Bitterness Made Sweet
By Earlene Davis
After the children of Israel were delivered from Egypt’s bondage, they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water (Ex. 15:22). They had to go through this strange land to get to the promise land God had given to Abraham and his seed, it was their inheritance. This speaks of our experience. This world is not our home, we are just passing through this wilderness. There is nothing down here that refreshes our spiritual life. This world’s shallow cisterns have run dry unto us. Like the cry of the Psalmist in Psalm 63 -“Oh God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee; my soul longeth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” For God alone can satisfy. Jesus said in Jn. 7:37, “If any man Thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” May we continually go to Him for the water of life.
This was a sore trial, three days in the hot and sandy wilderness without water and they finally reach the waters of Marah and they were bitter (V. 23). Marah means ‘bitterness.’ We often set our heart on something and obtain it expecting satisfaction, to only find bitter disappointment. We like Israel began with light hearts after deliverance from Egypt, a type of the world. We like they may have thought God would provide smooth sailing from then on. Yes, our sins have been forgiven, but tribulations lay before us. We learn that it is at God’s right hand and not in this world, that there are “pleasures for evermore” – Ps. 16:11. For drought and bitterness (Marah) are all we can expect in this world that owns not Christ. God does not mean for us to settle down and be content in a world that cast out His beloved Son.
“And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?” (V. 24). Just three day before they were singing. They seem to have forgotten passing through the Red Sea and seeing the Egyptians drowned and being led by the Pillar of Cloud. Their murmuring against Moses was in reality murmuring against the Lord, so it is with us. Every complaint against our circumstances in our daily trials is against the One Who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” – Eph. 1:11. May we remember that what is recorded of Israel’s history is “written for our admonition” – I Cor. 10:11. What was the cause of Israel’s murmuring? Their eyes were no longer upon God. May we keep “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” – Heb. 12:2.
“And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: (V. 25). Moses did what the people should have done, “cried unto the Lord.” This is what our Marah’s are for to drive us unto the Lord. We are so prone to be absorbed with blessings instead of the Blesser Himself. Somber yet true, that it would take a Marah to made us cry unto God in earnest.
Moses did not cry unto God in vain. The Lord showed him a tree, a type of the One who provided redemption for His people. He was cast into the bitter waters of this world and sweetened the bitterness through His substitutionary death. He is the God of all grace and with long suffering bears with His people. God’s people today may fail to trust the Lord and give way to murmuring, but when we cry unto the Lord, God answers. Moses was an interceding mediator, and God acted. Praise God, we have One who “ever liveth to make intercession for us” – Heb. 7:25. On this ground God deals tenderly with us.
The tree was there all the time, but the Lord had to “show” Moses the tree. Does this not show how dependent we are on the Lord and how blind we are in ourselves? When the tree was cast into the waters, they were made sweet. There are several scriptures that present Christ figured by a tree. I will only mention one – Song of Solomon 2:3 – “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons. I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste.” Life’s bitter experiences are sweetened when we sit down at His feet. We find His words are sweeter than the honey-comb.
Of course the tree also speaks of the cross of Christ. I Pet. 2:24, He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. His substitutionary death on the cross makes that which is naturally bitter, sweet to us. I speak especially of the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:10) the sufferings that result from being linked with Christ in His suffering path here. “If we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him.” The reality of being linked with Him makes “Marah” itself drinkable. Acts 16 gives an illustration, Paul and Silas in prison, cruelly scourged and thrown into the innermost dungeon. In the darkness with feet in the stocks and backs bleeding, it was “Marah” for them. They sang praises so lustily that the other prisoners heard them. How were they able to sing under such circumstances? Acts 5:41 – They rejoiced that they were “counted worthy to suffer for His name.” Our trials and afflictions are opportunities for fellowship with the sufferings of our Savior.
“He made for them a statute and an ordinance and there He prove them” (V. 25). The Lord dealt with them in grace. Grace makes us more indebted to God. Grace reigns “through righteousness” not at the expense of it – Rom. 5:21. The Lord showed them that there is no bitterness which He could not sweeten with the provision of His grace. Let me make it clear – God’s commandments had nothing to do with our salvation.
Israel was already under the blood and was on resurrection ground. As we yield to God and to His Word, the Holy Spirit does a work in us. “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us (not by us) who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” – Rom. 8:4. “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord (in God’s Word) are changed into the same image (we see in the Word) from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” - II Cor. 3:18. Thank God! For the working of His Spirit in our lives. We then can glory in tribulations because of the Spirit’s working – Rom. 5:1-5.
E. J. D.