Read Exodus 15
This week we are thinking about the Israelites after their amazing and miraculous escape from Egypt across the Red Sea and God’s provision of a dry passage between walls of water on either side. The Egyptian army had floundered in the tumultuous waters as the sea returned to its place and they were safe. As they all congregated safely on the Arabian shore they began to sing and dance and rejoice in what the Lord had done for them. At the beginning of Exodus chapter 15 we can read the song that they sang to God, giving Him all the glory and all the praise for their incredible rescue from their slave drivers. How they celebrated, how they sang and danced; but it didn’t last long.
They began their journey through the desert toward the Promised Land. They travelled for three days and in all that time found no water. No doubt they expected to be able to replenish their water supplies en-route, but at this early stage of their journey they found none.
Out of interest, if they crossed the Red Sea at the foot of the Sinai Peninsula, as seems very likely, then where was Marah?
I put Marah, Saudi Arabia, into Google Earth, and up it popped. Amazingly it seems that there is still a place called Marah, same spelling too, in Saudi Arabia and it is North of where the people might have crossed over the Red Sea. To my inexperienced eye it seems likely that this is still the same Marah. It is on the coastal plain, not too far east of the sea and it could well take three days to walk there from the crossing point. Very interesting! Check it for yourselves. It’s all desert, brown and dry and boring and hot!
Anyhow, there they were, thirsty and tired, this great gathering of people, and already they had forgotten the rejoicing of a few days earlier and the reason for it.
We are so quick to forget good things, aren’t we? As I was thinking about this I realised that we are creatures of the moment. If we are tired and thirsty and in a hot, dry desert, desperate for sustenance to keep us going, very aware of our physical needs, watching for any sign of water, any that’s fit to drink, swallowing dust and sand, breathing it into our lungs, with red and itchy eyes from all the dirt that’s being stirred up by the feet of around two million people, then we are going to be pretty miserable. All the memories of what happened just three days before are going to fade pretty quickly in the present misery and discomfort. They were so miserable that they forgot about Jehovah Jireh and just wanted water and rest. So they complained and moaned against poor Moses. He must have been so irritated by this thankless mass of people. I would have been! But then again I probably would have been one of the moaners. I don’t do hardship too well!
However you do wonder how they could so easily have lost their joy at God’s miraculous intervention on their behalf.
The thing is that signs and wonders and miracles do pass, they don’t last. Even today so many Christians rush here and there, chasing after signs and wonders they have heard about, looking for healings and happenings. But that is not the way to know God and indeed very often these so called works and wonders are false and lead many into deception, then into disillusionment and sometimes into a loss of faith in God.
Paul had it right, ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ Romans 10:7
Faith never comes by witnessing supernatural works or miracles, and it never did even when Jesus walked the earth. Faith comes by meeting the Master and choosing to follow Him when He calls.
So back to the Israelites. Here they were, this massive crowd of people desperate for water.
Then they arrived at Marah and thought that there their thirst would be quenched. But Marah was the place of bitter water; Marah means bitter. It didn’t take long for the word to pass through the mass of people that the water was undrinkable. ‘What shall we drink?’ they cried.
What was God’s purpose in leading them there, why didn’t He provide another miracle and just give them the water they so needed? After all wasn’t He Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides? But He is also the Lord who sees, and He saw each individual heart as well as the huge crowd.
He brought them to Marah to deal with them, to teach them, to reveal more of His nature to them.
What did He want to teach them?
He wanted to show them the bitterness of their hearts; and they were a bitter people. Bitter against God because of their ill treatment in Egypt, reduced to making bricks out of mud, used as slaves for Pharoah’s building projects. They had lost sight of God, not believing in Him, and despite all God’s provision for them, despite seeing all the miracles performed through Moses, as God hardened Pharoah’s heart and rescued them, they were filled with resentment towards Moses and thus God.
Bitterness and resentment are terrible things and closely related to them is unforgiveness. They kill faith in God and bring with them an inability to worship and enjoy God. Bitterness always has it’s roots in a crisis in life of whatever kind and sometimes to a false belief that God doesn’t see, hear or understand.
I knew a lady who was wracked with bitterness towards another person, and she used to moan and complain about up this person frequently and whatever the other person’s behaviour, in the light of God’s grace, she behaved unjustly. There was no forgiveness whatsoever in her heart. She ended up with appalling arthritis which twisted her hands and feet terribly. It was as if the arthritis was a physical manifestation of her twisted bitterness and unforgiveness. So very sad!
So it was with these people, their background of suffering caused a root of bitterness to grow in them and God wanted it dealt with. But our amazing God did not show anger towards them, he treated them so gently. He wanted them to understand how life threatening bitterness was. It was destructive and poisonous just as the waters of Marah were. Being Jehovah Jireh He determined to reveal this further aspect of His nature to them to teach them a lesson. He showed Moses a tree, and told him to cut it down and throw it into the undrinkable water. As soon as Moses obeyed God’s command the water became sweet and drinkable.
As Jehovah Jireh provided for their need, He revealed Himself as Jehovah Rophi – the God Who Heals. He came to them in their time of crisis and need and healed the waters of bitterness and proclaimed to them, ‘If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.’ Verse 26 I AM Jehovah Rophi!
He wanted them to be healed of their bitterness just as the waters had been healed. He wanted to repair them completely, body, soul and spirit.
But they had to remain constant to Him, obey Him and hear Him.
It is lovely to see that after that experience God led them to a place of healing. He took them to Eliminate, the place of palms, an oasis of shade and provision, where they rested and were restored before they set out again.
Jehovah Rophi wants to bring healing to our lives too and He has promised wholeness for us through Jesus.
It’s interesting that the bitter waters of Marah were healed by a tree.
Jesus hung on a tree. 1Peter 2 v 24 and Isaiah 53 v 5 Jesus was the purchase price for our spiritual health.
Our salvation is our spiritual healing paid for by Jesus as He hung on that cross of wood.
Trees figure largely in scripture. It was the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that caused bitterness to come into the world.
At Marah God dealt with the bitterness of His people.
On the cross Jesus took away the bitterness of death.
In Revelation 22 we read of the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
God has been in the business of healing since the Fall and will continue to be until the time comes when all things are healed.
Our journey through life is not all sweetness and light, we are faced with trials, broken promises, wounds that hurt, words that sting, things that deeply affect us. Things go wrong, people we love are hurt, are lost, get ill and die and all the time bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness are lying in wait to catch us out. People who give in to those enemies lose their hope, their trust in God. It is so sad to see this happening to someone, as I have seen, and to see how fruitless and hopeless their lives can become.
This is not what God wants for us; He wants to be our Jehovah Rophi, to heal our hurts, to restore our faith and renew our hope in Him.
Sometimes people are bitter nape cause they are not healed physically. Yes, Jesus heals, we know that, but it is more important to be healed spiritually than to be healed physically. Oh it would be good to be physically whole, of course it would, but God knows what He is doing, and if He chose not to heal Paul and He chooses not to heal me, then glory be to His precious Name, because I am spiritually whole, healed from sin and death.
That’s the most important healing of all!