Bitter Waters Become Better…
It was a diagnosis I never expected as a young girl. Dreams of marriage and motherhood never contemplated obstacles. I knew little about infertility and miscarriage until it became my lot in life. Leaving me to envy those whose motherhood came easy. My arms remained empty. I remember the heartache of miscarriage after telling the world I was finally pregnant. Wondering where God was in it all. Would I become bitter or better?
Another diagnosis I never wanted to hear was cancer. Looking in the mirror after a mastectomy became painful. It happened twice in five years. Fear of the future gripped my heart. Medical statistics shouted lies at me. Wondering again where God was in it all. Would I become bitter or better?
Then there was a broken hip on a mission trip. I’ll never forget lying flat on my back in gross unsanitary conditions. Our insurance refusing to cover the flight home. Recommending surgery in a developing country. I wondered why God didn’t prevent my fall? After all, I was serving Him. The pain was unbearable. The fears overwhelming. Wondering again where God was in it all. Would I become bitter or better?
In all of these situations, I faced the challenge. I could respond in bitterness, questioning God and complaining about my lot. Or I could look to the One who was sovereign over it all. The One who loved me no matter what. Would I allow the circumstances to make me better…or bitter.
It’s easy to inwardly question God’s love in the midst of trials. Even though Scripture assures us God works all things together for good, adverse circumstances do test our faith. We can eat the poisonous fruit of bitterness, or we can choose to trust that God is working something beautiful from them. Even making us better.
Israel faced a similar challenge three days after the Red Sea miracle. Would they trust the God who had just delivered them? Or grumble and complain in bitterness?
Read Exodus 15:22-27
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. when they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
Then Moses cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on theEgyptians for I am the Lord who heals you.
Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
Questions to consider:
1. What miracle had Israel just experienced? Have you ever experienced testing after a miracle in your life?
2. Why do you think God took them to bitter waters just three days after the waters parted at the Red Sea?
3. What does Marah mean? Have you ever lived there?
4. What might be the significance of the wood making the water sweet?
5. What did God provide for His people at their next stop in Elim? What does this show about God’s character?
How do you know God? Do you look at Him only through the eyes of your circumstances or are you familiar with His character? After crossing the Red Sea (and seeing their enemies drown in the same waters that had parted for them), Israel complained about water. Bitter water. Once again God’s people refused to focus on His loving kindness. They looked only at their circumstances and complained bitterly. How different it might have been if they had declared God’s faithfulness and remembered past victories.
In past lessons, we’ve studied various places Israel preferred to dwell. God wanted an intimate relationship with His people. Yet they desired other dwelling places. Egypt representing the world. LoDebar, living beneath one’s rightful inheritance. Kadesh, a place of unbelief; and Marah, the habitat of bitterness. It’s interesting that a piece of wood turned the bitter water sweet. It reminds me of a tree, the Cross of Christ, that heals all our bitter waters. May we all run to the Rock when we’re in bitter waters. And choose to become better by remembering what Jesus did for us on the Cross.
On a side note I think it’s worth noting the numbers 3, 12 and 70 in our current scripture reading. Not to make any kind of doctrine from these numbers, we can’t help but remember it was three days Jonah was in the belly of the whale. Jesus rose from the dead after three days. There were twelve disciples as well as twelve sons of Israel. And there were seventy elders and seventy descendants of Jacob, to name a few. In our current reading, there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees at their next stop, providing for the needs of God’s people. A real oasis. And if we keep reading in Exodus, we’ll see that it didn’t take long for Israel to complain again. Let’s heed the challenge and warning from Israel’s history. May we have a fresh revelation of God’s ways so we will know who He is in the middle of our trials. Hopefully, they won’t cause us to become bitter, but better.