Meditations in Exodus: 46. Tricky Circumstances
Ex 14:12-14 encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea….. Pharaoh will think, `The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them.
My wife and I have a saying that owes its origin to those stars of early films, Laurel and Hardy. So often they got themselves in difficulties and Oliver Hardy would turn to Stan Laurel and say, “Fine mess you’ve got us into Stanley!” ‘Fine mess’ for us has become shorthand for “Fine mess you’ve got us into,” when things are all going wrong. I suspect that that is essentially what Israel are about to think about Moses: this is a fine mess you’ve got us into, except they would be screaming it in terror. Let’s see what happened and don’t forget how I ended the previous meditation.
Note the starting words of this chapter: “Then the LORD said to Moses.” (v.1) This is all initiated by the Lord and the Lord doesn’t make mistakes. Initially Israel are going to panic and think their end has come, but what is taking place is happening by God’s design. Watch! “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon.” (v.2) Instead of going due north around the lakes, Israel are to appear to turn back and although there is historical uncertainty about the locations and place names, they end up, we must suppose, opposite the sea.
Now again there has been much debate what exactly the ‘Sea of Reeds’ means but we must assume I believe that it refers to the upper end of what we now call the Red Sea and, again, I have a neat little story for this. A little old Christian lady was explaining this story to an unbelieving friend and explained how Pharaoh’s army came to be drowned in the Sea of Reeds and her friend challenged it and said it could not be because that upper end of the sea was so shallow. “Oh how wonderful,” the little old lady cried, “an even greater miracle, the Lord drowned an army in three inches of water!” The point is we either accept the story as we find it (incomplete on some information no doubt) or we reject it all. The Exodus story is too complete, too complex and too meaningful at every stage to be made up so why start disbelieving simply because we don’t have all the facts. The point about the story of the little old lady is that there was sufficient water to destroy an entire army – believe it!
But back to the story. The Lord actually explains to Moses His thinking: “Pharaoh will think, `The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.” (v.3) i.e. Pharaoh will hear what is going on and will assume that Israel are lost and confused and appear a leaderless bunch who could be easily recaptured. The old Pharaoh will rise up again. Why? The Lord explains: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them.” (v.4a) Ha! The Lord has not finished with Pharaoh; he knows that he is still that old self-centred, pride-filled despot and so He will speak into Pharaoh’s mind (or perhaps get Satan to do it – see Job 1 & 2) and stir him up so he decides to go after Israel.
But that isn’t the end of it; the Lord continues, “But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” (v.4b) The Lord is quite clear, He is going to do something in respect of Pharaoh and his army that if the onlooking world hadn’t realised it before, they will now, that all this was God at work! He doesn’t appear to explain to Moses exactly what He will do but after these instructions we simply read, “So the Israelites did this.” (v.4c)
This all pans out as the Lord had said. Pharaoh is told what is happening to Israel (v.5) Pharaoh got together his army (v.6) with all his best chariots (v.7) and pursued them. (v.8,9) It was then that Israel realise they are in ‘fine mess’ situation: “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD.” (v.10) They pour out their anguish to Moses: “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? 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!” (v.11,12)
Have you ever thought about your Christian life and thought, ‘Life would be easier if I hadn’t come to the Lord?’ Now don’t get upset by that suggestion because there are times when to stand out as a Christian is costly, and sometimes we seem to be taken through circumstances – yes, circumstances we prayed about – that frankly seem to be going wrong, and you wonder what is going on. In fact you wonder did you actually hear God’s guidance? You wonder, has God brought this on me, or it is the enemy coming against me because I am a Christian?
No don’t get me wrong; coming to the Lord is the most important thing you can ever do in your life on earth and the outworkings of that are so wonderful than in no way am I suggesting anything otherwise, but what I am asking for is honesty to accept and recognize what we sometimes feel deep down; this is tough!
So why did the Lord lead Israel into this ‘fine mess’? We’ll see that in the next study but it was NOT a mistake! We live in a fallen world, a broken world and if the Lord sometimes allows that to apparently lean heavily on us, if I may put it like that, then there is a good reason and it is for your ultimate blessing. Don’t go on the outward appearances of the circumstances, learn to wait on the Lord to sense what He wants to achieve in you through them. He may deliver you OUT of these circumstances (you escape them) or He may deliver you THROUGH these circumstances (you weather them with His grace). His primary goal through all such things is to draw you closer to Him, that you may know Him more fully. Amen? Amen!