God leads his people through many seasons in life, sometimes to difficult times and circumstances, and others in times of joy and abundance. Here, God teaches his people to depend on him as their healer, as the one who makes them whole. Are you ready to follow the LORD through all times? Are you ready to be transformed by God to become more like Jesus?
Some say that Singaporeans are great at one thing, and that is complaining. Singaporeans can complain about everything: school, traffic, work, this or that. We have the unique ability to find fault with everything! Not just in big things, but even in small everyday things. Why are we this way? And what sort of heart finds itself complaining frequently? Today’s passage looks at how God deals with a people whom he has just saved, and their complaining. Read on to find out more!
(A) The LORD turns bitter water Sweet (Exo 15:22-25a)
We are at the point in the Exodus narrative where the LORD had just parted the Red Sea, and defeated Israel’s enemies - the Israelites are on the other side of the Red Sea, safe from the Egyptians. This was one of the greatest acts of deliverance! Ex 14:31 tells us that Israel feared the LORD, and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. And in Exodus 15, they break into song, and worshipped God. Their hearts must have been full, and their spirits exuberant.
Have you ever felt this way, being just extremely grateful for how things have panned out? You saw how God worked powerfully in a situation, and you cannot be more thankful. You know that everything comes from God, and you are just humbled by how much he gives to you. This is exactly the situation that the Israelites find themselves in.
But today’s passage shows us an almost 180 degree turn. The Israelites are actually complaining 3 days after the magnificent events of Exodus 14 and 15. Why would they be complaining after having just praised God for His mighty act of deliverance?
We learn in Exo 15: 22 that the Israelites were complaining because they met a problem of water. It is easy to go over this verse with a neutral “okay”, but to truly appreciate the scale of their problem of going three days without water, we need to place ourselves into their situation. They had six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children, and much livestock. This is not a party of 5-10 people wandering in a desert, but an entire nation entering the wilderness, a desert. These are tough conditions, and not to find water is a big deal. This was a national crisis, and this was a mere 3 days after they have set out from the Red Sea.
The Israelites eventually found water at Marah. Just imagine finding water after going 3 days without it, you will be real excited. What more for the Israelites who were in the midst of a national crisis? They would felt extremely hopeful and happy! But the water they found was bitter and unfit for consumption. In their disappointment, they responded by grumbling against Moses, complaining to him about the lack of water.
They are doing what they did just before God brought them across the Red Sea in Exo 14:11-12. This response comes 3 days after the most amazing miracle God performs right before them. They were singing and rejoicing in God just then, but where did Exo 15 go? It was almost as if Exo 15 never happened. They have all but forgotten what God had done, and can do. It’s also rather ironic that they were grumbling about water, after God had shown himself sovereign over the waters of the Red Sea. This cuts to the heart of their issue - it was less that they were worried about their water consumption, and more that they did not trust in God to provide.
Do you find yourself grumbling today? We can complain about just about anything, about how church service is run, how ministry decisions are made, what this guy or girl did, we can grumble at home about how things are not meant to be where they are, we can grumble at work about having to stay 10 minutes later than usual, etc. Ps 106:7 tells us that Israel did more than just grumbling - they "rebelled by the sea". Their grumbling was against God, and in their grumbling, they had forgotten about how God answered their groaning to save them out of slavery. Grumbling and complaining can seem harmless, but more often than not, it is a sign of deep dissatisfaction against a person.
The other irony is that their grumbling about bitter water revealed the bitterness in their heart. The bitterness in the heart behind grumbling can affect our prayer life, our ministry, our relationship with God. It can be grumbling about small things, but slowly, we can find ourselves just like the Israelites, having forgotten all about what God has done for us.
But instead of grumbling with the Israelites, Moses turned to God in prayer. This is an amazing example for us, for when someone complains to us, we tend to also think of reasons to complain as well so that we can “connect” better - a dismal race to the bottom. But Moses doesn’t do that. Moses cries to the LORD, for his trust is in the LORD.
If you are a Christian, does this sound like you today? What do you turn to when you are faced with obstacles? Your mind that thinks of all the ways to solve a problem? When does God enter the picture? Is He your last resort? What does this say about your relationship with God? These are important questions for us to think about.
Most amazingly, the LORD chooses to provide immediately for his people, turning the bitter water sweet. Remember that it was God leading his people in a cloud in the wilderness. Surely, he knows their discomfort and needs, and leads them to where he wants them. God here is gracious to a bunch of complaining folk, or as a commentary said, “whiners". Being gracious and loving to whiners is never easy, but God does it. This goes to show that God is able to take what is bitter - even bitter people - and change it into something sweet.
(B) The LORD reveals himself to be their Healer (Exodus 15:25b-26)
Immediately after turning the water sweet, God makes a statute or a law, giving them a principle (a rule): If you follow his commandments, God will put none of the diseases on you that he put on the Egyptians. He promises not to judge them (which was what he did with the Egyptians), if they would listen to him and keep all his commandments. Remember that up to now, God has given them the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Consecration of the Firstborn.
