taskmaster that seeks to hold us in chains of bondage, bitterness, and burdens.
They are marching out, rejoicing in their new freedom when suddenly they encounter...
A shady picnic pavilion? No.
A golden city of riches and happiness? No. That’s where the TV evangelist lives on the monies from the simple minded who believe that’s what the Christian life is all about.
No, they encounter a big brick wall...a problem.
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” 6 So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. 7 He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. 9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon (Exodus 14:5-9).
Have you discovered yet that being saved doesn’t insulate nor isolate you from the problems of life? For those who insist on believing salvation is the end to problems I say, ok, but it’s the front end! Struggles and difficulties continue, and oft times increase when you get saved, for now you have a new enemy coming after you! Pharaoh is a picture of Satan pursuing his losses.
The Christian life is not lived in straight lines. God deals us detours along the way, and they are for our benefit. A straight line from Egypt to Canaan would have been about 150 miles NE and would take less than 2 weeks to traverse. But God takes them SE...the long way around.
The cloud of glory seems to be leading in the wrong direction, though. The same happens to all of us. We have a goal, a destination in our mind, some place we want to go, something we want to become or achieve. Sometimes we even know that God is in it and wants us to get there, but we just can’t understand why it’s taking so long. Can you relate?
God knows what we can handle. If He led them in the straight line to Canaan, they would have passed right through the land of the Philistines, brutal warriors who were blood thirsty. But God’s people were not ready for that. They weren’t seasoned warriors, they were slaves with no weapons of war.
Well, as if this detour God has them on isn’t enough, God then leads them right to the banks of the Red Sea, just as the Egyptian Army is sent to pursue them. Now they’re hemmed in and pinned down. There’s no way out. Mountains of either side of them, a sea in front of them, and Pharaoh’s military is fast approaching. It’s a dead end. Their back is against the wall.
Ever been there? Their problem now turns to panic.
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (vss. 10-12)
Thanks a lot, Moses. And, um, we told you so! But you wouldn’t listen. “Let my people go!” You just had to have your way...and now we’re all going to die!
They’re questioning his leadership. God has used him to lead them to freedom from slavery, and now they’re questioning his ability to hear from God and do the right thing.
But God had seasoned Moses for such a time as this. While they are speaking words of fear, Moses speaks words of faith.
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (vss. 13-14).
He issues three commands:
“Do Not Be Afraid”
It’s the same thing the angel said to the virgin Mary when she learned she was with child. It’s the same thing Jesus said to His disciples in their little boat in the midst of a great storm. It’s the same thing the angel said to Mary Magdalene when she was baffled at Jesus’ body missing from His tomb. To each of these God was saying, “You may not understand your circumstances right now, but don’t worry, I’m still in control!”
Someone has said there’s 366 times the Bible admonishes us not to fear, and if that’s true, there’s one for every day of the year, including this leap year!
Fear is when we can’t see God through our circumstances. Faith is when we see our circumstances...but through God!
We can be troubled on all sides, but not perplexed (2 Corinthians 4:8). They looked left and right, front and back, and there was no way out. But there’s still another direction to look...and that’s up! I believe God wants our backs against the wall sometimes so we’ll do just that. He gives water to those who are thirsty, not full. He heals the sick, not those who are well.
We don’t like to be told to wait, do we? We want to do something. We want to try to help God out -- or help ourselves out. Just standing still is unthinkable in our society today. The most popular words in advertising today are: Now, Instant, Immediate, Fast.
I can take my car title or even a postdated check down here to a place and get some ‘Fast Cash’ for the low APR of just 350%! I can get my oil changed at ‘Fast Lane’. I can eat ‘Fast Food’ and go pick up my ‘Fast Photos’ during that hour. To pay for it all I can get another advance at ‘Fast Tax’.
We don’t like to wait. If someone is ahead of us in line, we are pacing. No wonder the concept of waiting on God is foreign to us. But the Bible says...
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD (Psalms 27:14).
Waiting on the Lord is when we quietly and calmly trust Him until He provides clear direction. It is the opposite of panic. It’s different than trying to fix things or make things happen.
God answers prayers all right, but unless He says ‘yes,’ we don’t like His other answers. We don’t like ‘no’. And we also don’t like it when His answer is ‘slow.’ We take that as a ‘no’ as well! Or when His answer is ‘grow’ [you’re not ready] we take that as a ‘no’ too. We want Him to say ‘go’ when often His answer is ‘stop’. Let go and let God take over. If God did let us have our way we’d quickly see how little we can do in our own strength and we’d never see what God can do in His time and in His way!
What if Moses hadn’t been a good leader? For one thing, if he had taken a vote they all would have returned to slavery. How about if he had weighed his options, humanly speaking, and tried to make a way across the sea. What were his options? Hmmm ... Row vs. Wade? No boats, and too deep!
Stand still, stay with God, and don’t get ahead of Him. You could try in your own strength to swim across the Red Sea, but if you would have just waited He was just about to part the waters for you.
“See the Deliverance of the Lord”
When our back is against the wall is when God does His very best work. “Man’s extremities are God’s opportunities!” Because when God gets us out of such a jam it is clear Who deserves the glory and we are quick to credit Him!
Now, let’s see the miracle.
Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
Notice that the miracle came in three stages:
The Diverting of the Cloud (vss. 19-20)
God gave them a cloud, not a map, compass, or GPS. This cloud served two purposes: to guide them, and to shelter them. They were in an arid desert place, very hot by day, very cold by night. This cloud sheltered them from the searing sun and then it turned into a heavenly heater at night [pillar of fire]. It’s nice to sleep with a pillar!
Well, the cloud moved behind them like a wall between them and their enemies. And He’s not only our Savior, He’s also our protector! David in the Psalms said He’s my high tower, my refuge, my shield, my defense (Psalm 144:2).
The Dividing of the Sea (vss. 21-22)
Nine-year-old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday School. Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge, and all the people walked across safely. He used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters and call in an air strike. They sent in bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved.
"Now, Joey, is that REALLY what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked. Well, no, Mom, but if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!
Well, believe it! The Exodus from Egypt is the premier miracle of the OT. Later biblical writers continually reference it. To the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, the return from exile is like a second Exodus. It really happened. You can no more remove the parting of the Red Sea from the OT than you can remove the Resurrection from the New.
The Drowning of the Egyptians (vss. 23-28)
Some people have a problem with God drowning the Egyptian army. But remember What Pharaoh had done to the male Israelite babies? He had drowned them! Pharaoh was reaping what he had sown.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7).
Maybe your back is against the wall. Be encouraged, fear not, stand still, and see what God can do. God didn’t deliver His people from slavery only to drown them when they were cornered. And God didn’t save you only to forget about you now.
Do you know this old song?
Got any rivers
What Red Sea has God brought you through?
What giant body of water are you still facing?