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From Bitter to Blessed

From Bitter to Blessed

The Negev is a dry, hot desert region in the southern part of Israel. If you were wandering through it, heading towards the northwest, you would eventually come to a large body of water. After the dry, arid, dusty journey through the desert, you would be excited about seeing so much water. The problem is that that the body of water is the Red Sea, packed with so much salt content that people easily float. It's water - but you can't drink it.

This is precisely what the former Hebrew slaves experienced only three days after they passed through the waters of the Red Sea. Turning south into the wildnerness rather than heading north to the promised land, Moses led them into a situation where they had to trust God. 

As described in Exodus 15:22-27, when they came to the waters of Marah, the water was bitter - unsuitable to drink. Rather than reaching out to God in faith, the people grumbled against Moses. Since he was God's appointed leader, really, they were grumbling against God. Several key lessons emerge from this story.

First, grumbling happens when we forget our deliverance. Exodus 15 starts with an amazing example of appropriate praise: the people sang and danced and celebrated because of God's great deliverance. In Exodus 15:1-2, they acknowledged that 'the Lord is my strength and my song and has become my salvation'. That's a great way to live - celebrating what God has done for us. Unfortunately, their song changed as soon as they encountered a problem.

So here's one measure of spiritual maturity: what does it take for you to let go of praise and fixate on problems?

Second, the wilderness is part of God's plan. According to v. 22, Moses led them into the desert of Shur. God leads us into desert regions to both reveal character and to develop character. Remember: it only took God a few days to get the Israelites out of Egypt, but it took him forty years to get Egypt out of the Israelites.

Third, when we encounter a lack of provision, we can respond with prayer or protest. Prayer demonstrates that we are looking to and trusting God. unfortunately, the Israelites didn't pray; they protested. And when they thought the answer was in hand, the water turned out to be bitter. 

More unfortunate is that this practice of grumbling became a pattern: In Exodus 16:2 and Exodus 17:2, the grumbled and quarrelled with Moses. Further, according to Exodus 16:3 and Numbers 11:5 - they wanted to go back to Egypt. When we forget our deliverance and neglect patterns of praise, we are susceptible to grumbling.

Fourth, God is the one who can make bitter better. According to Exodus 15:28, Moses threw a piece of wood into the water and it became fit to drink. God's solutions are often counter-intuitive; a poisonous problem is an opportunity for God to accomplish a powerful solution.

Many years later, God would deal with the ultimate source of human bitterness - our sinfulness - through the wood of the cross when Jesus died in our place and bore the penalty for our sin. The good news is that God doesn't leave us in the pain of bitterness; hge brings healing and blessing.

Fifth, God uses tests to teach us. In Exodus 15:25 we read that, not only did God put his people to the test, he used this as a teaching moment. Remember, God's agenda is taht we share his character. Tests reveal how far from that character we actually are. We can grow from the test IF we embrace the teaching God gives.

Sixth, we learn that growth comes from hearing and obeying. In Exodus 15:26 God tells the people to listen and obey, to pay attention and keep his commands. Listening and paying attention are the foundation for a life of obedience. Success in our spiritual journey starts when we pay attention and listen to what God says in his Word.

Seventh, perseverance brings provision. Exodus 15:27 is a beautiful scripture: Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water. They were on the right path: had they just persevered, they would have eventually gotten to the refreshing oasis.

This is good news for us: God has ‘Elims’ in our future that we don’t know about: we experience them when we persevere in patience! Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, don't give up! God knows the future, he has it well planned, and even if you find yourself stuck in the wilderness for a while, God has pockets of refreshing to sustain, encourage, and strengthen you along the way.

So here's the Big Idea: God is good; He did not bring us out to leave us in the desert; he brought us to take us into the promise land. We all hit pockets where we face problems that are so big they intimidate us and make us quake in our boots. The time comes when we have to stare those problems in the face and say, 'My God is bigger than you - my God will win, my God will provide, my God will sustain me and bring me safely to the other side'.

If we wait until we experience provision before we praise, our hearts may become so bitter that blockages prevent us from being refreshed. Rather, let's practice a lifestyle of praise that will sustain us through the problem we face.

Like Israel immediately after they passed the waters of the Red Sea, let's celebrate our deliverance and declare:

The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.

Exodus 15:2