After centuries spent in bondage to the Egyptians, after watching the LORD impose 10 crippling plagues upon their captors, and now after seeing Pharaoh’s army consumed by the Red Sea the children of Israel had finally been set free. Their long-awaited deliverance was cause to celebrate, and there on the beach at Baal-Zephon the Hebrews worshiped and sang praises to the Lord.
The song of Moses and the children of God is recorded in Exodus 15. His sister Miriam and the women with her also sang and danced. These poetic lyrics tell of God’s miraculous victory over Pharaoh at the Red Sea and declare that people all over the world have heard and now tremble before the God of Israel. The song of Moses is the first “song” written in Scripture, and interestingly it is also the last. The apostle John describes hearing the chorus those who have overcome the beast singing a variation of this song of deliverance in Revelation 15.
Now safely out of Egyptian territory and without anyone in pursuit, Moses and his followers are finally able to relax. From this point forward the pace of the exodus slows down considerably. They are no longer in a hurry or on the run. When they are moving, the people will travel much shorter distances each day. When they do stop to camp, they will frequently stay at the same place for weeks or even months at a time.
In today’s message we will learn what happened in the days immediately following the Red Sea crossing. As the people followed Moses onward, they would encounter several different types of water. In each of these instances, God sought to develop His children’s understanding of and strengthen their faith in Him.
I. BITTER WATER (Exodus 15:22-23)
Having rested and recuperated from their all-nighter at the Red Sea, Moses rallied the people to begin moving again. He led them into the Wilderness of Shur, called elsewhere in Scripture the Wilderness of Etham, which is an arid desert region in northern Arabia. By this point in their journey Israel had been traveling for at least a week if not longer, depending upon one’s interpretation of the exodus route. They were likely running low on the water that they’d carried with them out of Egypt and therefore needed to find a place to refill and replenish their supply.
After 3 days of walking through the dry, hot wilderness the people had found no water. They were beginning to become a bit nervous. Just as their need was becoming more pronounced, the children of God arrived at Marah. It is unclear whether there was a man-made well there, a natural spring, a flowing fountain, or some other type of source - but whatever the case there was much needed water!
But soon Israel’s excitement turned to disappointment. When they tasted the water, it was bitter and unsuitable for drinking. The people were extremely upset, and named the place Marah which means “bitter”. It seemed that their situation had not improved at all, as they’d hoped or expected.
Have you ever been disappointed like this? Perhaps there have been times when you’ve gotten your hopes up about something, but things didn’t work out as you anticipated. Perhaps you believed that God would act in a certain way or that He’d orchestrate certain events to take place, but He didn’t work according to your expectations. Have you allowed disappointment to make you bitter, just like the waters at Marah?
II. SWEET WATER (Exodus 15:24-25a)
What do people do when they don’t get what they want? They complain of course! The children of Israel were quite good at complaining, as we see repeatedly throughout the exodus account. I am shocked at how quickly these people forgot about the wonderful provision and faithfulness of God who acted continually acted on their behalf. They grumbled as if the LORD was not present or able to help them. Don’t we do the same thing today?
And so they approached Moses asking, “What shall we drink?” Fortunately, Moses turned to God and prayed for an answer. The LORD told him to take a tree (probably a branch or small bush) and throw it into the waters. When Moses did so, the water became sweet and potable. The children of Israel and all of their animals were now able to drink freely.
The literal events that took place at Marah teach an important spiritual lesson. In order to transform the bitterness of our lives into sweetness, we must often add something to the equation. In this particular instance, the LORD showed Moses a tree which became the instrument of change. In my life, I have often had a change of perspective by applying God’s Word to my situation. It is amazing how the wood of God’s goodness and grace has improved the quality and purity of my life. What is God showing you today that, if added to your life, will make your waters sweeter?
III. HEALING WATER (Exodus 15:25b-26)
While the people camped at Marah, the LORD tested them. He told them that if they would listen to and heed the voice of God, and also obey His statutes and commandments, that He would not inflict them with the diseases that He’d visited upon the Egyptians. God promised to be their healer, rather than a source of malady and misery. This was all contingent upon their obedience.
I titled this point in today’s sermon “Healing Water” so that it would tie neatly to the other points that are being made. Certainly the waters at Marah did heal, in a sense, the thirsty desires of the people gathered there. But the promise of God’s healing extends far beyond this. He is able to cure our diseases, to mend our brokenness, to alleviate our discomforts, and to restore our health and vitality. The LORD can heal us from any type of sickness - including the physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual. He is our divine Healer!
Why then do people sometimes die even after praying for healing? Why do some disabilities remain uncured despite a person’s repeated prayers? How can we as Christians claim that God is our healer when so many are never healed? First, let me say that all people who die and go to heaven experience the most complete and ultimate healing possible. Secondly, the Lord is more concerned about our eternal destinies than our temporal ones and often allows physical infirmities to persist in order to effect the spiritual well-being of ourselves or others. As such, He remains our healer in every circumstance.
IV. ABUNDANT WATER (Exodus 15:27)
After a temporary stay at Marah, the children of Israel set out again following the cloud of God. They came to an oasis paradise named Elim where there were 70 palm trees surround 12 water wells. This place was a dream-come-true for the weary Hebrews who had been wandering around for several days in the Arabian desert. At Elim they found an abundant supply of life-sustaining water.
Based upon the details given in the Bible, I believe that Moses and the people camped at Elim for several weeks - perhaps almost 2 full months. Why not? There was plenty of water there, as well as delicious dates from the palm trees to eat, and cool shade from the blistering desert sun. Elim was an ideal location to rest and find refreshment from the exhaustion that they must have felt.
Elim represents a place of comfort and plenty in the midst of distress and and lack. This story brings to mind the words of Jesus who said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” The Lord is our salvation and strength, just like a plush oasis hidden in the endless expanse of desert.
As we wrap up the message today, there are three questions that I believe are appropriate. Listen closely, because one or more of them might apply directly to you and your situation.
One - if your attitude is characterized by bitterness, would you ask God to show you how to make it sweet again? As long as you allow yourself to remain bitter or sour, you will be of no use to God or anyone else. Instead you’ll be a source of disappointment and sorrow. Only by seeking and following the direction of the LORD will the waters of your life become sweet.
Two - if you are suffering from pain and affliction of any sort, would you ask God to heal you today? The treatments that this world offers might provide temporary comfort or relief, but only the LORD can truly and completely heal anyone. Listen to Him, obey His commands, and receive the healing that only our God can provide.
Three - if you are lost or wandering about in the dry wilderness of this life, would you come this morning to the oasis that is found in Jesus Christ? There is absolutely nothing else in this world that can satisfy the thirstiness of you soul. Finding Jesus is your only hope of salvation. Come to Him right now - you’ll be so glad that you did!