Have you ever had needs and desires that hoped would be fulfilled in someone or something, and were greatly disappointed? Welcome to Marah! We have all been there. Pastor Brian shows how the story of the Israelites at Marah is fulfilled in our lives in many different ways. We need to stop looking to people or things to fulfill us, and find our fulfillment in Christ alone.
Christ – The One Who Sweetens Our Bitter Waters
What purpose did God have in giving us the example of the children of Israel as they traveled to the promised land? Are they just some interesting stories, but with no practical relevance for us today? No! Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11,
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
Did you notice verse 11? “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come”! The stories we are reading in the Book of Exodus are not just some quaint, interesting histories. They are that, but they are much more. They are stories that God deliberately had recorded in Scripture because they are for our instruction. They are examples for us, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the account of the Israelites as they travel to Marah.
Let’s read the account together, shall we?
Exodus 15:22-27, “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them. And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.” Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.”
“Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.”
Remember now how God had dealt with these Hebrews. God had redeemed from their bondage in slavery to Pharoah in Egypt, a type of our redemption from sin and Satan and the world. They had been passed over by the destroying angel by applying the blood of the lamb to their doors. This is a type of God passing over us in judgment because of the blood of Christ which we have applied to our souls by faith. Then they started out on their pilgrimmage, heading to the promised land, a type of the believer who begins His Christian walk toward heaven. My friends, you and I are just like the Israelites! We have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. We have been delivered from our spiritual enemies. And now we are on a journey to meet Christ in heaven.
After God delivered the Israelites so gloriously by parting the Red Sea and then drowning all their enemies, we might have thought that He would then lead them into a Paradise. However, instead, He led them into the wilderness. And, rather than having every need and want supplied by this omnipotent God who had parted the Sea, they went three days without water. My friends, God does not lead us to heaven on a beautiful sunny day on a path strewn with rose petals. No, it is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God.
Put yourselves in their sandals. Here are between two and three million people out in the wilderness. No one knows where they are going or how to get there. And they have been traveling now for three days without finding any water. This is a desperate situation! If they didn’t find water very soon, they would all die of thirst in the desert. Their lips were cracked, their throats were parched. They were becoming weak. Perhaps some had fainted on the way. Perhaps some of the infants and elderly among them had already died in the wilderness.
“When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah.”
The word Marah means “bitter”, and that was certainly an appropriate name for the place! At Marah there was a large pool of water. The people must have rejoiced greatly when they came to Marah. At last! Here is water! This is what we need! This is what we want! This is what we have been yearning for! And so there is mad scramble as all of them rush to the waters to drink. But when they took the water into their mouths, it tasted so bitter and foul, that they spat it out. It was not fit to drink. How disappointed they must have felt! How disillusioned. Here they needed water, and then they came to water, but it was impossible to drink it!
This story points out a very important truth in the Christian life. As a Christian you are going to have various needs and desires. You are going to thirst for things. You are going to want acceptance, happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, joy, and pleasure. However, all of us make the mistake of thinking we are going to find those kinds of things at Marah. We think, “That woman or man is so wonderful! I know that if I were married to him or her, then I would be fulfilled!” “That alcohol, or those drugs look like they would bring so much pleasure!” “If I had that job, or owned that house, or drove that car, then I would really be happy!” We think that Real Life comes from our status, or approval, or recognition, or power, or money, or fame, or sensual pleasures. But when you pursue status, approval, recognition, power, money, fame, or sensual pleasures, you are just drinking at Marah. And you quickly discover that the waters are bitter. They are undrinkable.
