Scripture Reference: Exodus 14, 1 Corinthians 10:13
Escaping From Tight PlacesDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 3, 2004
Selected highlights from this sermon
Being cornered is often a place where we learn the most. When the Israelites were about to cross the Red Sea, they realized that Pharaoh and his army were coming to stop them. They cried out to God but didn’t wait for an answer, so they complained to Moses.
I’m speaking today about tight places. For some of you, you’re in a tight place because of financial difficulties. You’ve lost your job and you are looking for work, but the bills have to be paid. Some of you are in a tight place because of health issues. The doctor has given you some news you hoped to God you’d never have to hear, and so now you find yourself squeezed. You are in a tight place.
But the most difficult tight places are relational issues, aren’t they? I think of a wife that I read about this past week who wondered whether she would ever have the nerve to ask her husband whether he had ever been unfaithful to her. And finally, after several years, she got up her nerve and asked, only to be told that the answer is, “Yes, he had been unfaithful for years.” And she wondered later, “Did I even want to know that? Shall I tell anyone?” She was in a tight place.
There are some of you listening here today, some of you mothers, God bless you. There may be abuse going on in your home right now. Your husband may be abusing the children, and yet you want to just ignore it. You want to remain silent because if you say anything, if you go for help, the whole family might become unraveled, and you wonder how you would survive, and so you’re in a tight place.
What is a tight place? A tight place is any predicament that we are in where there seems to be no obvious easy solution. That’s the tight place. A tight place is the question of shall we keep it secret? Shall I not say anything, or shall I say something and have the whole sock come unraveled?
A man called me and said, “You know, I stole something at work. I’m as guilty as sin, but when they pinned me down I lied my way out of it and I still have a job.” I said, “Well, you have to go make it right.” He said, “If I make it right I lose my job. I have a wife and children to support.” He’s in a tight place.
A tight place is, “Do we return what is stolen? Do we break a relationship that we know is destructive?” I think of a young woman in an abusive relationship, warned about this man, but continually going back to him for reasons that will become clear in this message today. We’re talking about tight places, and by the time 20 or 25 minutes is over you’re going to have an answer for your tight place. Aren’t you glad you came here today? The blessing of all of this music and all of this worship, and now to hear from heaven, because God is going to talk to you about your tight place. You’re in the right place to hear about tight places.
In the 14th chapter of the book of Exodus, Moses is in a tight place. Specifically, Pharaoh put him into a tight place. Remember that the firstborns were killed in Egypt, and Pharaoh finally relented and said to the people, “Get out of here.” And so Moses and the people left—two million of them. Can you imagine them leaving for the desert where they had limited water and virtually no food, having to trust God?
And while they are there God speaks to Moses rather directly in chapter 14, verse 2 of Exodus: “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea.” What is God saying? God is saying, “Moses, do a little bit of laundering in the desert. Change your direction so that you will entice Pharaoh to think that you are confused and so that he’ll come after you, because I want to destroy Pharaoh, and I want to get glory.” Alright, that’s the agenda.
So Pharaoh pursues the people. The Scripture says in verse 6 that he took 600 select chariots (By the way, the Egyptians already had iron at that time.), plus the rest of the chariots of Egypt and he got them readied with all of his officers, and they began to pursue the children of Israel. And the people saw a cloud of dust and they were terrified. It says in verse 6: “So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people.”
Verse 10: “When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord.”
They did the right thing but they didn’t wait for an answer. They were in a panic. Pharaoh was coming after them and so they cried up to God because the very next verse, verse 11, follows verse 10. As a matter of fact, it does that throughout the whole Bible. Am I going too fast for some of you here today? In verse 10 they lifted up their eyes, and they feared greatly. They cried to the Lord, verse 11, and then they said to Moses: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in this wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness (or desert).”
