At Wit’s End

There are many times in my life when I have reached my wit’s end. There seemed to be no possible way out of the situations I found myself in.

I realized I am not alone in this feeling. The Children of Israel in Exodus 14; 1-14 & 31 found themselves at wit’s end.

The story actually begins at the end of the previous chapter when the Children of Israel are freed from the bondage of the Pharaoh. They then begin their journey into the wilderness, led by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. God gave instructions for them to travel throughout the wilderness, which was a longer route because he did not want them to encounter the Philistines in battle and be discouraged into returning to Egypt. This is the point where the reading begins.


Exodus 14:1-14 & 31

1 Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: 2 “Order the Israelites to turn back and camp by Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, across from Baal-zephon. 3 Then Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are confused. They are trapped in the wilderness!’ 4 And once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you.[a] I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” So the Israelites camped there as they were told.

 5 When word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds. “What have we done, letting all those Israelite slaves get away?” they asked. 6 So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops. 7 He took with him 600 of Egypt’s best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, so he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance. 9 The Egyptians chased after them with all the forces in Pharaoh’s army—all his horses and chariots, his charioteers, and his troops. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon.

 10 As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, 11 and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? 12 Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

13 But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

31 When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

There are four major things in this passage that have helped me understand and deal with those seemingly dead end situations.


·        By specific command vv 1-2a
God gave the Israelites the specific location to set up camp.  This location was headed away from the Promised Land.  God told them to turn away from the Promised Land… sometimes God’s direction seems counterintuitive to our finite minds.
·        For His own purposes vv. 3-4a
God had a purpose in the situation.  He knew it would confound the Pharaoh.  Many times we don’t have the “bigger” perspective… we can’t see beyond the apparent circumstances to the larger picture.  This is where God develops our trust and our reliance upon Him.
·        Why?  That they might know that He was the Lord.
He is God and I’m not.  It was important for the enemy to KNOW that there was a greater power; an all-powerful God of the universe.  We can choose to go our own way… why not allow God to reveal Himself, not only to us, but to those who would oppose us.


·        In the path of obedience v. 4b
So the Israelites camped there as they were told.
·        By allowing overwhelming circumstances to overtake us.
Can you imagine the wit’s end feeling the Israelites must have been feeling when they saw those Egyptians coming after them? I can just picture these people. Migdol was between two mountains… and here they are, the Red Sea on one side two mountains on either side and the Egyptians… 50,000 horsemen, 200,000 footmen, 600 chariots on the other… I believe this was the definition of the term “between a rock and a hard place”.  Where else could they turn but to God for their deliverance?


·        By our unbelief. v. 10
The Israelites must not have believed God or would not have cried out as they did. It is a human response in situations such as this to be afraid. When you reach the end of a rope dangling over a cliff there is a natural human tendency to yell for help.  But God had made a promise to the Israelites and God always keeps promises.
·        By our complaints vv. 11-12
Since they were afraid, and had chosen to not believe God’s promise, they decided to rake Moses over the coals. When we are in a situation that we have no control over and there seems to be no way out, we tend to complain.  Unfortunately, man can only see circumstances.


·        Always at the right moment v. 13
See the salvation of the Lord TODAY.   God’s timing is perfect. God always meets us at the point of our need.  We must realize the point of our need though and call out to Him.  My grandmother used to say, “God is rarely early, but He’s never late.”
·        By taking control v. 14
“The Lord will fight for you, and you will stay calm” This same type of statement is made in Psalms the 46th chapter and the 10th verse, “Be still and know that I am God”.  

So, why does God lead us to our wit’s end?  Why does God test us at our wit’s end?  Why do we sometimes fail God at our wit’s end?  And, why does God meet us and take over for us at our wit’s end?

The Israelite nation learned to depend upon their own strength when they were in bondage.  They had become accustomed to providing for themselves and not looking to anyone else for their support.  God brought them to their wit’s end to get their attention and make them realize He could provide a better way than anyone else.  God wants to direct our attention to Him today.  He wants us to realize where our strength lies when we reach our wit’s end.  God wants us to rely upon Him.  God brings us to our wit’s end to help us realize as David did in Psalm 18:2  The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.  He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”

About John M. Stewart

I am a university administrator, part-time professor, writer, photographer, and a musician. I love live theater, music, hikes in the woods, and walks on the beach. I am a spiritual sojourner. My blog is about this life journey and how my faith impacts and intersects with my life journey. View all posts by John M. Stewart

2 responses to “At Wit’s End

  • benhamm

    This is great John. The dictionary meaning of "wit" is "The natural ability to perceive and understand; intelligence. Keenness and quickness of perception or discernment; ingenuity". So when we reach our wits end we have in fact reached the end of our ability to understand what God is trying to do in our lives and are left with nothing but our faith and reliance on him which is where we should always be but sometimes we forget that. :o)

  • ~JMS

    Wow… That is powerful…

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