By Pastor J. F. Odesola
“And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore, the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses saying. What shall we drink? And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them.” Exodus 15:2-25.
The message of these verses is that the Lord, in His wonderful goodness, is able to take the bitter experiences of life and fill them with glorious heavenly sweetness. He is able to make every bitterness to become sweetness. We all experience the bitter things, but God has ordained and provided that these bitter experiences may be sanctified in such a way that we may even rejoice from them and thank Him for them.
It is important for us to notice that the children of Israel did not just happen to come to Marah, where the waters were bitter; God led them there. Yes, He actually led them there, and the waters were bitter! This tells us at once that the Lord had a purpose in what He was doing. It was no haphazard thing. He was leading His people on, and all this happened in the line of His providential working. He allowed His children to come to the bitter waters, and then He turned those bitter waters into sweet waters, so that in the end they experienced bitter-sweet.
All the experiences of life alternate between these two things: bitterness and sweetness; the experience of the mountain top and the experience of the valley; joy and sorrow; blessing and cursing; prosperity and adversity.
Outside many a florist’s shop we see the advertisement: “Wreaths and bouquets made here” – the one, suggesting bereavement and sorrow, and the other suggesting joy and happiness. Our lives are like that. One day we are on the mountain top, and the next day we may be in valley. We may, and should, live at all times in the sunshine of God’s presence, with His joy and peace filling our hearts, and with no self-created shadows of sin, doubt or fear spoiling our fellowship with Him.
We all experience the shadows of adversity and trial which God permits in our lives; they are for our good and also for His glory. This is well stated in the words seen on an old sundial: sunshine and shade, so too our lives are made, we go to bed full of joy and gladness, and our sky is cloudless, but in the morning the postman delivers a letter containing bad news. Our fellowship with God has not changed, nor need not change, but there is a cloud in our sky, we have come to Marah.
Moses had a tremendous task, for two million pilgrims were in his care. They were in the wilderness. They had been saved from Egyptian bondage and had witnessed God’s mighty acts, and it was Moses’ responsibility to lead them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. At this stage of their journey, as Exodus Chapter 15 tells us, all was going wonderfully well. The people were dancing, they were jubilant, after the Lord’s wonderful triumph post three days of testing, for they were without water. Then they saw it – water! And they thanked God, and ran to drink it – only to find that it was bitter, it was undrinkable! In a flash, they descended from the heights of joy and gladness to the place of sorrow and, in their case, complaint and dissatisfaction.
We make a great mistake if we view these Old Testament historical portions simply as ancient history. They are authentic history, but as Romans 15:4 reminds us, they were written “for our learning”; and as 1 Corinthians 10:11 says, these things “are written for our admonition.” We should, therefore, ask questions like: “what lessons should we learn from these things which happened to God’s ancient people at Marah?”
I would like you to notice, first of all:
The provision we must anticipate:
We may as well accept the fact that the Marah – experience of bitterness, comes to all. We cannot escape them. Proverbs 14:10 says, “the heart (every heart) knoweth his own bitterness.” You may well be there tomorrow, or next week, or next month or next year. I am not being pessimistic when I say this. This is the plain teaching of the scripture, and this is true in the life of every of God’s children. No one escapes Marah.
There are some people who say, “If you will come to Christ and put your trust in Him, all your troubles will be over.” But that is not true! There is the real sense in which ‘trouble’, in the sense of God’s proving and testing, only begins when we come to Christ and put our lives into His care and keeping.
The Christian Life is not a bed of roses. Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33); and the Apostle Paul said, “… think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:” (1 Peter 4:20). In this section of the scripture, the bible says quite categorically that,“whom the Lord loveth, He chaseneth”; and he goes on to say that these “bitter” experiences of chastening, of coming to Marah, are marks of our adoption. Every true Christian is tested and tried by the Lord for a wise and beneficent purpose. If we are without these experiences of His testing, we may as well question whether we are members of His family, whether, in fact, we are real Christians.
This is made clear all through the early chapters of Exodus. For example, in Exodus 13:18, we were told that “God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness…” What was the objective of all this? Why did they have to come to Marah? It was part of His plan for His children, as Exodus 15:25 tells us for “there He proved them.”
One of the verses which has helped me very much is Deuteronomy 8:2, “And thou shall remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forth years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no.”
You see, God does not send trials to distress us. He sends them and permits them in order to prove us. He sends them and proves us, to humble us, and to see whether we really love Him. Thank God, He led them from Marah to Elim: “And they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water…” (Exodus 15:27)