The Waters of Marah
26th August 2016
Over the previous four weeks, we looked at the story of when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. God had proved his faithfulness and His power by sending a series of plagues on the Egyptians, to persuade them to let the Israelites go. But when things got scary, the Israelites forgot what they'd learned about God's love and power, and started to complain about his servant Moses. Again God performed a miracle. Again God demonstrated that He was willing and able to save the Israelites from danger, and give them freedom. He parted the sea and the Israelites crossed the dry sea bed to freedom.
After the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptian army had drowned, when they knew they were safe from the Egyptians for ever, the Israelites sang a song of deliverance. You can read it in Exodus 15v1-18. But they still hadn't learnt to trust God.
Perhaps we can relate to this. How many stories have we read in the Bible about God's faithfulness and power? How many other books have we read that talk about God's ability to set us free and provide for our needs? How many times in our own lives has God intervened to keep us safe, set us free, heal our hearts, and provide for our needs? But when problems, dangers or setbacks come our way, we can still forget what we've learnt. We can make the mistake of focussing on the practical, earthly situation, and forgetting that the omnipotent God loves us. We can forget that He has a plan for our lives, and we can allow ourselves to feel forsaken.
And sometimes God chooses to test us. Once the people had crossed the Red Sea, and sung in celebration of God's love for them and His power to protect them, in even the most dangerous of situations, God caused them - or, if you prefer, allowed them - to travel through the desert for three days without finding any water.
They would have had some water with them when they started out on this journey, but you need a lot of water in the desert, and their supplies would have dwindled hour by hour. And with each hour that passed, they would have become more concerned. After three days, that concern became fear that they'd die of thirst.
Then - joy of joys - they found a spring. They would have been thrilled, overcome with relief, and I suspect they would have told themselves they hadn't doubted God really. They always trusted Him really. They knew he'd provide really. But then they tasted the water, and it was bitter. It was undrinkable. And here's their reaction:
Philippians 2:14 tells us to do everything without complaining or arguing, but when things don't go the way we want them to, we can forget. We can get angry with God, or with each other, or with other people. This is a sign of our immaturity.
The mature don't kick and scream when we don't get our own way. The mature bless those that curse us, and pray for those who persecute us, and for those who irritate us. The mature trust God that whatever is happening is for a purpose, without demanding to know what that purpose is. The mature keep their faith in God, even when they don't get what they want, or what they think they deserve.
Moses didn't know what to do. And when you don't know what to do, the best thing is to be honest with God about it. Tell him you don't know what to do, and ask him for help, guidance, inspiration. Moses cried out to the Lord.
The entire Israelite nation was thirsty. They hadn't found water for three days, and the only spring they'd been able to find was bitter. Moses didn't know what to do. But God did.
Leaders need to pray. We need to seek God. We need God's answers, not our own answers. Sometimes, the way forward seems obvious, but we can make a huge mistake doing what's obvious without praying first. Sometimes God want us to do something that's anything but obvious. And sometimes, we risk criticism because we're doing what God has instructed us to do, instead of what seems to be obvious.
God showed Moses a piece of wood, or perhaps that Hebrew word means a log, or a tree. Moses would probably have preferred a desalination plant, or a map to another spring. What good is a piece of wood? Well, Moses, of all people, knew that by God's power we can use a piece of wood. By God's power, Moses had used his staff - his walking stick - to perform miracles, including the parting of the Red Sea just a few days before.
We'd like to think we learn from our experiences. The Israelites hadn't learnt to trust God. They hadn't learnt not to complain. But Moses had learnt that by God's power, we can do anything, with anything. The power of prayer isn't just asking God to do things; it's also letting God give us faith, and teach us, and show us what he wants us to use to solve a problem. In God's perfect plan, Moses would use a piece of wood to desalinate the spring. That's not the way you or I would think of doing it, but it was God's way.
Moses obeyed God. He threw the piece of wood into the water, and it became sweet. The people drank. They were refreshed and ready for the next stage in their journey.
Our human leaders can't turn bitter water into sweet water, but God can. A Christian leader is called to find God's way and rely on God's power, not to try to fix everything himself.
God turned the bitter water into sweet water. And on our journey with God, we can sometimes find bitter water in our own hearts. Particularly in times of difficulty, we can discover resentment against God, or other people, in our hearts. God can remove the bitterness. If we pray, and admit to God that we need His help, He will show us how. He will show us what our hearts need to remove the bitterness.
Often, what our hearts need is another piece of wood - the cross of Christ. If we truly and completely allow our hearts to be changed by the voluntary, sacrificial offering of his own life, the voluntary suffering of unimaginable physical, emotional and spiritual pain, for our sakes, then we can hold no grudge against God or against our fellow humans.
God had tested Moses, and he passed the test.
God had also tested the Israelites, and they'd failed the test. But God didn't give up on them. He continued to lead them forwards.