Exodus describes this as God's test for the Israelites: It was none other than God who led them for 3 days without water, and then to Marah. But why did God test them? Exo 20:20 tells us that God tests, not in the hope that his people would fail, but that they would fear him, obey him and not sin. It goes to show that God led them to places that would test their trust in him!
In the bitter water encounter, God was teaching his people to depend on him. Yes, they were rejoicing by the Red Sea in Exo 15, but when faced with difficulty, they grumbled. God knows his people perfectly, and he tests them and teaches them to obey his word, and he promises to be their healer if they do. Their lives are to be sustained by keeping God’s word, and God will be their Healer.
Consider John Piper’s understanding of how God tests us: God does not do the tempting—he does not put evil desires in our hearts (for he can have no evil desires in his heart)—but he does bring us into the presence of many tests and temptations. Has your faith been tested? Did the period of time make you depend on God more? This passage is a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs that reflect testing times! What does the New Testament tell us about testing times? Titus 2:11-12 tells us that the grace of God appeared to train us to renounce all ungodliness and worldly passions. James 1:2-3 tells us to rejoice when we meet trials for the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. In testing, God is transforming our hearts to depend less on ourselves, and more on him. He is showing us that life is not about what we think it is, but about following him, obeying him, loving him.
Do you hear His words to the Israelites? “Your water problem, your discomfort in not getting what you want, it’s not the real problem! The real problem is a bitter heart that turns to grumbling. You have to follow me and obey my voice…” The same message rings true for us today, for we are not too different in our sin from the Israelites in theirs.
At this point, we have to ask what God meant when He revealed Himself as their Healer? They were not physically sick, so this might strike us as an odd problem. The truth is that their physical health did not mean they were not sick people.Remember that the Israelites were not unlike the Egyptians, they were sinners too, they too were prone to harden their hearts against God as we see in this. They deserved the diseases that God had put on the Egyptians. God being their healer means that he is the one who restores them to fullness, both in the physical sense and even more so in the spiritual sense. God will make them whole. God will be the one who heals them of their sin. Remember that God promises to heal them of their sin condition here - to heal their rebellion and their grumbling.
Now, how does He do that today? He does this by sending his Son Jesus Christ, who also went into the wilderness and was tested by Satan (Matt 4:1-11). Satan tempted Him with XYZ, but He quoted God’s word. His trust was in God. He did not grumble, but referenced his life to God. In doing so, he led the perfect sinless life, that we call our own when we place our faith in his dying and resurrection. His righteousness imputed to us, that is how God is our healer today.
Do you feel like you need healing today? Are you aware of your sin? As younger people, the majority of us are not faced with physical ailments. But beyond that, are you a sick person? Jesus says in Mark 2:17 that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”. It is easy to live our lives without reference to God by living as if He were not there, and loving other things that distract us. This passage reminds as that God is our Healer, and we certainly need His healing.
(C)The LORD provides in Abundance (Exo 15:27)
After the episode at Marah, the LORD brought them to Elim: 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees. This sounds like a resort, and it absolutely is! God brings them into a healing place that met their physical needs ten times over. This is what the LORD can do. This is a providing God. He not only provides, but provides abundantly. He is a generous God. He is the God who supplies every need of ours according to his riches in glory in Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:19). In Christ, God provides more than for our physical nourishment, he gives us himself. What other riches could we possibly need?
God today shows us that he is a God who brings his people to testing times, as well as times of abundance and blessings. He does this to teach his people that life is not so much about themselves, but about depending on him, loving him and obeying him. Life is meant to be centred around God: by listening to his voice. God calls himself our healer, and so we trust in him to heal us when we are rebellious and grumbling, we trust him to save us through his Son Jesus Christ. We trust him to change to become more like Christ even as he leads us through different seasons in life even as Christ lived a perfectly obedient life to God’s commandments.
We close with an excerpt on this passage from Charles Spurgeon,
“After I had fallen down at Mentone, and was grievously ill, a brother in Christ called to me and said, “My dear friend, you have now come to Marah.” I replied, “Yes, and the waters are bitter.” He then said, “But Marah is better than Elim, for in Elim the Israelites only drank of the water, and ate of the fruit of the palm trees, and that was soon over. But at Marah we read that God, ‘made for them a statute and an ordinance,’ and that was never over. That statute and ordinance stood fast, and will stand fast for Israel as long as they are a nation. There is much more benefit to be reaped from Marah than from Elim.” I thanked my friend for that good word. I had found it true before. I have found it true since then, and you and I, if we are, indeed, the people of God, will find it true to the end, that Marah, though it is bitter, is also better! And albeit that we do not like it, yet in the end there shall be no bitterness in it, but an unutterable sweetness which shall be ours through time and eternity!”
Is God leading you through a time of testing? What is God calling you to obey in His Word today?