Israel’s plight of being hemmed in on all sides by mortal enemies seems a particularly pitiful one. But it’s the best possible place for them to be, as the miracle of the first Passover reminds us.
Having seen their firstborn survive a plague of death through the blood of a lamb daubed on the doorposts of their houses, the way was now open for the Jews to escape slavery in Egypt as Pharaoh finally had his fill of disasters.
Sure, the blood of the lamb was the key to their salvation, but they needed to keep trusting the God of Israel for every step of their path to the Promised Land. And the first surprise was that a short cut was not the best route. That would have taken them through Philistine country, which was too dangerous. Instead he led them to an area where they were completely trapped, with the desert on one side and the sea on the other, and Pharaoh’s troops, having changed their minds about losing their services, now chasing down hard on their heels.
God takes us on a circuitous route in our discipleship for a reason. And when we find ourselves trapped and hemmed in on all sides, we are in Position A for a miracle. The Israelites panicked, but Moses said: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” (Exodus 14.13)
The fearful Israelites were about to witness one of the greatest miracles of history; indeed, a picture of the coming resurrection of their Messiah Yeshua – and of all who follow him. They had nowhere to go; they were as good as dead. And that is just where God wanted them. In truth, there is never a situation when a believer has nowhere to go; even if he’s trapped in a war zone or a concentration camp, God is there. Notice that Moses’ instruction is not to retreat or do anything, but to “stand still” and let God do the work. He will bring about the miracle, but not if we interfere by trying to manipulate the situation. God will fight for you – “you need only to be still”.
How desperately we need to learn this lesson about taking our hands off the ’ark of God’s presence’ – remember when Uzzah tried to steady the Ark as it was being taken back to Jerusalem. He was struck down dead. (1 Chronicles 13.9f) We like to help God along with our puny efforts, but he doesn’t need them. He only wants our perfect trust.
Abraham, despite his legendary faith, couldn’t quite believe that God could provide a son through the aged Sarah, so he thought he’d give the Lord a hand by having sex with Hagar. And look what happened! We’re still suffering the consequences through the ongoing Arab-Jewish conflict.
I remember going through a very difficult time in my youth involving marriage, family and future, calling out to the Lord from the beautiful Yorkshire hills where I used to walk, and hearing the still, small voice of God saying: “Stand still, and see the salvation of your God!”
In time the Lord brought me through into verdant green pastures, but his timing is also vital as, over and over again since then, I have experienced the miracle of God’s perfect timing – not a moment too soon, and not a moment too late, as I usually discover afterwards. And I have found that music so often plays a part. I don’t know why that is; perhaps it’s because I so love praising and worshipping God as I go about my business that sometimes the Lord speaks back to me in song.
There was a time when I was struggling over issues concerning production of an evangelistic tabloid I started called New Life. As I anxiously mulled over the problems while driving to our offices, words of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber song Memory – “I must think of a new life, and I mustn’t give in…” – came over the car’s audio-cassette player and soothed my soul in a way I shall never forget.
On another occasion I was writing of my experiences in Israel for my book, Peace in Jerusalem, when I recalled the encouragement I felt as I passed a man singing the Leonard Cohen hit Hallelujah in Zion Square. And at that precise moment, classical singer Katherine Jenkins struck up on my CD player with the very same song! I had forgotten it was on that album.
A third example of this occurred more recently during another turbulent time. I was writing an article entitled Bread of Heaven for a website, and not really sure I was doing the right thing. But as I was in the process of actually writing the words ‘bread of heaven’, a Welsh male voice choir echoed those very words (also on CD) – ‘Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore!’
It was of course the chorus of the well-known hymn Guide me O thou great Jehovah. I was ecstatic. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and that’s just it. You know that it’s God when you haven’t manipulated anything.
Yet even after he has taken us across the Red Sea as on dry land, and we have watched our pursuing enemies drown as the waters sweep over them, the journey to Canaan is not a quick one. But it’s in our years of wandering in the wilderness that we learn to trust in the God who provides manna from heaven and water from the Rock.
And yet Israel is now in the Promised Land, where they should be safe. But they are still hemmed in on all sides! The Jewish longing for what often seems the elusive hope of an eternal place of refuge has been beautifully expressed by some of their great modern composers and lyricists. I think of the “yellow brick road” leading to the magical castle of the Wizard of Oz, for which Over the Rainbow was such a hit, the breaking down of prejudice in South Pacific encapsulated in the song You’ve got to be taught to hate, and West Side Story’s “There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us… peace and quiet and open air, wait for us somewhere… we’ll find a new way of living, we’ll find a way of forgiving, somewhere.”
Yet even in Israel the Jews are once again trapped, with nowhere to go, but God. “Then fly to His side (to adapt the lyrics from South Pacific’s Some Enchanted Evening) and make Him your own, or all through your life you will dream all alone!”
The lamb slaughtered for the enslaved Jews is now fulfilled by the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world, who “for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12.2)