It is strange how reading my Bible has changed since I started journaling. I notice more in the text than I used to which is probably because I am actually looking now rather than just doing what a good Christian should do. I love the Exodus story. I enjoy the drama, the hero, the plot … but I hadn’t really noticed this little bit before. I would have normally just thought of the crossing of the Red Sea, the joyful song and then the manna and quail miracle.
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they travelled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’
25 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 fit to drink. Exodus 15:22-25
It is a rather odd little story, but it is there for a reason. The Israelites have journeyed for three days and are thirsty. They come to a spring but it is bitter so they cannot drink. It must have been so desperately disappointing. But GOD ‘shows’ Moses a piece of wood, and Moses throws it in and it makes the water good to drink.
This made me think of what I am like, when on ‘my journey’. I set out with my hopes, dreams and expectations but then hit an obstacle. Something happens or I fail and I get hit by disappointment. When what I had expected doesn’t happen, or my faith takes a bit of a battering, I can very easily turn to bitterness. My hope gets shattered, in this story it is their thirst not being quenched, and it seems like we are forgotten.
The nature of bitterness means that it feeds on itself. Because of this cycle, it is ‘natural’ to then get stuck there. This story has a very unnatural feel to it though. How could a lump of wood make the water sweet to drink? It could have been anything that GOD had ‘shown’ Moses to throw into the water, in theory, it was the fact that Moses cried out to GOD that mattered. It only takes a simple cry out to GOD and He shows the way to make even the disappointment and bitterness into something sweet and life giving. It may not be obvious what you need to chuck at disappointment, but taking it to GOD is always the first step to freedom.
It is funny that the thing GOD did show Moses was a piece of wood. The story and the wood reminded me of this verse in Proverbs.
12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12
This tree of life makes me think again of the tree in Psalm one, planted beside streams of living … not bitter … water. GOD’s plan for us is to not be dry and thirsty, He is the one place we can find living, sweet tasting water. He is the one hope that will never disappoint or fail to be fulfilled.
The people were thirsty and needed water. They became like the water they tasted, they were bitter because what looked to be promising to quench their thirst was useless. GOD stepped in and was able to fulfil their longing … the wood became a tree of life! What GOD shows you doesn’t have to make sense, but what He shows you, will bring life.
The Israelites were able to drink the water after GOD had intervened in their cycle of bitterness. And to top it all, GOD then shows them even more. He purposefully leads them (with the pillar of smoke and fire) to another place.
27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water. Exodus 15:27
They had more than enough water here! Twelve springs! One for each of the tribes, and they could camp near the water so it was accessible to all. They had shade and life all around them. That one desperate moment of need for water in the wilderness was in the past, GOD had a much bigger and better plan for them. Their thirst could not be satisfied at Marah, but at Elim all their longings were gratified and much more beside!
After battling through bitterness, crying out to GOD and choosing to do what He shows you, He then takes you to a place with more than enough. It will often be a place of abundance in the thing you were battling for in the first place. There will be more of what we were looking for and thirsting for in the first place. When we follow GOD to that place we can enjoy the favour and abundance that He brings but our need for it is no longer tinged with bitterness. We may not even need it anymore because we have found our source in looking to Him.