When Your Back is Against the Wall
Difficulties, Peace, Faith
There is a good chance that some time in your life you felt your back is against the wall.
- a bill is due (or overdue) and you have no way to pay it
- the Doctor says, “there is nothing more that can be done
- False Rumors about you have been spread and everyone is believing the worst
- A spouse tells you the relationship is over
- The bank says they have to foreclose on the farm
- You have an assignment due on the job or school that seems overwhelming
- You have an addiction that seems to be squeezing the life out of you
In these times when life is so overwhelming it is easy to despair. This morning we are going to try to learn how best to handle these situations. We’re going to do this by paying attention to what we can learn from the Israelites when their back was against the wall.
The Israelites had left Egypt after God’s powerful act of the Passover. They were heading east toward what would later be known as Israel. God was leading the way with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire (for warmth and sight) by night. Our text tells us that this was so they could travel by day or by night. (13:21).
At this point the story gets a little confusing. God tells Moses to “Tell the people to march toward Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. They are to camp by the sea, directly opposite Ball Zephon.” (14:2) The reason things are confusing to us is because these cities no longer exist. Archaeologists are left to guess where they were. There is also a question of what body of water they were standing before. The Mediterranean Sea was to the north and the Gulf of Suez which was part of the Red Sea reached up from the south. Today there is the Suez Canal that joins these two bodies of water. Back in the days of Moses some suggest that there were several lakes between the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Suez. Other Archaeologists suggest that the lakes were at one time a part of the gulf of Suez thus making the Red Sea come much farther north. The bottom line is that we cannot pinpoint the exact spot where the Israelites were. (It’s probably just as well because someone would turn it into a tourist area!)
What we do know is that the Israelites were backed into a corner. The Egyptians hear of the route of the Israelites and believe they can go get them and pay them back for the devastation they brought onto Egypt (some people never learn). So they get their chariots and head off after the Hebrews.
Israel is in trouble. Chuck Swindoll says it was like driving into a dead end street with a car full of gang members chasing you. To the West the Egyptian army was bearing down on them. They could go south into the desert but they would be overtaken quickly. Going north was to head back toward Egypt. And to the East . . . there was the Red Sea!
Pay attention and see what we can learn from their situation. There are at least three lessons for handling the times in our life when our back is against the wall.
Sometimes Tough Times Are Gifts to Help us Grow
Notice why the Israelites were in this corner. GOD told Moses to take this route. God deliberately led the Israelites to this location. The Hebrews didn’t know it, but this time of trial was a blessing in disguise. Through this circumstance God was going to teach the Israelites of His greatness in an unforgettable way.
And that’s a lesson we dare not forget. God allows His children to face difficult times for several different reasons. First, tough times correct us. Sometimes we have to face the painful consequences of life so that we can repent and grow. Sometimes we have to hurt before we can heal (like going through knee replacements surgery).
Second, tough times also deepen us. It’s like a plant. The roots of the plant only get deeper if they don’t have water available on the surface. And deep roots make for strong plants. What is true for vegetation is also true of people.
It’s easy to follow the Lord when everything is going well. But when times get tough, that’s when we develop faith. Remember what the writer of Hebrews said? “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1) The difficult times teach us to trust God and to believe God.
Third, tough times provide unique opportunities. The person going through a difficult time has a unique chance to demonstrate faithfulness. The person who is faithful in tough times speaks so much more effectively than the preacher in the pulpit. The fact that Paul kept preaching in spite of the beatings, stonings and imprisonments show that he really believed what he preached. And when you and I are faithful in tough times we show that we really do trust Him.
Down through the ages God has allowed his people to go through difficult times.
- Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son
- Joseph was sold into slavery and falsely convicted of a crime
- David was pursued in the wilderness
- Jeremiah was thrown in jail as a traitor
- Hosea’s wife deserted him
- Job lost everything
- The apostles were constantly thrown in jail and persecuted
Do you see how important this is to realize? Instead of cursing these times we should welcome them as “grad school experiences” in the school of faith. In the tough times of life we learn things we could never learn in the times of abundance.
Impossible Situations Should be Faced With Peace Instead of Panic
When the Israelites saw the Egyptians coming they panicked.
[Exodus 14:10-12]As Pharaoh and his army approached, the people of Israel could see them in the distance, marching toward them. The people began to panic, and they cried out to the Lord for help. Then they turned against Moses and complained, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? Why did you make us leave? Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone while we were still in Egypt? Our Egyptian slavery was far better than dying out here in the wilderness!” Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.
Certainly this doesn’t surprise you because you know that the same thing happens to you. When we face a tough time we often panic and then,
- We turn on those who love us
- We say things that we will regret
- We make decision that are unwise
- We act with desperation rather than wisdom
- We turn away from God rather than toward Him
Moses, who knows that God has a plan (but surely doesn’t know what it is), says to the people,
[Exodus 14:11-12] “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the Lord rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. You won’t have to lift a finger in your defense!” Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996
Can you imagine being one of the Israelites? You are standing at the Sea with the with the Egyptians racing toward you from one direction and the devastating desert in the other direction. You are in trouble. Your leader Moses stands up, grabs the microphone and says, “Relax, don’t sweat it, God’s got it all under control.”
How do you respond? You would get angry. You’d scream, “that’s your plan? What kind of a leader are you?” But Moses is right, of course. When a faithful person is filled with anxiety it shows that they are focusing on the problem rather than the Lord. To focus on the Lord in tough times takes an act of the will. We must chose to look at the Lord rather than our problem.
