For today's Food for Thought Friday let's take a look at Exodus 15:22-27.
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days into the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?"
Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet.
There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them. And He said, "If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.
They came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped beside the waters.
Sometimes God leads us into what looks like hopeless circumstances that come with bitter consequences (like a budget deal in Congress). What choice do we make? Do we, like the Israelites, grumble in despair or do we choose to trust? We must keep our focus on the fact that He has led us this far. Let's dissect these verses and see what we can learn from the Israelites' journey to help us along on ours.
We'll start with verse 22. God was leading His people in victory. If you look back in the previous chapter of Exodus you will see it is a song of praise about their miraculous deliverance from the Egyptians and from their life of slavery.
What is God's first act after parting the Red Sea and defeating the Egyptian army? He leads them straight from triumph to testing. We find in verse 23 that they first experience after amazing victory was literally bitter disappointment.
Why would God do that? Why wouldn't He use their enthusiastic adrenaline to conquer those waiting territories? The answer is that God is not so concerned about getting ahead as He is about getting to the heart. They had already conquered their enemies on the outside, it was time to confront the enemy within.
God leads us into our own desert of Shur so we can be sure to understand that He alone is the one who saves and sustains us. The Israelites have just witnessed God's miraculous provision--they've had a cloud by day and fire by night to guide them, the sea just washed away their enemies--so what is their response to their first obstacle? They grumbled. In their favor, at least they grumbled and waited.
Too often we come to a place of testing and we find the water is bitter. We are supposed to wait for God to provide. Instead we simply grit our teeth and pour ourselves a big glass and then wonder why we are left feeling bitter. So many of the situations we feel bitter about are ones God never intended for us to end up in!
Did you wait for His deliverance or did you work through it in your own power? Sometimes He'll lead us to the edge of a precipice in order to show us His ability to make a new way and lead us to greater heights. All too often we reach that place and jump head first off the cliff and then complain when we're lying broken and bleeding in the dark valley. Grumbling isn't good, but neither is going our own way.
What was the response to grumbling? Verse 25 tells us that Moses cried out to God and God pointed out the provision He had already made for their problem. Notice what He used to clear up the water--a tree. A tree takes years to grow. There is no telling how many years beforehand God had put that very tree in its place in anticipation of that day with the Israelites. He wasn't leading them on some wild goose chase in the desert just to see how much they could take. He had specific places, specific purposes and specific provisions. And what does it say in verse 25? The waters became sweet. He didn't just provide the necessities, He gave a treat.
We learn at the end of verse 25 and into verse 26 that God had led them there, not to be unkind or uninvolved, but to give them an object lesson about who He is. He was explaining in tangible terms what He wanted from them (listening to Him, heeding His commands, trusting Him to provide), what He would do for them in return (put none of the diseases on them, make a way for them) and revealing a part of His character to them (healer).
He provided a sweet rescue from a bitter experience. Then He led them on to a sweet reward. Verse 27 reveals that He led them to a new place filled with water and fruit and a place for them to rest.
Want to know something ironic? Elim is only seven miles from Marah. Elim was God's destination all along. The people stopped short of God's intention by seven miles, but in His mercy and foresight God provided for their physical and spiritual needs.
How often do we stop short at the first thing we come to when He is really asking us to hold on for a few more miles? We sit and grumble over the bitterness when we could go on and experience the sweet.
God will lead us by some bitter waters. But they are never our destinations! We are merely meant to pass by and learn from them on our way to our reward.
Some of us have come to those waters, drank from them and made our homes there. We've been left bitter from it in the desert of our souls, parched and short of where God intended us to be. We cannot undo our choices but we can change our responses.
It is never too late to let God turn the bitter to sweet.
It is never too late to pack up and move on down the road.
After all, it's only seven miles.