They are saying, “It would have been better if we had stayed in Egypt.” Mind you their memories were very much distorted because Egypt was no picnic. They were being beaten, and they had to make bricks, and then more bricks, and they weren’t given straw, and it was no picnic at all, but they said, “Even Egypt is better than our predicament here.” The minute you begin to do what is right you’ll discover that sometimes it is easier to serve Pharaoh than it is to get away from him. Sometimes it is easier to simply be quiet and serve rather than be delivered.
I think of a nurse who was involved in some shenanigans financially with some other people in a hospital, and now because she’s a Christian she wanted to come clean on her side of the ledger, but she was threatened. “You come clean and you will be dead. After all, Pharaoh, so to speak, is pursuing you and we’ve got the attorneys and we’ve got the connections and we can just destroy your character. We can ruin your reputation, and if we want, we can kill you.” So what does she do? Remain silent and serve Pharaoh, or does she try to get away from him? She’s in a tight place.
People of Israel are in a tight place. There’s no easy option here at this point, but the children of Israel, God bless them, cry up to the Lord. They cry up to the Lord and then they complain to Moses. Why? They did not wait for an answer.
Is it possible for you today to cry up to the Lord in despair and not wait for an answer? Absolutely. Israel didn’t wait for an answer. They cried up to the Lord and they complained to Moses, and said, “Why did you bring us here? It would have been better if we had stayed in Egypt.” It’s easier to serve Pharaoh in Egypt than to get rid of Pharaoh when you leave Egypt.
Some of you are in vocations that you should get out of, but you say, “Who’s going to pay the bills? I have to serve Pharaoh.” So the first snapshot that we’ve taken of this text today is that Pharaoh pursued the children of Israel and put them in a tight place.
Second, Moses cried to God and believed God when he was in a tight place. You’ll notice that Moses said to the people in verse 13: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Moses said, “I’ve heard from God. We’re in a tight place but God is going to take up our cause.”
You feel sorry for Moses, don’t you? Two million people mad at him! Two million people criticizing him! We get a letter of criticism, and we as a staff read the letter and we wonder what in the world to do. One little letter! Two million people pointing fingers at you and saying, “Why did you do this? It would have been better if we had stayed in Egypt.” My heart has to go out to Moses.
And there was no use looking to the right because there were some mountains and wilderness to your left. The Red Sea is in front of you, and behind you is the strongest army of the world at that time, and the children of Israel had no weapons at all. What Pharaoh probably was going to do was to kill a whole bunch of them to terrify them, and then bring them all back to Egypt and make them slaves, the likes of which they had never been before to treat them more cruelly than he had ever treated them. So they were terrified, and Moses knew that there was no use trying to check his resources against Pharaoh’s, because the children of Israel had no weapons. They had no chariots. They had no horses. And so Moses is standing there, and there’s only one way to go for Moses and that is to God, because Moses knew that there is no wall so high, there is no ditch so deep but that you can cry to God in the midst of your despair.
And Moses cried to the Lord, and the Lord even said, “Now Moses, you have cried to the Lord, and you have listened for the answer so (verse 15) why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will get glory (God says this three times in this passage.) from the Israelites and I will get glory from old Pharaoh.” Before he dies he’s going to admit that God is on Israel’s side.
What do we do when we are in a tight place? We cry to God but we wait for an answer, and we are willing to do whatever God tells us to do. We’re willing to do it. Could I say humbly, “Don’t even cry to God if you have no intention of doing what He tells you to do,” because what you’ll do is you’ll cry to God and then you’ll complain about your predicament. No, you cry to God, and you wait before God until you know what to do.
Now you say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, God doesn’t really speak to us as He does to Moses, so what are we going to do?” Well, come on now. Look into the white of my eyes if you can still see me, if your eyes are still capable of seeing me at this distance. We’re having coffee together and you and I are just having a heart-to-heart chat. You are talking with your pastor and I’m going to talk to you plainly.