Robert Morgan writes,
I once spent the night in a crumbling hotel in Porto Alegre, Brazil. A friend and I ascended to our room, high in the building, in a tiny, creaking elevator. From our window I saw slums spreading out far beneath me, and I felt uneasy. That evening I prayed, “Lord, please save me from any danger of fire. You can see we’re at the top of a dilapidated hotel, which is nothing but a firetrap. There isn’t a fire station near, and I can’t see any fire escapes outside the building. Lord, you know that this building would go up in flames in a second, and at this very moment it is probably full of people falling asleep with Marlboros in their mouths …”
By the time I finished praying, I was a nervous wreck, and I hardly slept a wink all night. The next morning, as I evaluated my evening, I realized that my bedtime prayer had focused on my negative feelings rather than on God’s assurances and promises, and learned an important truth: Unless we plead in faith, our prayers can do more harm than good. Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 2000.
Don’t you love those snow globes? There is a scene inside of a globe and when you turn it upside down or shake it it looks like a snow storm. You get the snow storm to stop but keeping the globe still. If you keep shaking it, it will keep snowing. It’s fun with a globe but it is not so much fun when it is your life. Try that same thing with a jar of water with some dirt in it. When you shake the jar you can’t see anything. But if you let the jar rest the dirt settles and you can see again.
In difficult times panic is like shaking the jar. Peaceful trust allows things to settle so you can act with wisdom.
When Times Are Difficult Do What He Commands And Watch Expectantly
Apparently Moses took the gripes of the people to the Lord. We aren’t told what Moses said but we are told what God says,
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” [Exodus 14:15-18]
Do you know what the Israelites had forgotten? They had forgotten that God had been faithful in the past. They saw God do incredible things in Egypt. They saw the Egyptians beg them to leave and give them gifts in addition! They had seen God guiding them with the cloud and pillar of fire. They should have known that God had a plan.
There are certainly times in our lives when we have no idea what God is doing. There are times when we feel abandoned and lost. But the child of God is never abandoned. Nothing will separate us from His love. No one or no thing can take us from His love. So, when we are backed into a corner we must keep doing what we know is right and then watch to see what God will do.
- keep telling the truth
- keep your commitments
- maintain your standard
- keep praying
- keep growing
- keep honoring Him with your life
In some situations this means,
- we keep taking medical treatment
- we keep making contacts for ministry and employment
- we keep trying to have children
- we keep doing our job
- we keep praying for that rebellious family member
That sounds very trite I know, but our job is to remain faithful . . . God’s job is to rescue us. Moses says, “watch and see what the Lord will do.” These are words of anticipation and excitement. We have no indication that Moses knew WHAT God was going to do. He was just confident that God WAS going to do something. It is similar to the experience a baseball fan might have when Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds comes to the plate. You might lean over to your child and say, “watch and see”. You don’t know if this will be the time of a massive home run blast . . . but you know it is coming sometime.
It is tough for Americans to keep on working, watching and waiting. But it is also an exhilarating thing. Try to imagine what it was like for those Israelites. Imagine watching the pillar of fire moving behind you so that the cloud kept the Egyptians in darkness and the Israelites in light. Try to imagine Moses as he lifted up his staff over the waters and wondered what God was going to do. Imagine the awe and the wonder as the waters miraculously parted and the wind blew the river bed dry so they could walk across it. Imagine the cautious first step of the people as they walked between the mountains of water and the broad smile when they reached the other side. Imagine the panic as they saw the Egyptians begin to follow them and then the wide eyes as the water washed away their enemies for good. Is it any wonder that they worshipped?
That’s what it’s like for those who dare to trust God. We walk by faith and wait to see what God will do. And when we patiently trust we find that we are led to worship and bow down before the God who is sufficient for our every need.
I don’t want to make this seem like an easy process. You and I both know that sometimes the waiting is long. Sometimes we wait years. Sometimes we don’t get to see what God is doing in this life. In Hebrews 11 we read,
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. [Hebrews 11:32-40]
These people faced impossible situations. They were faithful before the Lord but none of them received what had been promised. But can you imagine the smiles of those great saints as they look down from Heaven and see what God has done through their faithfulness in the lives of countless generations who have followed them. Would they say that God failed them? Not a chance. They too bow before the Father with great humility and joy. And so will you.
If you and I will trust the Lord then we will know peace in the midst of conflict, we will find endurance for the struggles, we will learn the lessons of graduate school level faith, and we will see the power and goodness of God in ways that stagger us and bring us to our knees.
In conclusion we should notice several things about the times when our backs are against the wall. First, we should remember that tough times do not mean that God is mad at us. There is a pernicious notion going around that the says that a true and faithful believer never has hard times unless they have done something wrong. This is bad and destructive theology. There are scores of references in the Bible that show God’s saints going through adversity not because they are being punished but because they are being used and trained by God. Tough times do not mean that God has turned His back on you.
Second, we need to be reminded that we must choose the attitude that we have for the difficult times. We can panic or we can trust. We can focus on opportunities or liabilities. We can turn away from the Lord or turn toward the Lord. It may not feel like we have the choice of what attitude we will have . . . but we do. The negative responses will come naturally. You will have to make a choice to respond in faithful confidence.
Finally, we are reminded once again that we should never underestimate the power and wisdom of God. No matter how hopeless a situation may seem, we may be on the threshold of one of God’s incredible displays of His wisdom and power. We may not see the waters part, but we may see lives transformed, circumstances changed, and opportunities provided that would have never happened if we hadn’t trusted, waited, and watched.