Between a rock and a hard place…

…or between the devil and the deep blue sea, as the sayings go. My morning Bible reading today covered Exodus 13-14, wherein Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt only to get caught between the Egyptians, who decided not to let them go after all, and the Red Sea.

One part of the passage that has always intrigued me is Ex. 13:17-18a: “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea.” God knew that going that particular way would be too much for the Israelites, even though it was the nearer way. I wonder, when we get to heaven, if there will be opportunity to look back over time from a glorified perspective and see what God spared us from that would have been too hard for us to deal with which we had no idea of at the time. This is a perfect illustration of I Corinthians 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Look where the “way of escape” led them, though: right into the encampment by the Red Sea where Pharoah and his armies could hedge them in. Yet, since God led them away from a situation that would have proved too much for them, it stands to reason that this would be a trial of faith they could face and not fail.

I’m not a fan of the saying “God won’t give me more than I can handle.” I guess there is a sense in which it is true, based on I Cor. 10:13. But I would modify it to say that God won’t give me anything I can’t handle without His grace. Very often I find that He does put me in situations too big for me so that I have to lean on Him for help, because there is no other way to handle it.

In Exodus 14:4, God reveals one of His reasons for sending Israel for that particular spot and for sending Pharoah after them: “I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.” That phraseology comes up often in Scripture: that he may know, that they may know, etc. I’ve thought it would make an interesting study some time to look up those phrases or make note of them as I’m reading through the Bible. All throughout the plagues of Egypt God was making known to them that their gods were no gods, that He was the only One — several of the plagues involved something that the Egyptians worshipped (one was the sun, and God showed His power over the sun by making it dark for a few days, etc.). It was not cruel for Him to do so: it was a mercy, so that they would see that they were trusting in something untrustworthy and would see that He is the all-powerful trustworthy One.

One of the many reasons God allows trials in our lives is so that others might see His power and grace. The blind man mentioned in John 9 was born that way so that “the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Elisabeth Elliot touches on this principle in a devotional titled “The World Must Be Shown.”

Sometimes when we find ourselves in those tight places, our first thought is to wonder, “Did I do something wrong?” If not, then we often wail, “Why is God doing this to me?” There may be many reasons: He may be pruning us to bring forth more fruit (John 15:2); to humble us and show us His sufficiency (Deuteronomy 8:2-3); to teach us patience, endurance, hope (Romans 5:3-5); to show us the insufficiency of whatever we are trusting in instead of him….or it just may be that someone within our sphere of influence needs to be shown something about God through our experience.

In Israel’s case, there are many indications throughout the preceding chapters and this one that some of the Egyptians were beginning to understand who the one true real God was. But the Egyptians weren’t the only ones. “And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (Exodus 14:31). It happened in Job’s life as well: Satan was shown something about God and about genuine faith, and so were all of the people through the ages who have read Job’s story. But Job himself learned more about his God through the process as well. That happens with us, too — many people testify that through some fiery trial they got to know their God better and drew closer to Him.

Whatever trial we are going through, we can trust that God has allowed it for a purpose, and that if He allowed it, He will give us the grace to get through it, He will provide, He will lead, he will manifest Himself to us and to others who may be part of the process.