“Out of the Frying Pan, and into the Fire”
Grace to you and peace in God our deliverer, Amen.
In JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, there’s a chapter called “Out of the Frying Pan, and into the Fire.” Bilbo the hobbit and his dwarf friends have just made it through the dangerous caves of the Misty Mountains, where they narrowly escaped a horde of goblins. They are making their way through the forests on the other side of the mountains when they are found by a pack of evil wolves named Wargs. To escape the Wargs, Bilbo and his friends climb high up into the pine trees. Gandalf the Wizard has an idea to keep the Wargs at bay. He starts lighting pine cones on fire with his staff and throwing them at the Wargs. This works for a while, but soon the goblins show up again, and they have a different idea. They bring to light fires around the trees, and soon the flames are licking the soles of Bilbo’s hairy feet.
Hence the name: out of the frying pan, and into the fire.
It’s at times like these that Bilbo wishes that he was at home in his comfy armchair, with a fire on the hearth and the kettle whistling. Tolkien always adds: “Not for the last time.”
Today’s scripture story could also be titled “Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire.” God has just delivered the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. They were slaves there: suffering under brutal forced labour and threats of genocide. The Bible says, “The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
So God raises up Moses, God calls to him from the burning bush. God sends Moses to confront Pharaoh, and when Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go, God sends the plagues. The Nile turns to blood. Frogs, flies, boils, locusts, darkness. Finally, after the tenth plague, Pharaoh has had enough, and he begs Moses to take the Israelites and leave ASAP.
But as soon as they are gone, Pharaoh says, “wait a minute. How am I going to build all my pyramids without all these slaves??” So Pharaoh rounds up his army of charioteers, and they go chasing after the Israelites.
So now you could say that the Israelites have found themselves poured out of the frying pan, and into the fire! They’ve come to the Red Sea. It’s a long way around. And Pharaoh’s army of charioteers is hard on their heels. They are trapped!
So they cry out to Moses: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you led us here to die in the wilderness?” Just like Bilbo wishing for his armchair and tea kettle, the Israelites wish that they were back in Egypt. And not for the last time.
But it’s ironic, right? I mean, they’ve seen all the things that God has done to deliver them, all the wonders God has performed. Flies, gnats, frogs, locusts, the Nile turning to blood. The pillar of cloud and fire is right in front of them! But they haven’t yet learned to trust God. So instead, they wish they were back in Egypt. And not for the last time.
Sometimes the life of faith feels like we’re out of the frying pan and into the fire. Sometimes it feels like we’re on the shores of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army is closing in.
We know the promises that God has made to us in our baptism. We know that God has promised to deliver us from sin, death, and evil. Perhaps there have even been times when we’ve seen God at work in our lives.
And yet, we still cry out: “God, why did you bring me here? Why didn’t you just leave me alone? I was happy in Egypt. Life was predictable. Get up at 4 am. Make bricks all day. Go to bed exhausted. Repeat. At least I knew what the day would hold!
“But no, you wanted me to follow you. You wanted me to trust you! Well, look how well that turned out. Now I’m stuck here. There’s the sea, and there’s an army of angry chariot drivers who want to kill me. So what are you going to do now, God?”
But God says to the Israelites: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm. Watch as I deliver you.”
And God calls to Moses: “Lift up your staff.” And the Red Sea parts. God makes a way where there is no way. And the Israelites cross the sea on dry, with the waters held back like a wall on their right side and their left.
Sometimes the life of faith feels like God is calling you to walk into the sea. You know that you should be drowning, but you keep trusting that God will keep holding those waters back, trusting that God will lead you through.
Finally, the Israelites make it to the other side. As soon as the last Israelite is safe on the shore, God calls Moses to stretch out his hand over the waters. And as Moses stretches out his hand, God releases the invisible dams holding the water back. And Pharaoh and his entire army of charioteers are drowned in the sea.
And as the Israelites are standing on the shore, watching it all before their eyes, they finally understand. And they marvel at what God has done for them.
Sometimes the life of faith is like standing on the shore and marveling at what God has done for us.
So I wonder where you find yourself today in your journey of faith? Do you find yourself trapped between an army and the sea, asking God, “Why did you bring me here?”
Or do you find yourself walking through the sea, trusting that God will hold those waters back until you’re safe on the other side?
Or do you find yourself safe on the shore, marveling at what God has done for you?
Wherever you find yourself in your walk of faith, may you know God’s presence with you, going before you like a pillar of cloud and fire, every step of the way? Amen.