In most of the instances, I would say that 90% of the time we know right well what God wants us to do, but we don’t want to do that because the consequences are too terrifying and we’re scared to death if we do it. Of course, that woman who came to me who said that she was manipulating the checkbook in such a way that she was stealing money from their joint account, and now she doesn’t know what to do; you know, the husband might get mad. “Lady, are you sure you don’t know what to do? Are you honestly telling me you don’t know what to do?” I don’t even have to pray about that one. No use even crying up to God! Of course, you have to confess it to him and make it right.” God may have him find out some other way anyway. Better he hear it from you than from the bank.
And that man who said, “You know, I stole this stuff and I don’t want to confess it because I’d lose my job, because I have a wife and children,” why is he even calling to me? He calls me on the phone, God bless him. That’s the thing to do. You should talk to your pastor, but sometimes the pastor doesn’t say what you want to hear.
You’re in a tight place, aren’t you? Yes, a very tight place! Do you know what you do? You do what is right and you let God take care of Pharaoh. That’s what you do when you are in a tight place.
He knew what he should do, and I suppose in ninety percent of the instances we know exactly what we should do. My dear lady, if there is abuse going on in your home, you should go for help. Alright? And down deep in your heart you know that’s what you should do. You know you are in a tight place. Cry up to God and God will confirm it. And then you say, “Oh God, it’s up to You to take care of Pharaoh.”
Now there are some times when we really don’t know what to do. We cry up to God and we seek God’s face, and God doesn’t seem to be answering, or the issues are so unclear. And at that time what you do is you go to somebody who has some biblical wisdom and ask them, because there are situations, you know, that are very, very complex. Have you ever noticed that human beings get themselves into some very, very intriguing predicaments? Have you ever noticed that? And so what you do is you seek for wisdom. But here’s the point. You go to God. You cry up to God, and you’re willing to do what God lays on your heart to do.
Now, God says to Moses a couple of things. “Moses, first of all, the Egyptians are going to be wiped out. Secondly, I’m going to get glory to Myself. And even Pharaoh, before he dies…” You can look there in the text, and I’m always assuming that you’ve read the text ahead of time. You’ll notice that Pharaoh says in the last part of verse 25, “Let us flee from before Israel for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” The Egyptians are down and then they say, “God is God, and God is getting glory by winning this battle.” God would fight for them.
So the first snapshot that we’ve taken today is that Pharaoh chased the children of Israel, if we can put it that way, into a tight place. Moses believed God in the midst of the tight place, and then God delivered them from the tight place. Scripture says that Moses put his hand over the sea. He took the staff, the rod of God, and he put it over the sea. And God divided the waters.
And you know what God graciously did for them is He moved the cloud. I’m ahead of myself here because before they went into the sea, He took the cloud. He said, “Israel, I want to give you a good night’s sleep before you go through the Red Sea, so in order to keep you from Pharaoh, what I’m going to do is to take the pillar that was leading you, and I’m going to put it behind you so that it separates you from Pharaoh so Pharaoh is not going to be able to see you. He’s going to be very confused as to where you are, because this pillar of cloud, which is really Me (God is saying), is going to separate you from your enemy and there’s nothing quite like an enemy when God has decided to fight him.” And so the Lord says, “Have a good sleep, would you, because I’m going to be Your protector? I am going to fight for you.”
Wow! When God fights for you Pharaoh doesn’t have a prayer. Isn’t that wonderful? (applause) And so what God does is He confuses the enemy. Then He destroys the enemy, and they have such a great victory that chapter 15 is the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. It is later on in the book of Revelation spoken of that way. It is the Song of Moses of the triumph of God over the horse and his rider that are cast into the sea.
Now, let’s talk about your tight place. What about your tight place? First of all, God leads us into tight places. Often God leads us into tight places. I hurried over it though I did read it. In chapter 14 it is God who says in verse 2, “Turn back and change your course of direction and give Pharaoh the impression that you are confused in the wilderness.” They did this. The zigs and the zags of the desert were ordained by God. They were in a tight place right in the middle of God’s will, obeying Him.
