When times were difficult in the family when I was growing up, my Dad would say he was caught between a rock and a hard place. Other times he would say “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.” He was feeling squeezed, caught or trapped between two hard and undesirable outcomes. Five of us (Mom, Dad and two brothers) grew up in a two bedroom, one bath house. Money was tight, so bills that came with the surprises of life (such as emergency auto repairs, doctor visits, or children that grew so fast clothes no longer fit) caused a panic until the next paycheck or the first of next month. Mom and Dad always seemed to figure a way out of the financial tough spot, the need was met, and life carried on. My Dad taught me to pay the bills on time, and to save for the future. Those lessons have paid off tremendously for my wife and me.
Mom has gone to be with the Lord, and Dad, at age 97, may not be far from taking that same journey. Looking back at those “times of crises”, I am reminded that the vast majority of them either went away, or they were somehow solved or minimized. As someone said, statistically speaking, the end of the world does not come all that often. As I matured, and especially as I matured in my relationship with the Lord, I came to see that it was His hand that guided us through those tough times, and we were stronger for having gone through them. I am also more appreciative of my blessings for having gone through them. I do not want to trivialize or gloss over anyone’s crisis– financial, medical, relational or otherwise. I well understand any crisis may prove to be small, or it may prove to be a matter of great agony, even life or death. It is not fun to be caught in a tight place that seems to be choking off life itself.
Regardless of the nature or magnitude of the crisis, the Book of Exodus gives us a strong example to stand on when times of crisis have us feeling we are caught between a rock and a hard place. In Exodus 14, following a series of miraculous plagues intended to convince Pharaoh to free the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, Moses had led the people on a freedom march to the bank of the Red Sea (v.2). However, Pharaoh had changed his mind about letting the slaves go free (v.5), and had led an army that included 600 of his best chariots, all his other chariots, and the officers over them in hot pursuit of the Israelites (v.7). The fastest moving part of the strongest army in the world at that time was furiously closing in on the rear of their march. The Egyptians were in an extreme rage, as the final plague had taken the first-born from among them (see Exodus Chapter 11). As the Israelites stood with their backs to the Red Sea, and looked at the rapidly approaching army of Pharaoh, courage melted like wax in the hot desert. They were terrified (v.10), and were sure of certain death. The people cried to Moses it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt as slaves (v.12). They were in a tight spot. There was nowhere to go, and no way out.
Moses may have also looked at the advancing Egyptian army. However, sensing the sea to his back, and full well knowing he was caught between a rock and a hard place, he lifted his eyes above the army and looked to the Lord. He did not focus on the problem, and he did not look into the eyes of the several million people watching him. In the most difficult position he had encountered to this point in the exodus, and in the strongest test yet of his leadership, He looked to the Lord. Then in verses 13-14, we read “Moses answered the people, Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians [the enemy] you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” [Emphasis mine.]
What a powerful declaration under the circumstances. Caught between two alternatives that presented certain death or surrender (back to slavery) as an outcome, Moses was able to predict yet a different outcome no one thought possible. The Egyptians did not have the Israelites right where they wanted them; God had the enemy right where He wanted them. They were full of rage and revenge, closing in on a massacre that would set back the Israelites’ hope for freedom for hundreds of years. But God sees things differently than does the human eye. A situation that seemed certain death or defeat for Moses and the children of God was about to miraculously turn on the enemy. Moses predicted specifically that they did not need to be afraid. The Lord would deliver them. They did not need to fight. The Lord would fight for them. They needed only to stand firm and stand still. Then he boldly challenged them to take one more look, because the enemy (Egyptian) they saw today, they would never see again. Not only would they not be harmed, the enemy would be totally annihilated. It was in fact the enemy that had placed themselves between a rock and a hard place, and they would suffer the consequences.
The conclusion of the story can be found in Exodus 14: 15-31. Movies have been made from the story. God parted the Red Sea, and dried the ground so the Israelites could cross safely. When the Egyptian army pursued, He released the waters held back by His hand, and the entire army was wiped away. Verse 28 says “Not one of them survived.”
Here are some encouraging takeaways, things to remember when caught between a rock and a hard place:
- Great leaders depend on Divine guidance. The framers of the Constitution of the United States and the signers of the Declaration of Independence were aware of the grave consequences of declaring freedom. They were totally dependent on Divine guidance for the courage and wisdom to take those steps that led to this United States of America. It is not a sign of weakness to pray for guidance. It is a sign of wisdom.
- When one looks around and sees problems on all sides, it is time to look up. Moses was able to accurately predict the outcome to the people because he had been talking to God.
- God, and only God, can produce some outrageously wonderful outcomes from the worst set of circumstances. The Israelites did not just slip away from the Egyptian army in the dark of night. They did not manage to cross the Red Sea at low tide and leave their enemy to deal with high tide. They did not run away from the enemy and leave the battle for another day or another generation. They proceeded safely, continued their march to freedom, and the Egyptian army was annihilated. Game over. Problem dealt with once and for all.
- The bigger army is not always the best defense. The Israelites had no army. They had been slaves for hundreds of years, and were not trained or prepared for war. They were being pursued by the best army in the world at that time. God is the best defense against the enemy. They were told they did not even have to fight. They were told to stand and look at the enemy one last time, because God was about to deal with him.
- This is a warning to the enemies of the children of God. It is also a warning to those who should be children of God but are not. The land these Israelites were marching toward was the same land God had promised to Abraham. God had promised Abraham He would bless those who blessed him, and curse those who cursed (or opposed) him. When Egypt enslaved the descendants of Abraham, God decided He would set them free, and would destroy their oppressor. This is a warning to all to choose sides now. Choose to be a child of God.
I have not counted personally, but have read that the Bible contains 365 times the phrase “do not be afraid”. That’s one for every day of the year. Not only is fear counter-productive, it does not reflect the fact that God is on our side if we have made Him Lord and Savior of our lives. I encourage you to make that choice today. Then ask Him to remove your fears. What you think is a spot between a rock and a hard place might be the trap for your enemies.