Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.” (Exodus 14.13)
The Obvious Option
Anyone who’s seen The Ten Commandments and then reads this verse can’t help but flash on Charlton Heston’s clenched jaw and fierce glare while delivering the line. He throws his arms into the air with the pomposity of a conductor—which is all too perfect, as an orchestra surges and the Red Sea parts behind him. The instruction and gesture appear premeditated, as though Moses had waited for the perfect moment to use them. But, God bless Cecil B. de Mille’s efforts to mold Moses into an epic hero, nothing could be further from the truth. If we could talk to Moses, he’d tell us he had no idea what he was saying or what to anticipate.
Moses has uncannily managed to sneak tens of thousands of slaves out of Egypt while their owners grieve the sudden loss of their eldest sons. By the time the Jews reach the Red Sea, news of their flight reaches Pharaoh’s attention. He heads into the desert to stop them and when they see his army barreling toward them, the Israelites lose it. There’s nowhere to go. If they turn back, they’ll be massacred. The sea’s too wide to swim. “Did you bring us out here because there weren’t enough plots in Egypt to bury all of us? We were better off where we were!” they shout at Moses. Their panic is piffle next to his, though. He’s lost control of his people. He doesn’t know what to say. Then his mind fixes on the obvious option. Moses orders the people to get a grip. “Stand firm and see the deliverance of the LORD!” What that is he can’t say. But his faith prompts him to add, “The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14.13-14)
Now Isn’t the Time
The King James Version translates Moses’s command as “Stand still,” which gets closer to what he means. If he were speaking to a modern crowd, he’d probably say, “Stand back”—or in military parlance, “Stand down.” The message is emphatically clear: not knowing what they can do at this point means now isn’t the time to do anything. The Israelites need to stop worrying and arguing and moving and thinking. They need to stand back and watch God work everything out as He sees fit. What other choice do they have, anyway? There are no Plans B, C, and D. He’s the only hope they have, and they need to calm down, stand back, and trust Him to work wonders on their behalf. He hasn’t brought them all this way to abandon them to Pharaoh’s army. He’ll fight for them; that’s His job. Their job is only to be still.
One of the hardest skills for us to master is standing back—practicing complete stillness when trouble bears down on us. Our human instincts offer two choices, flight or fight. With neither a viable option, knowing there’s nowhere to run and our adversaries can overpower us, we lose it. We start asking crazy questions and wishing we’d never ventured from the life we knew, forgetting it cost our freedom and self-respect. The moment we realize there’s nothing we can do is the moment we ascertain now isn’t the time to do anything. It’s time to stand back, get out of God’s way, and watch Him take our situation in hand. He’ll fight for us. We need only be still.
But But But But But
“But but but but but,” we say, considering how impossible the situation seems and how simple this sounds. Yet if we pause to think it through, we see how utterly sensible it is. Since there’s nothing we can do, we really have no alternative except placing our entire trust in God and what He can do. At best, all Moses knows is the Israelites have to get across the Red Sea. And frankly, that was going to pose an impossible problem even if Pharaoh’s army hadn’t pursued them. Left on their own, they very well could have died of starvation trying to find enough materials in the desert to construct seaworthy vessels. What’s more, since not one of them has any boatbuilding expertise or sailing experience, it’s probable they’d drown in spite of themselves.
Generally, when standing still becomes our sole option, it’s because strategies we’d devise in less dire circumstances would end in certain disaster. So often we don’t learn how little we know and how incapable we are until we go too far. And even then, that lesson doesn’t prevent us from trying a similar maneuver the next time we’re in trouble. If what we’re challenged with seems too hard to handle on our own, odds are it is too hard for us. By saving the Israelites from Pharaoh, God also saved them from themselves. He made a way where there was no way. Reaching a place where we have to stand still can be terrifying—until we see what’s actually taking place. God brings us to stillness to draw our attention away from our self-reliance so we can stand back and watch Him do what only He can.
Please comment: Has God proven His power in your life in a situation(s) where your only option was standing still and allowing Him to work?
When we feel trapped with no way of escape, we need only be still.
(Tomorrow: Stillness: Always)