Moses and Me: Lessons for Life
When You’re Between a Rock and a Wet Place
Exodus 14 (selected verses)
Rev. Morris Brown
As you know, we’re in the midst of a worship series at Christ Church entitled, Moses and Me: Lessons for Life. This series is based on the life of Moses, which our children will be studying in VBS this month. In this series we’re exploring stories from Moses life in an effort to learn lessons we can apply to our own.
If you were here last week, you may remember we looked at the story of “Moses and the Burning Bush”. In that story, God speaks to Moses through a bush that is burning, but not being consumed. And God asks Moses to help lead God’s people out of Egypt, where they had been slaves for over 400 years. At first Moses was reluctant to do this because he felt very inadequate. But, when God reminded him that with God’s help he could do it, Moses agrees to try. He returned to Egypt where he confronts Pharaoh and through a series of ten plagues, finally convinces Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go. And so, on a night that came to be called “Passover” Moses led God’s people out of Egypt toward a Promised Land.
Now at first, things went well. There was no resistance from Pharaoh. After a few days, however, Pharaoh decides that he’s made a mistake. He doesn’t want to let the Israelites go after all. So, he ordered his army to go after the Israelites and bring them back. As a result, just as the Israelites get to the shores of the Red Sea, they see the Egyptian army on the horizon. As the Egyptians press in, the Israelites realize they’re “caught between a rock (Pharaoh’s army) and a wet place (the Red Sea)”!
Can I ask you something? Have you ever faced a situation in life that made you feel like you were trapped between a rock and a wet place, between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea? I know I have! And my guess is you have as well! In fact, some of you may be “between a rock and a wet place” right now!
Maybe you’re in a difficult financial place. You’ve got bills that need to be paid, but you can’t figure out where you’re going to get the resources to pay them. Maybe you’re in a tough relational place? Your relationship with your spouse or children or parent or a co-worker just isn’t what it needs to be. And you don’t know what to do about it. Maybe you’re in a hard emotional place. You’ve lost someone you loved and you feel pinned in by grief or the fear of facing life without that person. Maybe you’re in a tight vocational place? You’re struggling to find new work or work that you find meaningful for your life.
We all have times when we feel like we’re between a rock and a wet place. So, how should we respond? Well, there are some normal, but unhelpful ways which are represented by the Israelites. And there are some healthy and very helpful ways which are represented by Moses. Let’s take a look at each!
First, when the Israelite were between a rock and a wet place they became PARALYZED BY FEAR! “When Pharaoh drew near” the story says “the people of Israel lifted up their eyes and saw the Egyptians marching after them. And they were filled with fear!” The Hebrew word for “fear” is “yaw-ray”. “Yaw-ray” doesn’t just mean, “to be afraid.” It means “to be terrified, filled with fear to the point that we are paralyzed - unable to move.”
I witnessed an example of this kind of fear a few years ago. My family and I went to the Outer Banks for a few days. One day we decided to go to Currituck. If you’ve been to Currituck you know that there is a beautiful lighthouse located there, which was built in 1876. Well, when we got to the lighthouse my boys and I discovered that for $8.00 you could climb to the top. So, we paid our money and made our way up the 158 feet of stairs to the lookout tower on top. Well, when my son Caleb and I walked out on the platform we were fine. We were walking all around, taking picture of the beautiful scenery, leaning over the rail to wave to our family members who looked like ants on the ground. After a minute or two however, we noticed someone was missing. We noticed that my older son, Zach, wasn’t with us. So, Caleb and I walked back around the narrow platform to the door we’d come through, and guess who we found there? We found Zach. He was clinging to the doorframe! Remembering that Zach is a bit afraid of heights I said, “Are you okay?”
He said, “Absolutely, but I ain’t moving from this spot!”
Fear! It can paralyze us. Rather than do something to move forward, we stand there doing nothing hoping our situation will disappear. To be paralyzed by fear is a normal way to react when we’re between a rock and a wet place. But, it’s not helpful!
Second, when the Israelites were between a rock and a wet place they tried to BLAME SOMEONE ELSE. They tried to place the blames for their predicament on Moses! “Moses,” the Israelites cried, “what have you done to us? Why did you lead us out of Egypt to this place where we will surely die?”
They remind me of the young executive who was hired as the new CEO of a large firm. Before he began his new job, the former CEO met with him and handed him three numbered envelopes.
“If you run up against a problem as the CEO and you don’t think you can handle,” he said, “open these envelopes.”
At first, things went along smoothly. But after about six months sales took a nosedive and the CEO was catching a lot of heat from the board. So, he went to his desk drawer and opened envelop #1. Inside was a sheet of paper that said, “Blame your predecessor.”
So, the CEO called a board meeting. At the meeting he laid the blame for the company’s slack sales on the previous CEO. Satisfied with his comments, the board responded positively. Six months later, however, sales continued to decline and the CEO again began to catch heat from the board. So, he went back to his desk and pulled out envelop #2. Inside this envelope was a piece of paper that said, “Blame your staff.”
So, the CEO called another board meeting at which he blamed several key staff members and told the board he was going to fire them. Again, the board seemed satisfied, but six months later company sales had continued to decline. Before the board could give him heat, the CEO went straight to his office, opened his desk drawer and pulled out the third envelope so he could find out whom he should blame. He tore it open and pulled out the piece of paper inside. It said, “Prepare three envelopes!”
Now, that’s a silly story. But, it’s so true! When we, like the Israelites, find ourselves between a rock and a wet place, between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea, we sometimes play the blame game. We may blame others, or even God, for our predicament. This too is a normal reaction. But, in the end it doesn’t really help.
