“The words “Wilderness’ or “Desert” do not necessarily denote a mere waste, but rather extensive tracts not under cultivation, yet frequently affording rich and abundant pasturage. The wilderness in which the Israelites wandered forty years while on their way from Egypt to the Land of Promise is included in the peninsula of Sinai.” (source: The Book of Life- Historical Digest). It was God’s school of necessary discipline for His people who He had released from Egyptian captivity, and there was much for them to learn from the experiences that were to come.
They had witnessed the mighty power of their God as the Egyptian army was completely destroyed at the Red Sea, they had their first sense of freedom, and were conscious of God’s guiding presence <Ex.13:21-22; 14:31>. They praised God for their liberation as they sang their song of Redemption and were anticipating great things as they began their journey to Canaan. God’s command to Pharaoh was “Let my people go, so that they may worship me” <Ex.7:16; 8:27>, and so they began their journey. Such is the beginning of the new life of a believer in Christ, freedom from a life of sin is experienced, the song of praise to God is raised and the new convert begins to live a life of worship and service to the God of our Salvation, and then God’s schooling and discipline begins. In similarity to the Israelites, we as new believers still have the old sin nature within us, which has to be brought under control by The Holy Spirit, because the old nature keeps trying to control us in our new life as a Christian, and very soon we experience the first lesson that is to be learned.
“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.” <Ex.15:22 (NIV)> The Desert of Shur is identified as being on the north west section of the Sinai Peninsular bordering the Red Sea; this indicated that they were travelling southward along the east shore of the Red Sea. “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?” <Ex.15:23-24 (NIV)>. Marah represents the bitterness of life that each of us will experience on our respective journey. For three days they had journeyed and the expectation was that they would worship God by sacrifices, but by this time they had used all the water they had carried with them, tired and thirsty they come to what they expected to be a source of drinking water, but it was bitter.
The Christ-Follower today faces many Marahs in life. God has been blessing and providing a good income, plans are made, a new home is purchased, then the job ends in a layoff. Good health is being enjoyed and suddenly the diagnosis is cancer. The family has moved to a new location, a new Church is found and everyone is enjoying the worship; then changes are made upsetting the congregation and a new place of worship is needed. We all have experienced some kind of Marah as we make our life-journey, but let us not be like the Israelites, for grumbling will only make matters worse. “There the Lord .… tested them.” Ex.15:25 (NIV)> for this was God’s purpose in Marah, God knew that the water was bitter but it was His learning experience for His people. When the word “Test” is used, in our perception it is to ascertain knowledge, but the Biblical concept is teaching, for God’s testing is a learning experience, and here God tests them with a command: “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 the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” <Ex.15:26 (NIV)>. Listen to God’s commands and obey them is the first lesson to be learned by all who follow Christ; God does not say that He will prevent the “Marah” in our life, but He says that He will be with us through the difficulty whatever it may be, and that He will bring healing from the bad experience.
“Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.” <Ex.15:27 (NIV)> After every Marah there is an Elim, that is the order of the wilderness journey. At Elim the Israelites were able to enjoy the water and the rest, and to reflect upon the experience of Marah; and God is able to do this for every individual that sincerely follows Christ. But the reflection is the manner in which God rectified the situation at Marah: “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.” <Ex.15:25 (NIV)>. It is said that in nature the antidote grows near the poison, and so God showed Moses a tree, nothing special is recorded about this tree, but God uses it to bring about a solution to the bitterness; and so, for every sorrow that we experience in life God has a satisfactory cure, it may not be immediate, it may not be a complete removal of the affliction, but God is teaching us His way. The Biblical example is that of Job; God allowed Satan to rob him of all his possessions, but instead of blaming God for his losses he turned to God in worship <Job 1:20-22>; and although his wife encouraged him to curse God and die, Job continued to endure his difficulties, he may not have discovered the real reason for his suffering but God eventually healed him and blessed him with more than he had before <Job 42:12-13>, because of his faithfulness.
But what about our experiences? Being thrown out of a parent’s house because of faith in Jesus Christ, or belittled by our social group. Suffering through a medical condition that cannot be resolved, and so many other situations that the follower of Christ experiences. How does God help our Marah? Let us remember that the life with no difficulty was not promised to the believer in Christ <Jn.16:33; Acts 14:22b>. God showed Moses a tree, how can that apply to our suffering? Christ suffered for us on a tree (Cross), a tree that He created <Col.1:16>, and we have been fore-warned by Scripture that as a follower of Christ we too will suffer with Him because of the evil world in which we live <1 Pet.4:12-16>; so, we need to look to the Cross, look to Jesus who is the author and perfector of our faith <Heb.12:2>, for it is only through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour that we will find any consolation during our time of hardship and suffering here on our Wilderness journey. Therefore, we need to leave our problems at the foot of the Cross and trust Christ to resolve our difficulties; for this is the way that we get to our Elim.
Our Marah will certainly come, but there will be an Elim; and we can only completely experience our Elim if we follow God’s decree: “Listen carefully…do what is right in his eyes…. pay attention to his commands” <Ex.15:26>, do not complain but praise God for His faithfulness.