22So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. 23And 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. 24And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25And 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, 26And said, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.” 27And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters. ~ Exodus 15:22-27
Water, H2O, is the most important chemical that the human body needs to ingest for regular operation. The Hebrew children had just seen God hand them a terrific victory over the Egyptians who the Red Sea had consumed after the Hebrews had walked safely through its parted waters. However exhilarating victories might be, they are quickly forgotten in the pursuit of our basic needs, like water. The Hebrew nation had traveled for three long days and was now desperate for water and when they finally found some, it was bitter; too bitter to drink.
The journey of the Hebrews from Egypt to Canaan (the Promised Land) is a well-known allegory for the journey of the Christian from bondage in sin to the abundant life in the Kingdom of God (here on earth). And the story of the bitter water, portrays an ongoing struggle in the life of Believers. Both the Hebrews (then) and Believers (now) must cope with the challenge of how we provide for our basic human needs.
The Bible tells us that they had been searching for water for three days. Therefore, by the time they did find water, they were desperate. They had to have this basic human need satisfied. BUT, the water they hoped would finally quench their thirst was undrinkable! Likewise, Believers have real needs that they too desperately need to be fulfilled.
There is the man who needs a job, the woman who needs a husband; there is the boy who needs some friends, the girl who needs reassurance; there is the family that needs a home, the senior citizen who needs healthcare. The world tries to provide solutions for all of these problems. BUT, the question is, “Are these solutions bitter or sweet?” Some doors open to reveal traps. How do we know which one to choose?
Sometimes the man who needed a job takes one that leaves him with little time to spend with his family; no time to father his children and husband his wife. Sometimes the woman who needed a husband marries one who destroys her life. Sometimes the family in need of a home and financial help get into a debt trap from which they can’t escape. Sometimes the solution we had hoped would restore us turned out to be bitter.
When the Hebrews faced this problem, they complained (bitterly?) to Moses and he cried out to God. The solution was to have Moses put a tree (a branch) that God had prepared into the water. And when the tree was in the water, the water became sweet (good to drink). The application for Believers is that the only good water is the water with God’s Branch, Jesus (Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15, Zechariah 3:8, 6:12), in it.
Without the branch, the water was bitter in Marah; so too addressing our needs without Jesus will also lead to bitterness. As we seek to make daily life decisions the key question to ask is NOT, “Is this solution good for me?” The key question is, “Is Jesus in it?” In other words, instead of seeking a solution, we seek Jesus: for He alone has the right solution. Jesus puts it this way:
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. ~ Matthew 6:31-33
After the bitter water was made sweet, God warned them that they should listen to Him and obey His instruction, so that they would not suffer the disease with which He plagued the Egyptians, because He is their Healer (Jehovah Rapha). That is, God, The Great Physician, was telling them to practice preventative medicine: telling them what to do NOT to get sick.
Likewise, when God works in our life to guide us into making the right choices because of our faith in Him, our responsibilities, as servants in the Kingdom of God, don’t end there. When God blesses you that perfect job, it’s a confirmation that we should follow Him more closely. When God provides that good husband, then it’s time for the wife to deepen her relationship with him. Blessings must draw us closer to God, not distract us from Him. We stay close to Him so that we stay away from trouble, away from bitter consequences of a life lived apart from God.
Finally, the Hebrews left Marah and journeyed to Elim, which had lots of water. Before believers get to Elim, where there is an abundant supply for our needs, we must pass through Marah, just like the Hebrews.
Before God adds “all these things” that we need, we must first learn to seek Him (Matthew 6:33). Paul could experience complete contentment in any situation, because he knew ALL his needs would be taken care of. Whether he was being beaten in a prison or debating in a palace, he was content because he knew Jesus. And as long as he was with Jesus, the water was abundant and sweet.