(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
The story of Marah is found in Exodus 15:22 through 25:
So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people com- plained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.
How Moses ever put up with about two million complaining Israelites is beyond me! The incident at Marah is one of the first testings the Hebrews experienced. And they faced it with grumbling and anger! But it sure wasn’t the last bitter time! Exodus 32 records the disastrous choice of God’s people when they turned from Him and worshiped an idol in the form of a golden calf they had made. Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, and the LORD told him:
“Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves....Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them that I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”
By the time of this idolatrous incident, I think I might have said, “Yeah, LORD, kill ‘em all! I’m tired of all their rebellion of unbelief and disobedience!” But Moses, the great man of God that he was, would not give up on the people of Israel!
A bit of background to the Marah incident:
- The Israelites had been in Egypt for centuries, and much of that time they had been enslaved by the Egyptians!
- When God sent Moses to deliver them, he and his brother Aaron performed great miraculous plagues, directed against the Egyptians and their gods!
- The tenth plague was the killing of all the firstborn of Egypt, both people and animals!
- That was the night of Passover, when the angel of death passed over the Hebrew dwellings because their doors were marked with the blood of a slain lamb!
- The Israelites had to leave in a hurry – the Egyptians drove them out!
- They thought they were led into a trap at the Red Sea, but God miraculously opened a path through the water, and drowned the Egyptian army who tried to follow them!
According to our featured Scripture, “…they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.” (Exodus 15:22). They were tired, thirsty, and discouraged! And “…they came to Marah, and they could not drink the waters…for they were bitter.” (Exodus 15:23). The very name Marah in Hebrew means “bitter.”
The LORD tells us in Isaiah 55:8 and 9, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” And how He solved the problem of the bitter waters of Marah was beyond what we could have even thought to do to fix the problem! “…the LORD showed…Moses…a tree; and when he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:24, 25).
Now, it says in the Bible:
- Luke 24:27 – “…beginning at Moses [the first five books of the Bible] and all the prophets, He [Jesus] expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
- I Corinthians 10:11 – “Now all these things [the Old Testament history] happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the end of the ages have come.”
In other words, everything written in the Old Testament, in the whole Bible, points to Jesus Christ – including the “tree” Moses threw into “the bitter waters”! Let’s see how it applies….
Have you ever met a bitter person? Have you ever been in a bitter situation? If you are alive and breathing, the answer is “YES!” How does God solve that bitterness? He throws in a tree! What do I mean? We are told in I Peter 2:24, Christ “…Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.” The tree refers to the cross upon which Jesus died! Four other times in the New Testament the cross of Christ is referred to as a tree or the tree.
Now let’s apply this: When the cross is introduced to a bitter Marah life, or a bitter Marah situation, that tree of Jesus can make that life or situation sweet! How so?
Take my examples of a bitter life and a bitter situation:
- I had the bitter experience of my father leaving the family for another woman when I was ten. Several months later my mother had to sell the 208 acre family dairy farm. That farm was my life! All I wanted to do was grow up and take over the family farm!
- I didn’t know how to handle all the emotional loss. I shoved all the feelings down inside and covered them over with alcohol – starting to drink when I was twelve. By the time I was fifteen, I was an alcoholic!
- No one expected the three Norton boys, of which I was the youngest, to amount to anything! So I bought into that, and in high school I pretended to be the tough guy and ran with the wrong crowd. I lost my teenage years, desperately wanting to be accepted by the ‘in-crowd’ but never feeling ‘good enough’ to be accepted!
- But when I was nineteen, and in the Air Force, enrolled in Radar tech school at Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi, Mississippi, I discovered something that changed my life!
✞ I was seriously studying to be a Roman Catholic. A fellow airman,a dear friend, had converted some time before. Since I didn’t have much of a Chris- tian background, I also decided to convert. ✞ In the midst of my Catholic studies, and reading the pocket Bible the Air Force issued me, I dis- covered three things: ➔ Jesus was real! ➔ He was alive! ➔ And He loved me! ✞ And I fell ‘head-over-heels’ in love with Him! ✞ That “tree” – representing the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ – thrown into “the bitter waters” of my life began to sweeten and change my loss!
Years later, that tree thrown into my bitter Marah waters resulted in another miracle of sweetness! Remember I wrote earlier, that I lost my teenage years as well as the family farm?
- In 1982 my dear wife Hope and I bought a cottage at Patterson Grove, an old Methodist camp meeting in the mountains west of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. By God’s intervention, the price for that cottage came down from $5,000 to $2,500, which we could then afford! Being a Baptist minister and living in parsonages, I didn’t have a place I could call my own. But now we had a cottage! After 26 years, we finally owned our own place! I felt I had finally put down some roots!
- Then in 2001, at the age of 55, I was in my fifth year as youth leader during the fifteen days of camp meeting at Patterson Grove. I was in charge of 56 teenagers….and I loved it!
✞ I don’t know how it happened, but God gave me back my lost teenage years! I wasn’t trying to be a teen- ager. I was their youth leader. But I loved ‘my kids’ and they loved me! ✞ In Joel 2:25 God said, “...I will restore the years that the...locust has eaten....” Somehow the LORD restored my teenage years that had been wasted (eaten)! I named it ‘the magic summer’ because I no longer miss those lost years!
Jesus Christ made the difference! The cross (also called the tree) made the difference!
- He came from heaven to earth to live the perfect life before God the Father that we could never live (see I Peter 2:22). We are sinners, lost (see Luke 19:10) and condemned before the LORD (see John 3:18)!
- But He voluntarily went to the cross (see John 10:17, 18), bearing my sins and yours (see I Peter 2:24)!
- He paid the price for all our sin, and offers us His own righteousness! (see II Corinthians 5:21).
- When we open our heart and life to Him (see Revelation 3:20), confessing our sins (see I John 1:9), He gives us eternal life! (see John 3:15, 16; I John 5:11).
- We are accepted before the Father in the beloved Son when we put our faith in Him! (see Ephesians 1:6).
The tree (the cross)
cast into the midst of bitterness
can make life sweet!
(see Galatians 5:22, 23)