Bitter Waters Made Sweet

Exodus 15:22-27

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2016

Last time, we looked at the Song of Moses.  God delivered the Jews from slavery.  He protected them from all of the Egyptian troops.  When they got to the other side of the Red Sea, they had a worship service.  They sang a praise song. In this passage, we get to see what happened in the next three days.  It is a very interesting passage.  There is some interesting symbolism in this passage.

Interesting Symbolism

1. The wilderness

The wilderness was literal but it was also symbolic.  Before the Hebrews entered Canaan, they had to spend some time in the wilderness.  God could have taken them out of Egypt and placed them directly into the Promised Land.  No one wants to go through a wilderness but they had to go through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land.

Christians have a wilderness experience as well.  What is our wilderness period?  Our wilderness experience is the world. After we are saved, God does not immediately take us all to heaven.  Instead, he leaves us all in the world to be a witness for Him and to grow in grace.  After salvation comes sanctification.

2. Marah

Marah means “bitter.”  It was the place of bitter waters.  The name is symbolic.  It symbolizes any type of bitterness, difficulty, pain or unpleasantness that you are going through in your life.  We have all had a Marah experience and each one of our Marah experiences are different.

3. The Tree

Moses throws a stick of wood into the water. And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet (15:25)

When Moses put this log into the water, it turned the water sweet.  Notice the symbolism.  Moses cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a tree.  God could have made them sweet apart from any other means, but he chose to use wood to solve their problem

The solution to their problem was a piece of wood.  It is a solution to us as well.  It is a cross.  Jesus died on a tree.  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV).

4. The Numbers

This passage also mentions “twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees” (15:27).  The numbers twelve and seventy are important numbers in the NT (twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, seventy disciples).

We learn something new about God that we did not know before.  We learn a new name for God here.  We get a revelation of God in these verses.  How did they learn that name?  They learned it in a crisis situation.  We will look at that revelation and how it applies to us.

We also learn something about man here.  We see how fickle people are.  They displayed incredible worship.  Two million people worshiped God spontaneously on the shore of the Red Sea.  This worship was passionate.  It was anointed.  They were not only singing; they were dancing.

It was spirit-filled but three days later their WORSHIP was followed by WHINING.  They went from PRAISE to PROTEST.  They went from using their lips to praise God to using them to criticize and murmur.

They denounced Moses (15:24).  Slavery in Egypt was beginning to look good.  At least they had water to drink in Egypt but since they went with Moses out of the country, they have had no water.

We cannot criticize the Jews.  We do the exact same thing today.  A great worship service does not guarantee spirituality.  Many go to church and sing on Sunday but sin on Monday.

There was one difference between them and us.  The Jews had just witnessed one of the most spectacular miracles in the entire Bible.  It was an incredible display of power performed right before their very eyes.  What happened?  They got thirsty and they began to murmur.  They saw incredible signs and wonders and then forgot the miracle that took place just three days before.

Do we ever do that?  Does God ever do something amazing in our life?  He answers a prayer.  Life is good and then we face another trial.  We come to a place like Marah and we completely forget how God has worked in our life.

They saw God PROTECT them from their enemies but they didn’t believe that He could PROVIDE for them.  They witnessed God saving their lives from their enemies but did not believe that he could save them from thirst or hunger.

It was not harder for God to provide water than it was for him to divide the waters of the Red Sea.  As Spurgeon says, it was not harder for God to purify water than to divide water.  Nothing is too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18:14).  They trusted God in a much harder trial but not in a much smaller trial.

The Tests of God

Why did God do this?  We see this in Exodus 15:25.  “There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he TESTED them.”  This was a test. Why was God testing them?  It is answered in Deuteronomy 8:2-5.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every wordthat comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. (ESV)

God tests His people.  When we studied the Book of Genesis, we saw many tests.  Adam and Eve received a test in the garden.  It was a food test.  Abraham received many tests.  The one we always think about was the offering of Isaac.  God told him he would have a son but no son came.  Abraham was married but childless.

Twenty-five years went by until he finally had a son.  God said that he was the promised son and then God told him to take to a mountain and kill him as a sacrifice.  It was a test.  He also tested Joseph.  God gave him a revelation that no one else received.  Everything that happened to him seemed directly contradict the revelation.  God gave Joseph many tests.  He passed each one.

