Drinking From The Waters of Marah
In Exodus 15:22-26, the children of Israel find themselves traveling three days in the Wilderness of Shur. For these three days, they are confronted with a very real problem for so great a number of people: they can find no water. We can imagine the concern this would raise: these people are not simply an army of soldiers marching to battle. Their number included their wives, their little ones, the old and infirm, as well as all of their animals and possessions (Ex. 12:37-38).
Finally, they come to a place called Marah, and there is water there. Yet a harsh reality sets in: this water is too bitter to drink. Indeed, the name, Marah, means, “Bitter.” Immediately, the children of Israel resort to an unfortunate habit that we see in them time and again: they start complaining. They complain against Moses (Ex. 15:24), but there is more to it than that; since Moses is simply leading them according to the Lord’s will, they are really complaining against the Lord Himself (Ex. 16:7).
Perhaps the saddest part of this complaining is that it comes on the heels of some incredible displays of God’s power. The ten plagues have ravaged Egypt, showing her just how false and worthless her gods are (Ex. 12:12). The Red Sea has been parted to allow Israel to cross over on dry land; then, when Pharaoh’s army foolishly tried to follow Israel, they have been utterly destroyed (Ex. 14:26-30). One moment, the people are singing songs of praise unto the Lord; the next, they are complaining bitterly against Him and His servants.
Surely we can learn some lessons from this.
There will be many waters of bitterness for Christians to face in this life. As individuals, we will be tempted and tried; Satan will work diligently to frustrate and discourage us. Troubles will come upon our families: sickness, death, disobedient children, etc. As congregations of the Lord’s people, we will be assaulted by false doctrines, weak morality, and apathy. When these things come our way (and they will!), what will we do? How will we respond?
We can respond like Israel did when they faced bitterness: by complaining about it. “That’s so unfair!”; “God must not even care!”; “Why does this have to happen to me, I’m a good person?” We can seek to blame others for our misfortunes and get so caught up in the misery of the moment that we totally ignore all the bountiful blessings of God that are around us. Israel was good at that sort of thing. Forget the miracles, forget the manna, and forget all the special laws and the opportunity to be His own holy people; Israel liked to ignore all of those things, and instead focus on what was wrong at that particular moment. It would be easy to follow their poor example, because complaining is easy.
Or, we can follow the example of Moses. When the bitterness came, when hardships arose, and when all the blame was dumped on his shoulders, what did Moses do? “So he cried out to the Lord…” (Ex. 15:25). Moses went to the only One who could truly handle any situation. Moses did not just live through the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the other great signs of God’s power: he learned from them. They built his faith. Moses understood that God had not brought the children of Israel out of Egypt simply to abandon them on a whim: God was trustworthy.
Do we really trust God like He deserves? When has He ever failed? When did His plans ever get crushed by the bitterness of this world and left undone? Never.
So we shouldn’t expect Him to start failing us now. Now, this does not mean that everything will go exactly the way that we want. It does not mean that hardships will not still come to us. What it does mean is that, no matter what we face, the God of Heaven will see us through it, if we will just cast our burdens upon Him. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22).
The cure to not drinking and giving in to the waters of bitterness is simple: drink of the waters of life instead. We are dying of thirst, though we may not even realize it. Our souls need salvation, and the only way we can have that is by drinking of the water of life that Jesus offers (John 4:1-15). “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17). Notice that the Lord offers the water of life freely, but He will not force it upon us. “Whoever desires, let him take the water…”
Will you obey Him today? For that is the only way we can accept the gift He offers: obedience to Him. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Have we been obedient to this? If not, then how can we say that we faithfully serve Him?