Up the Sea Without a Paddle

“This is how God works. He puts his people in positions where they are desperate for his power, and then he shows his provision in ways that display his greatness.”

I read over Chapter 3 of David Platt’s book, Radical, three times and just kept coming back to this statement. As I thought on it, I kept coming back to one particular Bible story and how I saw it “in person.” (Oh, I was there all right… just thousands of years after the fact.)

It was the summer of 2000, and we had just driven across Egypt. Outside of sprawling Cairo, there wasn’t much to see. Dirt, dirt, more dirt, an occasional camel, and every so often, a Bedouin shepherd who was leading a herd from nowhere to… well, nowhere. (At least nowhere I could see.) The scenery was far from enticing, and the atmosphere was far from luxurious. And it was blistering hot, which made our first sight of the Red Sea even more appealing.

You can see the Sinai peninsula from the eastern edge of Egypt. You don’t really have to squint or look too far off — it’s just there, in all of its dry, arid, hazy, mirage-like glory. Getting to the Sinai from Egypt is another issue entirely, though, as the Red Sea is far too wide to swim. I tried to imagine the scene, from centuries past, of a multitude of Hebrews gathered near the shore, staring hopelessly at the water and hearing the Egyptian army coming from miles away.

And it made me wonder. Why didn’t God lead His people in another direction? Surely there was a better way to get to the Sinai, or better yet, straight to Israel itself where they could settle in, right? And surely He could have refrained from turning Pharaoh’s heart YET AGAIN, prompting the most dramatic chase scene ever. And once God had chosen that particular path and had them right in front of nothing but water, water, everywhere, surely He could have had some boats waiting there or given someone in the hordes of people some other terrific and innovative way to get away from the Egyptians. He’s God — He could have done it any number of ways.

But He didn’t. He left them in a precarious situation where they could see another shore but had no way of getting past all the water. God led them out of Egypt only to allow their captors to meet them here, in a place where they had no hope of saving themselves. They were, to put it mildly, up the sea without a paddle.

And then, God did what no one could have predicted. I tried to picture it, ten years ago when I looked out over the calm water, imagining what it must have sounded like, all of that rushing water parting from itself, all at once. What must it have looked like to see the calm water jump up in waves? We know so well, thanks to God’s fullest revelation of Himself that “even the wind and the waves obey Him,” but the Israelites were just figuring it out, and in their stressful circumstance, how must they have reacted? Did they shriek out loud? Did they fall on their faces? Or did they just hightail it as fast as their legs would carry them? (I’m guessing it was a combo of all three.)

I thought about it, about how there were simpler ways to get them to the Sinai. But God chose the way that would most glorify Him, would most display His power, and would leave the Israelites with no way to claim the victory for themselves. He loved them and sought to save them from their misery in Egypt, but He most assuredly prized His own glory above them and took this opportunity to show just a fraction of what He was/is capable of doing.

And I think the same is true today. When we’re forced to come to the end of ourselves (and I think we fight it the whole way because being desperate is NOT part of the American dream!), God hears our desperation, pushes our abilities aside, and does His thing. Not so much for our provision or for His great love for us but for His glory. If we would be as jealous and desperate for His glory as we are for the myriad of things that have our hearts… can you even imagine what He would do?

“This is how God works. He puts his people in positions where they are desperate for his power, and then he shows his provision in ways that display his greatness.”

5 thoughts on “Up the Sea Without a Paddle

  1. Jennifer Hanson says:

    Oh, this was so encouraging. You don't even know.

    I'm still left with the “okay, now what?” feelings that seem to consume me at times while reading “Radical”. But your observation that God took the Israelites the way he did to show his glory brought a lot of comfort. Thank you.


  2. Natalie says:

    A wonderful post! That must have been something else to be there and imagine the scene. Thank you for the reminder that God works through desperate souls- I seem to be seeing that reminder everywhere these days!


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