July 30, 2014After centuries of bondage in Egypt, the Lord performed His miracle of deliverance and rescued His people from slavery. History tells us that the date of the Exodus was 1445 BC, and that there was a very large group that began the journey to the Promised Land. There were 603,550 men, not including the Levites (according to Numbers 1:46, 47). If you double that number, to include the women, and then add an appropriate number of children, it's pretty clear that there were an excess of 2,000,000 people that pointed their sandals eastward to leave Egypt.
That quantity of people, plus their cattle, represented a large need for water. It's not surprising that within only a few days their meager stores of fluid were depleted. "So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah" Exodus 15:22, 23.
Trudging through the desert wastes, the congregation plodded on, with the water supplies diminishing by the hour. Suddenly a cry goes up; a one-word shout that spells deliverance and salvation. "Water!" Someone had spied an oasis that would replenish their parched water vessels. A mad rush plunges toward the inviting pond and large draughts of the precious liquid are ingested, only to result in expressions of disappointment and disillusionment. The water was non-potable. It was brackish and bitter. It was worthless to them.
Interestingly, the condition of the water became the root for the name given to the place. "Therefore the name of it was called Marah." "Marah" means "bitter." This comes up later when Naomi, who had been bereaved of a husband and two sons, returned to Bethlehem after having sojourned in the land of Moab. When she came back, she told the people, "Do not call me 'Naomi' (a name which means "pleasant"); call me 'Mara,' for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me." Ruth 1:20. This became the basis for the name "Mary," both in bible and current times.
The water at Marah was bitter. Like many of us, the Israelites were quick to doubt, complain, and murmur. Had God led them out of the "iron furnace" of Egypt to die in the wilderness? Had He abandoned them to the elements? Were there not enough graves in Egypt to satisfy their dead bodies? A cloud of anguish arose above the thirsty company. "And the people murmured against Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?'" Exodus 15:24.
Oh, how quickly their faith had evaporated in the desert heat! Had they not witnessed the ten-fold miracle of the plagues of Egypt? Had they not been miraculously rescued at the Red Sea, where Pharaoh and his armies perished? The song of deliverance sung by Miriam was now forgotten, and the people indulged a spirit of skepticism, a rankling attitude of doubt that mimicked the bitterness of the water.
God had not forgotten them, though. In response to the complaint of the people, Moses "cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and when he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet" Exodus 15:25. Try to imagine the scene. The rush to drink the water; the disappointment of a bitter discovery; the cry of complaint and the prayer of Moses. Then Moses does something that doesn't seem to make any sense at all. He calls for a cutting instrument, and a nearby tree is hewn down so that it falls into the water. "What's he doing?" people must have asked. "What's that going to do for us?" they probably asked.
No, it didn't seem to make a lot of sense, from a human point of view. Cutting a tree down and having it fall into the water? How could that change the water from being bitter to sweet? It didn't make sense; no more sense than painting the doorposts of your house with blood so that the destroying angel would pass over on the night of death; no more sense than looking up at a brazen snake on a pole after you were dying from the poisonous bite of a venomous serpent. You wouldn't be able to explain any of these things from a scientific point of view. But they worked! And Israel was saved that day.
But what does this story have to do with you and me? If you have your eyes open to the spiritual code message of Scripture, there is a beautiful lesson in this story to cheer the Christian's heart. God made a perfect world and put two perfect people into it. In this perfect environment, God gave our parents the power to choose, and sad to say the wrong choice was made. Disobedience to the express command of Jehovah God introduced the element of sin, which turned human existence into the bitter experience that we know today. We've all experienced to one degree or another the disappointment that Israel tasted at the waters of Marah that day. The flow of bitter waters has extended from that first sin all the way down to us in 2014.
But God had an answer. He "showed him a tree." For those of you who have your spiritual eyeglasses on, that "tree" can only represent one thing, and that is the cross of Calvary. Just as that tree had to be "cut down" so that the waters could be made sweet, so our Lord Jesus, the King of Glory was put to death on the cruel cross for our salvation.
By His death He made provision for the forgiveness for all our sins. He took away the fear of death, knowing that in Him there is eternal life. The bitter hopelessness of what life would be without the Gospel promise is healed by the cross. Through the hope that He gives to us, life can be bearable, even a blessing, knowing that we're accepted in Him; knowing that whatever happens in this life; whatever bitter disappointment might come our way, He is with us. Knowing that someday the journey through the wilderness will be complete, and we'll be welcomed into that Promised Land, that Heavenly Canaan that He has prepared. If you're having a particularly difficult time right now, let Him "show you a tree," where with His life blood He purchased your salvation.