Tuesday, September 30

Marah: Bitter Water - Part I

Living By Faith

Israel crossed the Red Sea, stepped onto the other side, and saw the marvelous victory of God. The Egyptians were swallowed up by the deep waters of God’s wrath. The ocean swept back to overthrow their foe.

Scripture: Exodus 14:31

And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.

As we pointed out last time, we should not read too much into this verse. Moses trusted God. Israel did not. Moses called upon the Lord. Israel accused. Moses wrote the song. Israel merely sang the words. Yes, they believed, but only because they saw it with their own eyes. Belief based on sight is soon forgotten.

The whole atmosphere was one of a party. There was music and merriment, laughing and dancing (Exodus 15:20). We might expect this to be a turning point for Israel. They would now live by faith, trust in God, and never again doubt His ability or intention. But contrary to popular opinion, seeing is not believing. True biblical faith comes from God - not experience. Four days later, Israel dismissed the event as an aberration.

The Christian life is like this. We get saved. The Holy Spirit leads us to the waters of baptism pictured by the Red Sea (I Corinthians 10:2). Immediately afterward, we are on cloud nine, just floating along in a heavenly daze. We have the world by the tail ... or so we think.

Many years ago, I sat at a table with my pastor and a man I had led to the Lord. The man began to boast of all that he would do for God now that God had saved him. My elderly shepherd very kindly and firmly replied, “We’ll see six months from now what you will do for God.”

Wizened by years of service, he knew that there is danger in the bragging of the newly saved. They drift along in a dreamy "never-never land". God would deflate Israel's ego and bring them back to earth. He is our strength. We are nothing without Him. Israel was barely out of Egypt. They had much to learn before they would be ready for the Promised Land. So God took them from too much water to too little.

We find our text in Exodus 15:22-27. There are six verses dealing with water. We will look at two today.

I.) No Water:

Scripture: Exodus 15:22

So 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.

Israel, led by the cloud, departed from the Red Sea.

Moving out into the Wilderness of Shur, they encountered a new situation. Verse 25 says that God proved, or tested, them there. It is easy to boast and brag fresh from victory. But what will we do when the next problem comes? This is how the Christian life works! One spiritual high does not mean that we have arrived. It also does not mean that we have learned every lesson that God would teach us. In fact, God wants to lead us on to new trials to help us grow.

Israel advanced into the wilderness three days' journey and found no water. To understand the gravity of the predicament, we must put ourselves in their shoes. There are between two and three million people in this entourage. Besides that, there are livestock. The water requirement is enormous, and they are in a desert climate.

I do not know whether you have ever been in such a place. It is hard to imagine without having been there. Perhaps you have seen a desert on television. Sometimes we see cartoons of men crawling across the wasteland, looking for water. None of that conveys reality.

First, it is hot—beyond anything most have felt. When I was on the Mojave Desert, the ground temperature was 140 degrees. Water lines buried three feet under the sand emitted only hot water. In Los Angeles, it was only 86 degrees and we had to wear spring jackets to keep warm.

The heat in the desert is so intense that shade is necessary to survival. We dug foxholes and covered them with ponchos to provide shelter. This gave us protection from the scorching rays, but created another problem. The air was so hot and still that you could suffocate in your own carbon dioxide. We actually had to have someone check on the men. I distinctly remember crawling from one side of my pit to the other, getting a drink of water, crawling back, and collapsing in total exhaustion.

Second, it is dry. The year that we were there was an exceptional time. We actually saw thunderstorms twice in two weeks. On one occasion we could look up, see the rain pouring out of the sky, put out our hands, and feel only a couple of drops land. The heat caused the rain to evaporate before it hit the ground!

Between the heat and dryness, we required several gallons of water per day per man to avoid dehydration. Multiply that by two to three million people and you begin to understand Israel’s plight. They went three days without water. Another day or two could mean death.

How would you handle this scene? Would you fare any better than Israel? Would you continue to trust God? Israel did better than most of us. They went three days without a hint of complaint. Could we make it that long?

II.) Bitter Water:

Scripture: Exodus 15:23

And 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.

Finally, they arrived at a place called Marah, which means bitter. The name was appropriate, because the water was bitter and unfit to drink. Try to put yourself in Israel’s sandals. You have just come off of a spiritual plateau. Then you go three days without water.

On the first day, you are not too concerned. You start out not even thinking about water, but as the time moves on, you begin to get thirsty. You think to yourself, “God knows that we need water. He will certainly supply.” Soon evening comes and there is still no water. You console yourself, though, that tomorrow will bring God’s provision.

The next day arrives and you are optimistic that God will take care. The sun rises further in the sky. You get thirstier and thirstier. You continue to trust God, but you begin to think, “What if?” Still you remember the sea overthrowing the Egyptians and press on. Nightfall comes. You are anxious but say to yourself, “God will surely supply tomorrow.”

Then comes morning. The nation set forth. By now everyone is parched. They crave water and realize that the body can overheat and succumb in just four days without it. They keep listening for some word of a well or oasis but step by step they proceed deeper and deeper into the wasteland. Still no word. One step further—still no word. Evening brings more doubts. Will God supply? I know He can, but does He want to provision us?

On the fourth day you set out again. By now you have just about given up hope. God is not going to supply. Then, suddenly, someone shouts, “Water!” You can hardly believe your ears, but your pace quickens. Before you know it you are running. You are scrambling to get to the beautiful, wonderful, sweet water. Each step of the way, you thank and praise God. Eventually, you reach the crowd and, pushing and shoving, make your way through, throwing yourself prostrate at the brink ready to indulge. Then someone grabs you from behind. You are ready to fight until they scream in your ears, “It is bitter!”—unfit to drink. What would you do?

Illustration: You are serving God and He is directing your steps. He very plainly leads to a new endeavor and then His provision seems to dry up. Finally, something opens up, but it is against your convictions. What would you do?

George Mueller told of a time when he was financially desperate. There was no food in the house and no money to buy it.

Finally, someone came with a gift of money. There was just one problem—George knew that the man was not paying his rent. Therefore, the money provided was stolen from the landlord. What would you do? George refused to accept it. It would have been so easy to reason that he should keep it, but he did not. God honored his faith, and provided another means.


God uses experiences like this to test us. It is very easy for us to say that we love God and will serve Him. We can deceive others and even ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9). One thing we need to take home today is this truth: Just because we say something does not mean that God will accept it at face value. He will test us and find out what is in our heart. This is not “easy believism”. This is the nitty-gritty of demonstrating our love and loyalty to God (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Next Time: Marah: Bitter Water - Part II

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