It happens to us all the time. We find ourselves driving around town thinking, “This old car is just a clunker. It’s old, and not in very good condition. I need a new car. Man, having a brand new car would bring me so much happiness and fulfillment.” Then you find yourself looking at all the other cars, and thinking how much better all the other cars are than yours. Then you find yourself looking at car commercials, and going online to look at new cars. Then you find yourself figuring out what you can say to your spouse so that they will buy in to your idea of getting a new car. All of this, because you believe that new car is going to make you happy. And so, you do it. You enter into a contract to buy that car paying $500 a month for the next 5 years! And you think, “All right! This is awesome!” You get into that new candy apple red sports car, and it looks so nice, and has that wonderful new car smell. You drive it off the lot, and you’re feeling prouder than a peacock. And for a while, driving around in your new car does make you happy. But, after a while, you find that it gets a few scratches. The paint doesn’t look as nice as it once did. You have to get some work done on it. The inside gets dirty with Starbucks cups and spilled food. And pretty soon, that thing you were so enraptured with is just ho-hum, and you are stuck for the next 5 years with this crushing car payment! What happened? You drank at the waters of Marah, and you found that they were bitter!
Let’s take another example. Perhaps you were in bad marriage, and it ended in divorce. Your spouse cheated on you, and you ended up divorcing them. Then, you met someone new! This guy isn’t like the old one at all! Your ex-husband ignored you and treated you rudely. But this guy is kind and courteous. He calls you every day, and buys you flowers. He takes you on dates, and compliments you. And, all of a sudden you feel so happy. You think, “I’ve finally found Mr. Right!” And you end up marrying him. But after a while, you find out that Mr. Right has some disgusting habits. He likes to smoke cigars. He likes to eat in bed while he watches TV, when you are trying to sleep. After being married for a while, he isn’t as kind and attentive as he was when he was wooding you. He doesn’t always help you any more. Instead, he watches the ball game on TV when you need him to help with the kids. And, little by little, that effusive joy and elation you once experienced when you first met him, is going down the drain. The guy you thought was going to make you feel beautiful, and admired, and wonderful, now feels like an albatross around your neck. What happened? You were thirsty, and went to Marah to drink. But now, you have found that the waters are bitter.
Solomon was a man who drank from Marah. Solomon was about the most wealthy man in the world in his day. He was the King of Israel. He owned land and houses, and cattle, and livestock, and horses. His annual salary today would have been about 1 billion dollars in gold! That’s better than any Pro Baseball or Football player or any Musical Entertainer!
In addition to this wealth, Solomon experienced great sensual pleasures. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines, so he could be with a different woman every night for 3 years straight.
We look at Solomon and say, “This guy has got it all. He’s the King. He’s famous. He’s rich. He’s got all kinds of beautiful women. He’s wise.” But after Solomon experienced everything this world has to offer, what did he conclude? “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” He drank from Marah, and found its waters to be bitter.
Jesus said exactly the same thing. In John 4:13-14 it says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
You can write this over everything you find in this world – new cars, big houses, beautiful women, wealth, power, fame “everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again.” You can have all those things, but your thirst will not be slaked. You will thirst again. In fact, often a person pursues the things of the world to slake his thirst, and finds that he has become a slave of that thing. He becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, or pornography, in his attempt to find satisfaction there.
“So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink? Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.”
There He tested them. The Lord was testing the children of Israel. This was why the Israelites were unable to find water in the wilderness for three days. God was behind this crisis. The Lord had purposed that they would not be able to find water as a test. How would they respond? The people grumbled. They complained. When you experience your Marahs, how do you respond? When you are disappointed that something or someone is not filling a need in your life, do you murmur and complain and grumble? God is testing you! When you face a Marah, it is just as if you were in the 5th grade and your teacher came in and said, “Today children we are going to have a pop quiz!”
We can either respond to our Marahs the way the Israelites did, or the way Moses did. The Hebrews grumbled. Moses cried out to the Lord. If you are finding yourself this morning at Marah, I encourage you to cry out to the Lord. Spread your complaints out to Him. And you know what He will do? He will show you the tree.
When the people couldn’t drink the waters, they grumbled at Moses. Moses cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed Moses a tree, and when Moses threw that tree into the waters, the waters became sweet.
So, is there no way to find fulfillment, happiness, joy, contentment, peace, satisfaction and pleasure in this life? No! The Lord showed Moses a tree. When Moses threw it into the waters, they became sweet.
