“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. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter…So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’
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.” Exodus 16:22-25
Three days walking in the hot, dry desert with no sign of water.
Can you imagine it? Even the jaw-dropping miracle of the parting of the Red Sea was not enough to drive the panic from the minds of these tired, desperately thirsty travelers. Their relief upon finally sighting water must have been immense…only to then face the (literally!) bitter disappointment of finding it undrinkable.
It’s easy to judge their faithless grumbling from the distance of our 21st century lives, but I have a feeling that most of us would find ourselves very solidly in their shoes, under the same circumstances.
Desperate, Moses cried out to God for help.
That’s one good thing about a desperately bitter situation; it forces us to cry out to God, because humanly speaking, we can’t possibly come up with a solution. And after we have come through it, and have seen God’s hand at work, it results in a new and deeper understanding of Him.
I remember a time, years ago, when our refrigerator broke on a Wednesday afternoon in September. On Thursday, a repairman came, and I wrote him a check for $120 to fix the appliance. Problem solved. Not a big deal, right? For us, though, it was a VERY big deal. We didn’t have $120 in the bank account.
On Friday morning, my husband got a card in the mail from his grandmother…with a check for $500 in it! When our refrigerator broke on Wednesday, before I even called the repairman, Mama Grace had already written out and mailed that check. While I walked around fretting and crying out to God on Thursday after the repairman left, because I knew we didn’t have the money and our account was going to bounce in two days—God had already taken care of the situation and the deliverance was on the way. The answer to our “crying out” was received and deposited in the bank before the close of business on Friday. Talk about a faith-builder! Our small “bitter” situation had suddenly become very precious and sweet.
The Israelites in this passage were about to experience a big faith-builder, too. After Moses cried out to God, the passage says, “then the LORD showed him a piece of wood.” The literal word used here is “tree.” Moses threw the “tree” into the bitter water, and it became sweet. It’s interesting to me that God chose this particular method of solving the problem. We see many examples in Exodus of Moses using his staff to perform great miracles. Through the staff in Moses’ hand, the Lord transformed elements of nature—water into blood (Ex. 7:20), dust into gnats (Ex. 8:17), water from a rock (Ex. 17:6). This time, God did not have him use the staff, an extension of his own arm, to touch the water. Instead, the wood that God hand-picked left Moses’ hand and was given up to the bitterness, “baptized” into the waters of death; but it came up floating in waters of renewed life. This time, the water did not transform into something else entirely; it was still water, but water that had been healed of its bitterness.
Sound familiar at all? Nothing in Scripture is written by chance, and I believe God is giving us a picture of His ultimate redemption in this Old Testament story. Centuries later, He chose another “piece of wood”—the tree of Calvary—where Jesus was baptized into the waters of death, and then raised from the dead to bring a new, sweet life to all who would follow Him. When we make that choice, we retain our identity—our personality, our individuality as human beings. Yet we become something different in our very essence; human beings who have been healed of the bitterness of sin.
“We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
The desperation of bitter waters pushes us to cry out to the Lord; and when we do, then He will show us, as He showed Moses, “a piece of wood.” He directs our hearts to Calvary, where the bitter was conquered and made sweet, and where we find our only hope.
“God does not require us to crucify ourselves.
We were crucified when Christ was crucified, for God put us there in Him.
That we have died in Christ is not merely a doctrinal position;
it is an eternal and indisputable fact.”
--Watchman Nee, “The Normal Christian Life”