God tested the Jews in the wilderness.  The wilderness became a school.  The old Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon called the wilderness “the Oxford and Cambridge for God’s people.”  God decided when they got the exam.  This was a pop quiz.  These are not little tests.  They are actually big tests.

What God did to believers in the Bible, He is still doing today. He tests believers today.  He doesn’t tempt us but He does tests us.  Many of us may have experienced similar tests.  Many of the trials we are facing may not be just trials but tests.  That puts them in a whole new light.

The most difficult trial I ever face was when I was unemployed for a year and a half.  It happened before I moved to North Carolina.  I was living in Chicago and was unemployed for a year and a half with five kids to support.

I prayed every day and got no answer for the longest time.  It was like God wasn’t hearing me at all. If you have got a really hard trial and there seems to be no answer in sight, it might be a test.  The good news is that God’s tests are all open-book tests.  We can use God’s Word to help pass them.

It is easy for us to read this and criticize the Hebrews here.  They are acting like children.  Children whine.  Adults complain about things as well.  It is human nature to complain.  We complain about our spouse.  We complain about our children.

We complain about our job.  We complain about our politicians.  We complain about everything.  The Jews were not complaining about little things.  They were complaining about big things.

They were not complaining about luxuries.  They were complaining about basic necessities, things you need to survive.  If you do not get food and water, you die.  In fact, you can only go a few days without water.  They were not complaining that there was not enough wine in the desert.  It was more basic than that.

There was not any water.  Their throats are dry in the desert.  They are dehydrated.  They were desperate for water. They searched for water and could not find any. That was not just a problem for the adults and for the children traveling with them; it was a problem for all of the animals that went with them.

This was a strange test.  God let His people go hungry and thirsty on purpose.  In Exodus 15, they are tested by thirst.  In Exodus 16, they are tested by hunger.  God split the Red Sea supernaturally but allowed his people to go to a place where there was no water to drink.  We need to understand something about this test.

It was not the result of sin.  They had gone three days without water but they had not done anything wrong.  God was not judging them.  He was testing them.  They had not strayed an inch from the path God had for them.  They followed the pillar of cloud and fire and it led them straight to Marah.

Some people are in the wilderness are they are out of the will of God but this group of people were in the wilderness and they were perfectly in the will of God. This is very important.

Many will tell you that if you follow Christ, obey his commandments and live the victorious Christian life, you will not have problems.  You will not have to worry about having bread or water.  That is not true.  Even Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble”.  Christians have them as much as non-Christians.

They not only had problems in the wilderness; their problems got worse.  They not only went three days without water but when they found water, they could not drink it (15:22-23).  It was bitter and undrinkable.

This was a big disappointment.  They were dying of thirst.  They finally find some water. They got excited. They thought God had provided for them.  They thought their trial was over, only to be disappointed.  It was salt water.  They went to take a drink and threw up.  What is worse: not having any water or finding water when you are thirsty and being unable to drink it?

Notice how they responded to this disappointment.  They responded with criticism. “And the people grumbled against Moses” (15:24).  How did Moses respond?  He responded in prayer.  “He cried to the Lord” (15:25) and got an answer.

That raises an important question.  When we are facing bitter waters, how do we respond?  Far too often we criticize and murmur.  We do the same thing the Jews did, instead of what Moses did.  Instead of protesting, Moses prayed.

And the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet”.  Moses did exactly what God told him to do, even though it didn’t make any sense.  How can a tree sweeten waters?  That is strange.  Why should a tree sweeten the waters?  That is not normal.

If we want to purify some water today, we would not throw a stick in it.  If we want to sweeten a drink, we would use sugar and not a piece of timber but Moses didn’t argue with God.  He didn’t question God, like he did when God first spoke to him.  He obeyed, no questions asked.  God not only gave them water to drink, He gave them a special promise.

None of Those Diseases

“He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you” (15:26 NIV).

Before we look at the promise, I want to look at a very interesting question that comes right out of this verse.  Does God cause sickness or just allow it?  Many believe that disease does not come from God.  It comes from Satan.

