By Pastor J. F. Odesola
The trials God sends and permits are varied. The children of Israel not only experienced bitter waters, they also experienced no water; they experienced no bread; they experienced the attacks of their enemies. The trials in your life and mine are varied too, and sometimes, they are very severe. The trial at Marah was very severe because it meant that God’s children were deprived of absolute necessity – water. Fancy being without water in the wilderness, or fancy finding water which is too brackish to drink. How that bitter water must have seemed to mock them!
Learn this lesson carefully: we must all expect and experience God’s testing. We cannot escape from it, and really and truly should not want to do so. If God is doing something in our lives, we should be able to say, “Lord, go on with what you are doing.” But the important thing when we come to Marah is – our reaction to the things which has happened. How do we react in the time of testing? What kind of reactions must we avoid?
- The perils we must avoid
When the Israelites came to Marah and found the waters were bitter, they reacted in a most unfortunate way, for they “murmured against Moses, saying, what shall we drink?” They were upset and immediately, they began to complain against God’s servant, and of course, against God Himself. It is a fatal tendency of our fallen human nature to grumble and to be disconnected. C.H. Spurgeon says that the word “murmur” is made up of two infantile sounds – MUR-MUR. So, when we murmur instead of trusting in God, we are becoming babies again; or, as F.B. Meyer says, “we turn from being minstrels to becoming mutineers.” One moment the Israelites were singing the songs of Zion and praising God for His deliverance, and the next moment they were complaining and murmuring against Him. Often, we are like that!
In his autobiography, Joseph Parker tells of the terrible blow which came into his life when his wife was suddenly taken from him after thirty-four years of marital bliss. This is what he wrote: “On January 26th, 1899, I entered upon my old age for at 9:30 that night, the life of my life, the heart of my heart, ascended to the right hand of God.” Yes, after thirty-four years of singing and dancing – Marah! Marah! Marah! And then Dr. Parker went on to say this: “In that dark hour, I become almost an atheist. How could I be otherwise? My chief joy had been taken from me. Oh, Gethsemane of bitterness!” Thank God, this murmuring passed, and Parker, whom God led on from Marah to Elim, became a different man, a transformed man with a new message and a new ministry.
It is unbelief that makes us to murmur, complain and fret. Why do we do it? Because we look at our circumstance instead of looking at God. We look at our trouble and we look at ourselves, and then we become filled with self-pity. When we take our eyes off God, we begin to complain, and we say, “Couldn’t God give sweet water?” Well, He could, of course, just as he could have given the Israelites sweet water. The problem was that they did not trust Him; and yet He was so near to them all the time, waiting to help them and to bless them.
What, then, should our reaction be when life’s testing and trials come upon us? How should we react when we come to Marah and find that the waters are bitter?
- The procedure we must adopt
If the peril we must avoid is that of murmuring, what is the procedure we must adopt to get the victory over the temptation to murmur? “And the people murmured against Moses… and he cried unto the Lord.” Moses prayed and that is the secret! Moses did not rebuke the people; he could have done that. He could have said, “Don’t be silly, and don’t be so faithless!” but instead of doing that, he went into the presence of God and committed all this thing to the Lord. And notice another thing he could have done? He could have resigned. He could have said, “Lord, I can’t carry on with this responsibility of having two million fretting, murmuring people!” But He did not do that. He at once related the need to the Lord Himself.
Over and over again in the scriptures, we find this very principle operating. For instance: “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing Psalms.” (James 5:13). James does not say, “Let him send for the doctor… or for the Pastor.” He said, “Let him immediately relate his affliction, his suffering, his situation of trial and testing at Marah, to the Lord Himself and place it and himself in the very centre of God’s will.” We so often murmur or complain, or get the medicine chest or go for the doctor, instead of going to God first of all.
Hannah had an experience of bitterness. She longed to have a child, and in her bitterness of soul, “she prayed unto the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:10). That is the secret of victory. Then there was Elisha. One day, the Shunammite woman said, “My son is dead!” What an experience of bitterness this was for the mother! What did Elisha do? “He went in therefore, and shut the door… and prayed unto the Lord” (2 Kings 4:33). That is the secret of victory in a time of trial and testing.
Then there was Hezekiah. He received a horrible letter from an enemy, and what did he do? Did he fume and fret and did he show it to people and complain? No, he did not do any of that. When he received the letter, he “went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord” (Isaiah 7:14).
Then there was Daniel. When they came up with a wrong decree saying that no one was to worship the true and the living God, what did Daniel do? Complain? Murmur? Hold a conference? No! He went into his house and fell upon his knees, and tabled the whole matter before the Lord (Daniel 6:10).
When Paul and Silas were in Prison, they did exactly the same thing. They “Prayed and sang praises unto God” (Acts 16:25).
When Moses prayed, “the Lord showed him a tree”. You see, prayers bring revelation. How significant is this “the Lord showed him the tree.” God’s remedy for our bitterness is a tree. All through the ages, the Lord has graciously heard and answered the prayers of His children as they have come to Him and cried out to Him. He did so here as Moses prayed, and in the answer, He gave a solution to the problem. The solution was, and is, a tree! What is the significance of this?