Psalm 139:5 - You have hemmed me in before and behind and have laid Your hand on me. Have you ever been in a position where you know you can't go back , and yet the way forward is unclear? Many of us probably can relate to that, especially in these times. I know I do. It feels like we're trapped, unable to move. Sometimes physically. Often spiritually. This is what the Psalmist describes as being hemmed in. Even though it feels like nothing is happening in these moments, quite a lot is happening. God is working. His hand is upon us in these moments to deliver us from our past and to secure our future. I was reminded of this idea recently while reading about the Exodus in a book by Joel Richardson, Sinai to Zion. Here's an excerpt from the section, subtitled Pinned Against the Sea. It may be easy for us to look back on this story [of the Exodus] and wonder how in the world the Israelites could have so quickly doubted the Lord's ability to protect them. I doubt, however, that anyone reading this book has ever had the full fury of the most powerful army in the world barreling down upon them and their families… In such times of great distress, very real human weaknesses inevitably emerge. If the option of going back to Egypt had been on the table, if there had been any door of escape, the Israelites would have taken it in a heartbeat. It was by divine design, however, that there was no natural exit. As the Psalmist declared, so did the Israelites experience: "Lord, you hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me (Ps. 139:5 ESV). As I read that last part for the first time, a burst of faith came from within me and I sensed the Lord saying, "When you feel hemmed in, trust that I am delivering you from your past and securing your future." This is exactly what was happening in the story of the Exodus. When God hemmed in the people of Israel with the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh's military behind them, many of them wished they had stayed in Egypt and never left. All they had known for the last 400 years of their existence was how to live under oppression as slaves to the Egyptians. Admittedly it wasn't ideal, but it was familiar and that familiarity was comforting, especially when the present circumstances only seemed to be offering certain demise. However, the Lord reassured them that their own demise at the hands of the Egyptians was not a part of His intended future for them. Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent. (Exodus 14:13-14) Yes, God was delivering them from their past, a life and culture of oppression. But even more, He was securing their future. God told them that they would never again see the Egyptians. In other words, your past will not come back to oppress you again, because I am not just delivering you out of your oppression, but I am also securing your freedom. The people of Israel were not going to spend the rest of their lives "on the run" from the Egyptians or constantly looking to the hills wondering if the armies of Egypt were mustered just over the horizon. Yet, even with this word from the Lord, their future was still uncertain. Here they were - still stuck between their past and their future. God had hemmed them in before and behind. With no path forward toward their promises and no escape from their oppressors, they were trapped.... But the trap was not for them! Have you ever set a trap? Even if you haven't, you may already know that any effective trap needs bait… So is it possible that, while the people of Israel were the ones that felt trapped, God was actually setting a trap for the Egyptians. Is it possible that the reason you feel trapped may be because God is setting a trap for your oppressors? Today, I'm sure many of us can relate to this story, perhaps on multiple levels. In the context of stay-at-home orders, and shutdowns, quarantines, and cancellations of events and trips and family gatherings.... I wonder if we have ever been more hemmed in, in the most literal sense? Though we may long for things to "go back" to normal, there's no going back. The Lord is leading us forward in to His plans for us. And though we strain to see our long-awaited promises, the path forward is yet to be revealed until our future is secured. So let us not worry our outcomes, as do those who do not understand how the Lord is working. Rather, let us rejoice that though we may be hemmed in before and behind, the hand of the Lord is upon us and nothing shall snatch us from His faitful hand. Therefore, let us honor the Lord as we stand by in quietly humble confidence, reassured that God is delivering us from our familiar oppressors and leading us into a secure future.
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