Satan may bring some diseases but this passage says that God put diseases on the Egyptians.  It does not say that Satan did this.  It also says that if the Jews keep all of his commandments, He would put none of the diseases He put on the Egyptians.

This was a very special promise of health but it had a condition.  It was conditioned on obedience.  Perhaps we read this wrong?  No. God repeats it several times to make sure people got the point.

“But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces.

You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.” (23:22-26) God told them “I will take sickness away from you.” Twice in Exodus, God said this and repeated it one more time.

Deuteronomy 7:12-15 says, “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.

You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. (ESV)

Does this Promise Apply Today?

Kenneth Hagin says that this statute of healing applies today.  It has never been revoked, changed or altered and he even quotes Malachi 3:6 (“I am the Lord, I change not”).[1] Can Christians today be disease free?  There is no Christian that I know who is disease-free (including the prosperity preachers).

We all suffer from different things.  Even the godliest of believers can get sick. God does promise to bless believers but we are not promised in the NT to be free from all disease in this life.  You have to look at this verse in its context.  You have to look at the bigger picture.

This was given to the nation of Israel.  They were living in a theocracy.  We do not live in a theocracy today.  God was doing something then that He is not doing today.

This nation had SPECIAL GUIDANCE that we do not have today.  They had a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud to guide them every day. God never changes but we do not see a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud today.

They had SPECIAL PROMISES that we do not have today. They were also promised that their clothes would not wear out (Deuteronomy 8:4).  They were promised that their shoes would never wear out.

There were not any shoe stores in the desert.  They wore the same pair of shoes for forty years.  That must have been hard on all of the ladies.  Women like shoes, at least the ones in my family.

They also had SPECIAL PROTECTION that we do not have today.  They had special protection against disease.  They were also in the wilderness for forty years.  God was their health care system.

There were no doctors or hospitals in the wilderness.   God took care of them. They were promised that the women would not miscarry or be infertile (Exodus 23:26).  Christians do not have that specific promise today.

Jehovah Rapha

Moses’ obedience brought a miracle and the miracle brought a new revelation, as well as a new promise.  A lesson came out of this miracle.  God tells us something about Himself from this miracle.  We learn a new name for God here.  It is ONLY found in Exodus 15.  The name is Jehovah Rapha.  Rapha ia a verb.  It is the Hebrew word to heal.

This name tells us something about God (15:26). Allah was not a healer.  Muhammad was not.  He did not go around healing people and raising the dead.  Jesus is the Great Physician.  GOD IS A HEALER.

It is God’s nature to heal. He heals the body, soul and spirit.  He is a God or miracles and healing.  He is the one who makes bitter things sweet. He does not just heal water, he heals people.  When we are sick, we can call to him as Jehovah Rapha.

He not only heals broken bodies.  He heals broken hearts and broken lives.  He not only heals us physically, He heals us emotionally and spiritually.  Jesus is the doctor of sick souls, as well as sick bodies.  He likes to bring healing to a sick world. That is good news because we live in a sick world.  We all need healing.

That brings us to a very important question.  If God is a healer, why isn’t everyone healed?  God is a healer but He does not heal everyone, not even all believers.

Some are sick and some of those who get sick are godly believers.  Why aren’t they healed? There are two reasons.  One reason has to do with us. The other reason has nothing to do with us.

The first reason  we do not see miracles today is that we do not have faith.  Some Christians do not even believe that healing is possible today.  They think that this was done in the past but God is not doing that anymore.  The Bible says “You have not because you ask not.”

I strongly believe that as Christians we only claim a fraction of the blessings that God has for us.  We are living only a fraction of our spiritual potential.  I believe that He could give us so much more to us and do so much for through us if we were open to it.  We have all kinds of unclaimed blessings. We are like people who have won the lottery.  We are rich but we have not claimed our ticket.

There is another reason for this.  God heals people but He heals them in His time and way.  God is called Jehovah Jireh.  He is our Provider but God’s people in Exodus 15 went three days without water.  They wanted Him to provide for them immediately.

He did provide for them (15:27)  and provided for them abundantly with twelve springs of water (one for each tribe) but they had to wait for it. God does not heal everybody immediately, not even every believer.  Some people will not be fully healed until the resurrection.


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