The story of Israel’s miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage provides us with countless examples of life lessons that we can apply to our own journey. While there are some stories from that 40-year journey that are more popular than others, all of them provide an insight into God’s character and what He wants for His people. Let’s take a look at a story of God turning something bitter into something better for His people.
The story of Moses and the children of Israel making their way out of Egypt, across the wilderness for 40 years, and eventually into the land of Canaan makes up a large portion of the early Old Testament. Unfortunately, many of the stories that are contained within the account of their wilderness trek involve their doubt, rebellion, and sin against God. It’s easy for us to read those stories through the lens of self-righteousness. Afterall, we would never doubt God the way they did, right?! If we’re being honest, we’re more like the children of Israel than we’d like to admit.
You see, we can read the stories of their Exodus through the lens of self-righteousness because we know how their story ends. We can wag our finger at them in shame for their refusal to completely trust God, because we know that He made water come from the rock, made mana fall from the sky, and guided them through a physical manifestation of His presence. We know that eventually they made it into the promised land, so their doubt and rebellion are inexcusable.
But they didn’t get to live out the story in the same way we get to read it. Their doubt stemmed from their fear. Their rebellion stemmed from anxiety associated with the unknown. That doesn’t make it right that they doubted and rebelled, but it does give us a better idea of how we can relate to their stories.
Today’s story isn’t exactly the most popular tale of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. However, the events that took place at the pool of Marah provides an insight into God’s grace, His power, and some universal truths about times that we all experience in life.
The Waters of Marah
Before we truly get into this story, we should take a moment and set up the scene. The story about what happened at the waters of Marah often gets overshadowed by the story that took place right before it. In Exodus 14, Moses and the children of Israel are trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army who is chasing them down to take them back into Egypt. God miraculously rolls the waters back and lets Israel walk through on dry land before drowning Pharaoh and his army in the same waters.
When our story picks up, Moses and Israel are thirsty. Afterall, they were trekking across the wilderness with nothing more than the clothes on their back. At this juncture, God hasn’t started miraculously producing water from rocks, so immediately some panic sets in. However, they quickly find themselves at the pool of Marah. God led them straight to this water source, but there was a problem:
Exodus 15:23-24 (ESV)
When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”
What they thought was going to be their solution turned out to be a stagnant source of bitter water. If you’ve ever smelled stagnant water, it’s an impossible stench to miss. Drinking it is truly impossible.
However, Israel’s problem wasn’t because of the bitter waters. Instead, their problem was rooted in the fact that they forgot God. Three days before this problem, they had seen God move an entire sea so they could escape Pharaoh. Now, when they’re faced with bitter waters, they forget about His presence that was with them and His power that surrounded them.
Forgetfulness is a problem that we deal with today. In fact, it was a problem that the disciples dealt with as well. In John 6:1-21, the Bible tells us a story about the people who were closest to Jesus forgetting about the power that He had when they were facing a storm of their own. It’s not that forgetfulness is a good thing, but it’s an issue that we must confront.
Exodus 15:25-26 (ESV)
And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statue and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”
The key to making the bitter waters sweet wasn’t found in the log. Instead, it was found in obedience. When Moses handled the situation according to God’s plan, the waters became sweet, and Israel received the hydration that they needed. There are three lessons that we can learn from this exchange that can help us navigate the times where bitter comes before better.
Lesson 1: Life is a Combination of Good and Bad
When Israel got to the pool of Marah, the water was bitter. However, when God told Moses to throw the log that was laying close by into the pool, the water changed from bitter to sweet. Obviously, we know that the power of God and Moses’ obedience to His command was the key here, but there’s something we can learn about life from the waters of Marah. The potential for bitter and better are often found in the same parts. God didn’t put new water into the pool of Marah. Instead, He used Moses’ obedience to change what was bitter into something better.
Our lives will largely be a mix of good and bad, bitter and sweet. Our obedience is key to transitioning from the bitter to the better.
Lesson 2: We Have a Savior Who is Near
We learned early in Exodus 14 that God’s presence went with Israel as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. This presence led them and directed them, even to the waters of Marah. Once He got them there, He didn’t bail out on them. He didn’t get them to the bitter waters and tell them to figure it out on their own. Instead, He stayed close and guided them through the process of making the bitter into sweet.
We can rest assured that there is nothing that we face that we face alone. No, we don’t have a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Instead, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, leading us and directing us. When we get to a place where the waters are bitter, He is there, and He will continue to guide and direct His people.
Lesson 3: It’s All a Process
There’s an old southern Gospel song that proclaims, “The God on the mountain, it still God in the valley, when things go wrong, He’ll make them right.” This story is a beautiful example of that principal. Obviously, we would like to avoid the part of the process where things have to be bitter before they can get better, but it’s during that part of the process that we learn who God truly is.
Our lives are a never-ending process of going from good to bad. How we handle the process directly impacts the way that we get to the better part.
A Closing Prayer:
God, don’t let me get so hung up on the bitter that I miss the better. Help me understand what I need to do to move on from bitterness to better, from good to bad. In Christ’s name, Amen.