I recently preached through the 15th chapter of Exodus where the nation of Israel had been delivered by the LORD, they crossed the Red Sea on dry land, they witnessed the LORD judge Pharaoh and his army, and they saw the dead bodies wash up on the shore. Following that scene, the entire nation sang a song of victory unto the LORD and praised Him for His sovereignty, grace, and wrath upon their enemies. The end of chapter 15 tells an interesting story. It tells a story of what happened only 3 days later.
Just a few days after this massive victory in their lives, the nation of Israel was being led through the wilderness on their way to the land of promise. They went 3 days without water and started to worry about it. I imagine their lips were parched, their tongues were dry, and their skin was likely very hot. Finally they saw a watering hole. They approached it and took up some water to drink and immediately discovered that it was not fit to drink. The entire body of water was bitter. So, rather than trusting the LORD who is sovereign over water to provide for them, they turned to the face of Moses and started complaining. They murmured and grumbled against Moses. Thomas Watson writes, “Murmuring is the rising up of oneself against God. It sets oneself against God as if I am wiser than He.”
A few observations:
- Had Israel forgotten the power and sovereignty of God that they witnessed in the plagues of Egypt?
- Had Israel forgotten the power of God to control water as He had demonstrated at the Red Sea?
- Had Israel forgotten to look up to the heavens between their taste test of the water and their series of complaints to Moses? Surely if they had looked up they would have seen the pillar of cloud that had led them straight to this bitter water. It was their God – not Moses!
As the story ends, we see that God told Moses to take a log and throw it into the water and it became sweet water. They people drank it and then moved on to another place called Elim. At that location the Scriptures record that 12 springs and 70 palm trees were located there. I can’t help but notice the numbers in that verse. Certainly God was making a point to them.
In my own life, I have experienced some Marah moments. One of those moments came when I was in seminary. I lived in Louisville and had a small house that my wife and I owned. Our first child had been born only a few months earlier and I was a full-time student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was also serving as the pastor of a small country church 50 miles south of campus. It became clear that we needed to sell our house and move out near the church. After placing our house on the market, we started house shopping. We found a house that we liked and soon thereafter a person contracted to purchase our house in the city.
We met with the owners of the house near the church (50 miles away) and put a contract on their house. As the time passed and the closing date was quickly approaching, we asked for special permission to move into the new house before we closed. We had to provide keys at the closing table to our buyer and we really wanted to get started painting the walls in the new house as well. So, we moved the 50 miles and started painting. We were only 36 hours away from the closing of our house in the city when I received a call informing me that our buyer had backed out.
It was a tragic thing for our family. I recall sitting by myself in that small house in the city in the empty room and weeping. I had a wife and a young daughter to provide for. I was now living in a house that I didn’t own and committed to pay the payment for our house that was now sitting empty in the city. This was a “Marah” moment for me. I remember complaining to God and even trying to determine where our buyer lived through some Internet searches. My heart was not pure. My motives were not holy.
- Had I forgotten the power of God I had witnessed in my life through the years?
- Had I forgotten the power of God to provide for me and my family when I was a boy as my father worked as a fireman and my sister was diagnosed with Leukemia? Through all of the doctors visits, financial needs, and emotional stress – our God provided for our financial needs and healed my sister. Had I forgotten that?
- Had I forgotten the power of God in my grandfather’s life as a boy? I had witnessed him fall sick and it was discovered through medical tests that he had a large mass in his abdomen. After unsuccessful tests to confirm it was cancer, they had to open him up to remove it and test it. When the doctors opened my grandfather up, the mass was gone and all that remained was the fluid from what was once a mass. The doctors called my grandfather “miracle man.” Had I forgotten that?
To intensify the “lesson” that God had for me, I traveled out to the new house and sat down in the office. I went through and opened up a book that my wife had prepared for me prior to leaving for seminary. It was a collection of letters from preachers who had been influential in my life. They wrote letters of encouragement for me as I was preparing to leave for seminary. I read the letter that a particular preacher wrote to me and here are the words to that letter:
My word to you is to always remember that you are merely a vessel and he is the Treasure. Just a river bed for the river to flow. Any demands God makes on you is not on your ability but on the Christ who promised to be your sufficiency for the journey. Remember that any old bush will do if God set it on fire for His glory. May the Holy Spirit give you enough problems to keep you trusting, enough hurts to keep you broken, and enough victories to keep you praising Him. Only God can take nothing and indwell him so he can be more than a conqueror.
God had given me a problem to keep me trusting, but the real problem was – I wasn’t trusting Him. I was complaining in my “Marah” moment. I had forgotten the power of God. A few days passed and God worked our problem out much like He did the bitter water in the wilderness for Israel. He sent my grandfather to buy the house we were living in while we waited on a buyer for the house in the city. During that time, I operated a web design company at night to pay the bills for my family. God sent just the right amount of work to cover our bills and allowed us to pay my grandfather for the new house and our mortgage payment on the house we owned in the city. Eventually a buyer came our way and we were able to go to the closing table and purchase the house we lived in from my grandfather. God had provided for my family – once again!
Commenting on this passage in Exodus, John Calvin writes, God “might have given them sweet water to drink at first, but He wished by the bitter to make prominent the bitterness which lurked in their hearts.” Apparently that same thing was true in my life as well. God was revealing the problem in me. Through it all – God taught me a valuable lesson during a “Marah” moment of life. We must learn to trust our God during the bitter moments. He is always with us – especially in the dark days and on the hard roads of life. We can’t afford to forget the power of God that we have witnessed from examples in Scripture (1 Corinthians 10:9-11) and we can’t afford to forget the power of God we have personally witnessed in our lives.
For the glory of His name!
Pastor Josh Buice