All through the Scriptures, the “tree” is an emblem of the cross of Jesus Christ.
“Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Gal.3:13
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.” 1Pet.2:24
“They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree.” Acts 10:39
“And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.” Acts 13:29
So, my friend, if you have found that you have been drinking at the waters of Marah, and have found them bitter, what are you to do? Cast in the tree! What do you mean, Brian? I mean bring your Savior who died for sins, into that situation.
If you have a bitter marriage, stop looking to that man or woman to be your Savior. Stop looking to them to satisfy you and make you happy and fulfill you. Look to Jesus Christ, the crucified Savior. He is the only One who can do that. He can cause a well to spring up inside of you unto Eternal Life!
If you find yourself dependent on drugs or alcohol or cigarrettes, stop looking to them as your Savior! They are a very cheap substitute for the real thing. Stop trusting in them, looking to them, and depending on them, and start trusting in the real Savior. Cast in the tree. You will find pleasures much more true and lasting there! Ps.16:11 says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
If you find yourself constantly buying new clothes, or furniture, or always wanting a new car, or house, thinking that they will bring you happiness, cast in the tree! As long as you look to the creature, you will find it bitter! Stop looking to possessions to satisfy you, and start looking to the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone can satisfy you!
You see, every thing you look to to satisfy you other than God is a false god. You have made for yourself an idol. Your false god might be possessions, or a husband or wife, or fame, or power, or recognition, or sensual pleasures. But, if you seek joy or happiness or fulfillment from them, rather than from God, they are idols in your life! The very first of the 10 Commandments was “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Now, let’s conclude by asking “Why”? Why did God deliberately lead the children of Israel into the wilderness where He knew they would be three days without water? And, more to the point, “why does He make our lives bitter when we are seeking satisfaction in the creature, rather than the Creator?”
- To drive us back to Himself. If God allowed the world to be sweet to us, and to satisfy our longings and desires, we would feel no need for God. We would blindly go on our way and be swallowed up in our pursuit of the world and its joys. But God, in His great kindness, turns the waters of this world into bitterness, so that we will look to God. When you find sorrow and bitterness in your relationship to that man or woman you thought would bring you happiness, that’s God’s grace to you. He is leading you away from a broken cistern to the Fountain of living water. When you find an emptiness in your soul even when you have that new home or new car, that’s God’s grace to you. When you achieve worldly recognition and fame, but are still empty on the inside, that’s God’s grace to you. God is kindly prying your fingers from this world, so that you can enjoy the True Treasure – God Himself!
- To Reveal To Us More of Himself. In Exodus 15:27, we read that after the Israelites left Marah, they came to Elim where there were 12 springs of water and 70 date palms, and they camped there beside the waters. Elim was the place of refreshment for these pilgrims. There were 12 springs of water, one for each of the tribes of Israel. There were 70 date palms they could eat of. They could sit under the shade of those trees by the springs of water and rest. But notice that God did not reveal a new name to them at Elim. But He did reveal a new name at Marah. In verse 26 He tells them, “I, the Lord, am your healer.” Jehovah-Rophi. This was a new revelation to the Israelites. This was the first time God had revealed Himself as “The Lord your healer.” God had just healed the bitter waters and made them sweet. Likewise, God could heal those foul diseases in their bodies and make them well.
Haven’t you found in your life, that God reveals more about Himself, and speaks to you more when you are at Marah, than when you are at Elim? When you are going through bitter experiences, or times of sorrow or grief, it is there that God reveals to you in a greater way who He is. God allowed the Israelites to go through Marah, because He wanted to teach them that He was their healer. We may not like it, but it is so true that we learn more of God in our sufferings than in our comfortable situations.
Friends, are you at Marah today? Take heart! Elim is your next stop on your journey! And, God is teaching you valuable lessons right now about Himself, and about the vanity of the things of this world to satisfy your soul. Oh, look to Him, trust Him, depend on Him, and He will make your bitter waters sweet!
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