Do you think you can be in a tight place as a result of obedience? Oh yeah! I remember a young woman who came to us here. She moved from another city with all the difficulties involved in moving, and she gets a new job here, which she thinks is God’s will, and she discovers three months into it that they are expecting her to do something unethical, so she talks to her boss and says, “I can’t do that.” And he says, “If you can’t do that, you’re out of here because you either have to play the game the way in which we play it, or it’s curtains for you.” So she left.
But then she begins to wonder, “Could I have been led by God to the city of Chicago?” Of course, she could have been, and she could have been led to that job because sometimes it is God who leads us into tight places. You might be in a tight place today by the hand of God.
But I do have to admit that there are some tight places that we create for ourselves. Some of you are laughing already. We could have personal testimony time now, couldn’t we? Tight places that I have created for myself!
I was up in Canada recently and the headline was that a teenager at the age of 15 got behind the wheel of his parents’ car, supposedly without their permission, with four other friends. He crossed a median and hit a truck. The four friends are dead. He’s alive. He’s in a tight place. He has to live the rest of his life knowing that stupidity and doing what is stupid, illegal and wrong can have tremendous consequences. And he’s in a tight place because of his own fault. No question! But does God abandon him and say, “Well, you know, this kid—look at what he’s done!”
No, God doesn’t abandon us even if we are in tight places that are our fault. God is there to meet us. For example, we could say that in this instance Israel was in the desert because of obedience. But for 40 years they end up wandering in the desert because of disobedience. God says, “This is a judgment. I’m not going to let you into the land. I’m going to confine you to the wilderness to let a whole generation die.” They were under the judgment of God. Did God say, “Well, you know, this wilderness experience is your fault; see if I’m going to come through for you”? You know, “Figure out your own tight places.” Of course not! He’s there providing for them. He’s giving them manna. He’s leading them. He’s giving them direction because God is just as able to help us in tight places that we have created as He is to help us in tight places that others have created for us. He’s the God of tight places.
Secondly, in tight places God provides a way of escape. There’s always a way of escape. “There has no temptation or trial taken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able, but will, with the temptation, make a way of escape.” Listen to me now from my heart to yours, however you may be listening to this message, because this comes to you now from God. You understand what I mean by that.
No matter the tight place that you are in, there is still one good move that you can make. There is still one good move left that you can make, because with that tight place there can be a way of escape. There is something that God has planned for you that you may not see now, that if you are obedient, God will see you through, and still have a purpose for you, because there are no tight places to God. The tight places are ours. They are never His. And that’s why my third lesson is that our tight places must become God’s tight places.
One day there was a tree that was growing in the desert, and somebody decided to cut down its branches, and from that tree somebody (Maybe Moses or someone else) made a staff, that is, a pole perhaps three or four inches in diameter and five of six feet long. And that’s what Moses carried. And do you remember how I explained he picked it up in the penalty box while he was doing 40 years for manslaughter in Egypt? That’s what he got. He ended up with this staff, and now this staff, the staff of Moses, becomes the staff of God.
And the Lord says to Moses, “Take the staff that is in your hand. (I’m in verse 15 and 16.) Lift up your staff and stretch out your hands over the sea.” And God says, “Moses, what you picked up in the penalty box is going to be the means to remind you where you came from, and remind you of My power.” And so Moses puts his hand over the sea because Moses knew this. He may put his hand over the sea, but God’s hand sustains Moses. The rod is in Moses’ hand and Moses is in God’s hand in the midst of this tight place. And Moses, in effect, said, “God, (chuckles) thank You for a situation over which I have no control. We can’t take on the Egyptians. We can’t fight them. We have no resources. We have no place to go. We are hemmed in. Apart from a miracle it’s over.” And God came through.
