“During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Exodus 14:24-25 NIV
The Egyptian charioteers were expert drivers. They had the best chariots and horses that money could buy (and slaves could build or train) and they were used to being the victors. They had had the upper hand over the Israelites for so long, it must have been one heck of a shock to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath.
When we are used to being the best at something, it can be a literal as well as metaphorical jolt to suddenly find our wheels jammed or clogged (one translation has “twisted”). At such times we need to be clear about where our reliance is founded. I remember feeling like this during my first attempt at university, where I first got ill in 1990. I suddenly felt as though someone had jammed the brakes on, like my brain was clogged with cotton wool, like exhaustion was waiting for me round every bend, and the wheels of life, well, they just weren’t turning.
And the glandular fever I was later diagnosed with (which precipitated my M.E.) was not the only jolt. Used to being the clever clogs, I found there were people far brighter than I was, and that most of the people there were not there to learn, or to save the whales, or for any reason akin to my own motives, but to get the right degree to earn them the most money, to drink themselves stupid and to generally be hooray henriettas. I was bewildered and disappointed. Had I been well, I might have rallied and found some like-minded folks. Ill as I was, I didn’t stand a chance of coping, and six weeks after starting what I thought would be a new dream, I was back home with my parents feeling dreadful, and staring failure full in the face. I felt like the wheels on my chariot weren’t only jammed, but had fallen off.
A juddering halt like this in life is heart-breaking and soul-destroying. But it is also an opportunity, especially to re-evaluate. Sometimes our wheels need some repair and recalibration. Wheels on cars have to be rebalanced every so often, and ours in life are the same. My priorities in life had to change, because I’ve never been well since, but I did manage to go to a much more open-minded university and begin a completely different degree a year later. And who knows who I might have become if I’d just gone sailing on into the fray? Would I be a writer or an artist now? Would I know the Lord the way I do? I doubt it. One thing I do know is that ifs and buts, maybes and what ifs do us no good, and can keep us just as stalled as broken hopes.
Retreat is sometimes our best plan. It certainly would have been the most sensible option for the Egyptians. When what normally carries us forward is spinning in the mud getting us nowhere, it could well be time to get ourselves off the battlefield for a while, and take the chariot in for a service. Finding a new balance, and a more reliable set of wheels.
Photo from Morguefile.com