The Waters of Marah
2nd September 2016
We saw last week how God led the Israelites to a spring of bitter water. They cried out in complaint, but God showed Moses a piece of wood, which he threw into the water and, miraculously, it became drinkable. God then made this promise to His people:
We know that the Israelites didn't keep all of God's decrees all of the time. We know that they continued to fail the tests He set them, and eventually they rebelled against Him, and He let them die in the desert. But that's a story for another day. But what was God saying here?
Firstly, God said that He brings diseases on people. We might not be comfortable with this idea, but God punishes sin. He is the judge of all the earth, and not all punishment waits for the Day of Judgement. Punishment for sin happens all the time.
Sometimes, a Christian has said that a particular outbreak of disease, or a particular natural disaster, is God's punishment for a particular sin. When that happens, the television and the newspapers tend to be full of condemnation for the Christian who said it. We should be very careful not to say such things unless we're absolutely sure that we're right about them. sometimes a disaster is not the result of a particular sin, as Jesus explains in:
All humanity sins. Jesus was the only exception. And the wages of sin is death. And all humanity pays the price. But there is often no obvious correlation between one person's sin and that person's disease. Sometimes there's no connection at all.
We know that if humanity had never sinned, there would be no disease on earth. And it seems that God metes out the punishment for humanity's sin out to us as humanity - as a group - as well as individually. So sometimes I pay a penalty for my own sin, and sometimes I pay a penalty for humanity's sin.
Sometimes, we can see that the disease is the result of the sin. Sexual immorality can result in various diseases. Repeated drunkenness can result in alcoholism. Over-eating can result in obesity, and perhaps in diabetes and heart problems.
Sometimes, we can see that a disease is the result of an action that is unwise, rather than sinful. God would soon command the Israelites not to eat pork and other meats that, in desert conditions, could well have resulted in disease.
But it seems that God punished the Egyptians with particular diseases, and God promised his people that they would be free of those diseases, if they were careful to obey all of God's decrees.
What about you and me? Do we listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes? Do we pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees? We, who have received the Holy Spirit are far better equipped to obey God's law than they ever were.
What diseases, if any, are we suffering as God's punishment for our sin? Will repentance lead to healing? It often does, and it often doesn't. We know that we all die sometime, of something. To what extent, if any, does holiness reduce the incidence of disease? I don't know. We all know sinful people who seem to be healthy, and good people who are seriously ill.
I know that we can do significant harm if we tell people that repentance will definitely lead to physical healing. Sometimes it just doesn't.
I also know that we can do significant harm if we tell people that repentance will never lead to physical healing. Sometimes it does.
I don't think we should just spiritualise this passage away, and pretend that all its meaning for us is about emotional or spiritual wellness. Surely God's promise to the Israelites still applies to us. We know enough of the Bible, and we have enough experience, to know that God heals physical diseases sometimes.
But we can spiritualise it, as well as believing it for physical conditions. And the spiritual applications are both easier to see, and more frequently observed, than the physical application.
In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, Paul tells us that the Israelites crossing the Red Sea is a picture for us of baptism in water, and the pillar of cloud that accompanied them is a picture for us of baptism in the Holy Spirit. These stories speak of God separating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and setting them free. So surely this story is a picture for us of God promising to set us free from the consequences of what once enslaved us: sin, death, ignorance and fear.
Once the Israelites were baptised in the water and the cloud, God said that their obedience would result in improved physical health. If we want to apply these stories consistently, then surely they tell us that once we're baptised in water and in the Holy Spirit, then our obedience will result in improved spiritual health.
God says "I am the Lord who heals you". He"s saying that He's our doctor. He's not saying we shouldn't use human doctors, of course. If you can get an appointment to see your doctor, then make the most of it. He's saying that He's our doctor, and He cares for the whole person - body, soul and spirit. And like any doctor, He'd like us to take His advice. If a doctor says, "stop smoking or you'll get lung disease", you'd better listen, and you'd better do as he says. If God says, "Don't eat pork in the desert, or you'll get digestive problems", then listen to Him. If God tells you to pray, or study, or repent, or worship, or forgive, or if He gives you any other advice or prescription, then it's in your best interest to take it.
Having tested the Israelites, to see if they would trust Him even when the water had run out, God made this promise to them. It was a conditional promise for those who'd already been set free from slavery, and could be set free from some disease, if they were obedient. And He makes a conditional promise to us, that if we will obey Him in all His precepts, we will be free from the consequences of the life we used to live.
After the test came refreshment. Are you being tested by God right now? Then be assured that the day will soon come when you can rest beside abundant, still waters, and know peace.