While I have never been diagnosed with textbook claustrophobia, I hate tight places. Elevators, tunnels and all other small spaces make my heart race and my palms sweat. I can rescue a child from the Chick-fil-A playplace blackhole like the best of them, but other than that, I try my hardest to avoid squishy, smushy places in the external world.
Similarly, my soul hates tight, restricting places and situations. With the exception of contortionists, I believe that most humans share my sentiments to varying degrees of intensity. Humans try to avoid being squeezed.
However, the imagery of tight places, of constriction, runs as a theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The word tsar, often translated as distress or adversary, is used prolificly throughout the Old Testament. Its root word more literally means narrow places or straits and conjures images and feelings of crowding, anguish and constriction. Perhaps the modern idiom “Stuck between a rock and a hard place” captures its original connotation to the modern mind.
When Balaam was headed where he ought not have gone and God condescended to use his donkey to get his attention, we see the word tsar show up.
Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. Numbers 22:26.
Here the word is used to describe a literal tight place; however, the same concept is often transferred to the soul’s situation, emotionally or spiritually, particularly in the Psalms.
O Lord, how many are my foes. Many are rising against me. Many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Psalm 3:1-2.
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! Psalm 4: 1.
In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. Psalm 18: 6.
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Psalm 32:7
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Scripturally and historically, God’s people have been well-acquainted with tight places emotionally, phsyically and spiritually. In their squeezing places, situations, seasons and relationships, they cry out to God for deliverance. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that tight and constricting places were the rule, not the exception, of their seeking earnestly after God.
What was true of them back then remains true of us today. As much as we hate tight places, the Lord often uses them more than any other thing to point us to our Saviour.
When we are in tight situations financially, when the budget feels tighter than skinny jeans, we look to the Lord and wait and watch for His freeing provision. When we are in the tight hallway of depression or anxiety, we learn to appreciate the feelings of spaciousness and emotional freedom that we may have formerly taken for granted. When the pressure is on at work and we feel conorted and twisted by demands on every side, we regonize our innate limitations and neediness.
Interestingly enough, when the Scriptures talk about freedom another spatial term is often employed: rachab which means spaciousness and broadness, breadth.
Circling back to Psalm 18, one of the references used regarding tsar and those tight places, we find the juxtaposition of tight places and fields of freedom.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; He rescued me because He delighted in me. Psalm 18: 18-19.
In Psalm 31, we see both words, tsar and rachab, as the Psalmist looks back upon the Lord’s deliverance from tightness to broadness.
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul; and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. Psalm 31:7-8.
Even if our tight places seem to be tightening and our restrictions seem to be on the rise, we can find great hope in this: our Savior left the spaciousness, the broadness of Heaven and eternity to come to this tight globe. His lungs literally had the breath squeezed out of them on the Cross so that we could breath the spaciousness of life in right standing before God. His risen steps out of a tight tomb assure us that we, too, will walk out of tight spaces to be on eternally broad places with Him.
In the midst of the squeeze, we have a Saviour.