Finally, when the Israelites found themselves between a rock and a wet place they had a longing to GO BACK TO THE PAST! “Why did you bring us here to the wilderness where we will die?” The Israelites cried to Moses. “We want to go back to Egypt!”
Have you ever found yourself saying things like that? Maybe you didn’t use the same words, but have you ever said, “If only I hadn’t done that, or said that, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now! I wish I could go back and change things! I wish I could go back to the way things were before!” I’m sure most of us have! But, the truth is this we can’t go back to the past! As Mark Zuckerberg said about glitches that allowed hackers into people’s Facebook accounts, “I cannot go back and change the past. I can only do what we think is the right thing going forward.”
Wishing to go back when we find ourselves between a rock and a wet place, is normal response, but the truth is it won’t help. So, if (1) being paralyzed by with fear, (2) blaming others and (3) wishing they could go back to the past didn’t help the Israelites when they were caught between a rock and a wet place–and it won’t help us–what will? Well, what will help us are the healthy and helpful words and actions of Moses in this story.
For example, when he finds himself between a rock and a wet place, Moses says, “DON’T PANIC.” When the Israelites realized the situation they were filled with fear. They panicked. But Moses says, “Fear not.” The Hebrew word for “fear” used here is interesting. It doesn’t mean, “Don’t have feelings of fear.” It means “Don’t allow your feelings of fear to overwhelm you, don’t let your feelings of fear cause you to panic.”
My parents live at Friends Home Guilford. If you’ve ever been there and ridden on the elevator there, you may have noticed that inside the elevator, there is a sign that is posted. It says, “If the elevator is stuck or the door won’t open, stay calm, don’t panic! Press the bottom button on the panel that says ‘help.’ This will activate the phone and someone will come to help you!” Did you hear it? When we’re between a rock and a wet place, the first thing we must do is stay calm, don’t panic!
Second, when he’s between a rock and a wet place Moses says, “BE STILL.” “Be still and you’ll see the salvation of the Lord.” Moses said to the Israelites. What did he mean? Well, when many of us find ourselves between a rock and a wet place, we have a tendency to want to immediately take action. We look for something we can do to “fix the problem,” to “make it better.” In fact, when we find ourselves in a tough situation one of our most common phrases is, “Don’t just stand there, do something!”
But Moses offers some counter-cultural wisdom. Instead of saying “Don’t just stand there, do something.” Moses says, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” Instead of saying, “take action, try to fix things,” Moses says, “Be still. Get quiet. Wait.” Why does Moses say this? Perhaps it’s because he knows that when we “get still, be quiet, and wait” we’ll become aware of a power greater than ourselves. We will begin to sense the voice of God giving us direction, providing a new way to see our situation, inviting us to try something we never thought about before.
Dr. Albert Einstein, who developed the “Theory of Relativity,” was once asked how he was able to solve such complex scientific problems. He said, “When I am faced with a problem I can’t solve, I meditate. And the numbers begin to dance before my eyes.” Albert Einstein found the solutions to complex problems by meditating, getting quiet, being still! When we find ourselves between a rock and a wet place we might want to do the same thing.
Third, when he finds himself between a rock and a wet place Moses TAKES STOCK OF HIS AVAILABLE RESOURCES. When Moses gets quiet - God spoke. God said, “Moses, lift up the staff that is in your hand.” In other words, “Look! You already have what you need to get out of this difficult situation!” And what did Moses have? He had his staff. The staff that God had already helped him use to visit plagues on the Egyptians, which caused Pharaoh to let the people of Israel leave Egypt. In the heat of the moment Moses got still. And God reminded him that he already had what he needed to get through.
Some of you may be old enough to remember the popular 1980’s television show, MacGyver. The star of the show was Angus MacGyver (played by Richard Dean Anderson). MacGyver, who was a special agent who tracked all kind of enemies for the U.S. government, would get himself into difficult places. Whenever he got into these situations, however, MacGyver could get himself out. How? By resourcefully making use of everyday items he had with him. I mean, MacGyver could use a paper clip, duct tape, a rubber band and a ballpoint pen to construct a helicopter if he had to!
My point is simply this. When we find ourselves between a rock and a wet place, God invites us, like Moses, to assess the skills, people or resources in our life God could help us put to use and move through our situation. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are and things will work out!”
Finally, when he’s between a rock and a wet place Moses TAKES A STEP OF FAITH. God not only said, “Lift up the staff in your hand. Stretch it out over the sea. And the people will be able to go through on dry land.” It may have seemed crazy! But, Moses did what God said. And the story says, “The Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind. And the Israelites crossed over on dry ground.”
What does this teach us? It teaches us that when we’re between a rock and a wet place we must be willing to TRUST GOD and have the faith and courage to do the ONE THING God is asking us to do next.
If our marriage is in a tough place, we may need to be willing to trust God and see a counselor. If we’re in a tough vocational place, we may need to be willing to trust God and talk with our boss or float our resume. If our health is in a tough place, we may need to be willing to trust God and take the treatment our doc tells us to. The list could go on and on, but the point is the same. When we’re between a rock and a wet place we must calm ourselves, still ourselves so we can listen for direction, assess our available resources and then have the faith to take some kind of positive action. As James 2:17 says, “Faith without works, without action, is dead!”
So, are you between a rock and a wet place today? If so, I would invite you to take the lesson of Moses’ story and apply it to your situation. Instead of letting fear paralyze you or blaming others or wishing you could go back to the past - be calm, get still, assess your current resources, trust God and take the next positive step. If you will, I think you’ll discover that just as God came to the aid of the children of Israel and led them safely to the other side of the Red sea, he will come to your aid! God will help you navigate whatever “rock and wet place” you find yourself stuck between so that you might find freedom and a brand-new life! Let’s pray!