Some of you are in tight places and the reason that you don’t want to get out of that tight place is because you fear Pharaoh. Pharaoh is breathing down your neck, saying, “You get away from this. You leave that abusive relationship, and I’ll show you. I’ve got the power, or I’ve got the might. I’ve got a hold over you that you can’t break,” and you are listening to Pharaoh. And I want you to know today from my heart that when we are obedient to God, the consequences of our obedience rest fully in God’s hands and not ours. So what we need to do is to say, “God, I’m going to be obedient to You, and I’m going to trust You to take care of old Pharaoh.”
There’s probably another lesson that we should learn as a result of that, and that is that tight places really do reveal our heart. See, that’s why God puts us in tight places, and when it’s His leading He wants to find out what’s in our heart. Tight places do that. In tight places some people turn to drink. Some people turn to drugs. Some people turn to compulsive sexuality to cover the deadness and the emptiness of a life. They are in a tight place but they can’t handle and they can’t deal with it. And this is the medication that they use.
Some people simply resort to a troubled conscience and to say, “I’m going to live without straightening this out. I’m going to live without telling the truth about the fact that I stole from my company. I’m going to live with abuse and not go for help. I’m just going to tough it out,” because you fear the consequences of what would happen if the truth were known. And so they hunker down and they say, “This is my response to a tight place.”
The Bible would teach a different response. Cry up to God and say, “God, I am in a tight place.” That’s number one. “And God, whatever you show me in my life that has to be changed, whatever it is that You ask me to do, by Your grace I shall do, and You, oh God, take care of Pharaoh,” because God is the deliverer from tight places, or else He’ll lead us through them.
One day, Jesus was standing before Pilate. And Pilate was beginning to rail on Him and so forth. And Jesus said, “Do you not know that I could call 12,000 legions of angels that could deliver Me? I could get out of this tight place. Very, very easily I could get out of it. You know, all that I’d have to do is to cry up to God and it would be over.” But Jesus didn’t do that. He said, “I’m going to walk through this tight place even though it leads to death.”
Sometimes being obedient to God costs us a life. Sometimes doing what is right costs us, but thank God that Jesus did it because as a result of that you and I can be redeemed today. And somebody is listening to this message who is not redeemed. You don’t know God personally through Jesus. It’s because Jesus didn’t get Himself out of a tight place, but God walked with Him through the tight place. It is because of that that you and I can be forgiven. We can be cleansed. We can be connected with God. Where are you today? Where are you?
Through Jesus we get to know the God of tight places. “Call onto me in the day of trouble and I will answer you, and I will show you great and mighty things which you know not.” You’re in a day of trouble. You are in a day of a tight place. You call to God. Ask Him what He would have you to do, but be obedient to do it. And for some of you, that obedience means right now to receive Christ as your Savior, as your sin bearer, and to say, “I believe in a Savior who is qualified to save me and to forgive me.”
I end today with the words of Moses: “The Lord will fight for you. Stand still and see His deliverance.” He’s the God of tight places.
Our Father, we pray today for all who have listened to this message, for those, Father, who are in very, very tight places, filled with fear to do what they know they should. We ask today, Father, come to them by Your Spirit. Remind them, Lord, that Pharaoh is no match for You. Remind them that You will honor their obedience no matter the cost. Remind them that even if they go through what they are fearing that You will walk with them through that experience, and that blessing always comes from obedience. Show that to them, Father. For those who have never trusted Christ, may they believe on Him at this moment and say, “Jesus, thank You for dying for me, for not being delivered from the place of death.”
I’m going to close this prayer in a moment. Whatever it is that God has said to you at this moment would you just say to God what it is that you need to tell Him? Maybe this afternoon or this week sometime, seek a quiet place. Spend an hour with God. Lay the matter entirely before Him, and say, “God, whatever You ask I’ll do.”
Father, in the hurried schedules of life help us to take out time (to take out time) to give You our hearts, our obedience, and all that we are, that we will see Your glory in tight places. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.