“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.


Similar to any desire to free oneself from sinful oppression, so it was for the Israelites when Moses and Aaron presented God’s command to Pharaoh “Let my people go” <Ex.5:1>, Pharaoh immediately declared open non-compliance and demanded that the oppression be increased; “Who is the Lord that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” <Ex.5:2 (NIV)>. This is the method of the devil as he attempts to impede the liberation of the sinner. How often in life an individual, who has become a slave to some depravity or pattern of life, attempts to break away only to be snared and returned to the life of slavery? There seems to be no way of escape and the demands of slavery increases, <see Ex.5:9, 11>. Similarly, the devil does not let go of the sinner and deters in every way the individual’s decision to turn to God in repentance. There are four deceptions recorded in Exodus 5 to 10 used by Pharaoh that can be associated with the tactics of Satan, as he attempts to impede the Israelites from obedience to God’s command; “Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God” <Ex.5:1, 3 (NIV)>. This was God’s method of salvation for His people then and now; the three days are a representation of Christ’s suffering and death, His Burial and resurrection, that completed His work of salvation; this salvation which is the only escape from the bondage of sin.

The first of the devil’s deceptions is observed in Pharaoh’s suggestion to Moses and Aaron: “Go sacrifice to your God here in the land” <Ex.8:25>. Satan understands that he cannot fight against God, but he will do everything in his power through craftiness to cause the new believer, and even the older believer, to stumble and fail; so, he suggests that the Israelites “sacrifice in the land”. This deception is still being suggested today as Satan’s aim is to destroy the very object of our salvation and testimony to the true God, the Cross of Christ. If Satan cannot deter the liberation of a sinner through visible obstruction, he will subtly keep the individual sacrificing in the land, and Satan has certainly succeeded in this deception. Satan has no objection to any person adopting a form of religion where one can uphold a successful moral standing in today’s culture without being a sincere follower of Christ <2 Tim.3:5>, such people are accepted and praised by the social order but do not have an effective witness for Christ, causing the name of God to be ridiculed. A worldly religion embraces everything, condemns nothing except the committed follower of Christ, Satan hates an absolute separation to God. As a professing Christian, have you completed your three-day journey? Have you separated yourself from worldly influences? You cannot present a true testimony for God or worship Him in spirit and sincerity, while at the same time fellowshipping in a worldly religion; the call of God is clear; “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” <2 Cor.6:14-17 (NIV)>

The second deception of Satan is identified in Pharaoh’s next offer: “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the desert, but you must not go very far.” <Ex.8:28 (NIV)>, or in simple terms “do not go too far away”. Satan prefers that the believer does not go too far, just far enough so that he can draw the individual back under his control, destroying the persons testimony as a separated follower of Christ. A modern-day type of Christianity – “Borderland Christianity” is very common, and is a great tool for Satan as it fits his purpose; a Christian who is “luke-warm” is nothing more than a stumbling block to everyone, a hypocrite, having no capacity for anything, respected by no one, and lives a discouraging life. The account of Lot in Genesis pictures this type of Christianity, where he lived a life of hypocrisy so that he had no testimony in his city and when the judgment of God was imminent his sons-in-law would not believe him <see Gen.19:14; cf Rev.3:15-17>; he was ridiculed as his worldliness completely paralyzed his preaching. All believers in Christ must recognise this deception, for Satan will say to us “don’t go too far”, you can be a Christian but you can still indulge in actions and things that may be questionable for a believer in Christ, why not, others are doing so. But are they correct? We are taught by scriptures that God’s people, or followers of Christ, are chosen, holy, God’s possession, to declare God’s praises <1 Pet.2:9>; and we are also instructed that we should not live an ungodly life <Eph.4:17; 1 Cor.3:3>. It is very easy for us to follow what others are doing, we must be like others is the encouragement, but unfortunately such action will only lead to disappointment and discouragement in our walk with Christ <see Ex.8:26-27>; we are encouraged to be like Christ in all our ways. Therefore, we must insist on our “three-day journey” – a complete separation from the world if we are to be an effective Christian.

Satan’ next deception is seen where he suggests: “Have only the men go; and worship the Lord” <Ex.10:11 (NIV)>; Pharaoh will allow them to go but they must leave the women and children behind. This is a clever deception and can be seen in the actions of some Christian parents today where their children are encouraged to participate in worldly practices so as to be successful and acceptable by the social order of the day; the end result being that their children are so influenced by worldly pleasures and practices they are far from being followers of Christ. Both Lot and Eli the priest were guilty of this and their children are an example of those that are left to worship in a worldly manner <see 1 Sam.2:12, 22-25>, symbolizing a warning to all Christian parents today. The decision is, and always should be; “We will go with our young and old, with our sons and daughters, and with our flocks and herds” <Ex.10:9 (NIV)>, since all that we have and are must be dedicated to God.

The final deception recorded is: “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.” <Ex.10:24 (NIV)>. This sounds reasonable since taking their flocks and herds would create great difficulty, but this stopped short of God’s demand; everything that they owned was required to make the journey “until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.” <Ex.10:26 (NIV)>; God must have all when we decide to follow Him, we cannot deny God of what belongs to Him; so, Moses’ response was “not a hoof is to be left behind” <Ex.10:26 (NIV)> everything must go.

Christ’s call to follow Him demands a response of full commitment <Mk.1:17-20; Lk.5:11>, we have to make a decision to follow Christ, and such decision means that everything that we are and have goes with that decision, and we see many examples in Scripture where individuals are called to make that decision, Moses refused to lower God’s claims, Daniel was thrown into the Lions den and the furnace of fire rather than deny God, to name a few. We must understand that it is the responsibility of all disciples of Christ to leave the world behind and take the journey of the Cross when we decide to follow Christ, taking all that we have and dedicating it to Christ.