“Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went for three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah.24And the people complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’25He 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 15: 22-25 NRSV
The story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years is filled with interesting chapters. Here is one of them. In a wilderness area, Moses and his people have become incredibly thirsty after wandering for three days without water. Finally, they come to a place with water. Yet the water is so bitter that it is undrinkable. In fact, the bitterness of the water source is so well known that the place is called Marah, which means “bitterness.”
Moses, now a man of great faith, prayed to the Lord. God showed him a mysterious piece of wood, and directed Moses to throw it into the water. The wood (though the power of the Lord) caused the bitter water to become sweet. The passage stops there, but we can assume that the Israelites drank, and were refreshed by this now-sweet water source.
Although this story is about water, it may hold a lesson for all of us about the ups and downs of life. We all experience them, just like the Israelites did through their time in the wilderness. There are times when life is good, and we live beside ever-flowing streams of refreshing water. Psalm 23: “You lead me beside still water…”
Other times, we experience a drought in our lives, when all of the goodness of life seems to have evaporated. Such times of spiritual drought can be challenging. When we experience such trials, it is easy to become bitter. We may even want to blame the Lord for our troubles.
In the book of Ruth, Naomi grieves the loss of her husband, and both of her adult sons. When this happens, she says, “Do not call me Naomi. Instead, call me Marah, for the Lord has made my life bitter.” She may have known this story about the bitter place Marah…
Naomi blames the trials in her life upon the Lord. Yet as the story unfolds, God brings unexpected provisions and blessings to Naomi and to her faithful Moabitess daughter-in-law Ruth. At the end of the story, all bitterness seems to have melted away. Why? She holds her precious grandchild in her arms, and realizes that the Lord had been with her during her entire eventful journey.
There will always be challenging seasons in our lives, and periods when we experience droughts. We all have choices when we experience those parched days in the desert. Do we blame the Lord, and turn away from him? Do we express our frustration to others in ways that show our distrust of the Lord? Or do we make a better, more faithful choice? God is able to take our bitterness, and to transform it into something sweet. We need to cling to this promise. The drought may be long, and feel like a lifetime. Yet as Christians, our challenge is to put all of our trust in the Lord, and then to get out of His way. Finally, we must acknowledge His Lordship in our lives, and offer him our praise for His miraculous, healing power!
Lord of every season of life,
Help me to make peace with the rhythms and seasons of my life. When circumstances and people challenge me, and life seems difficult, help me to trust in You. Forgive me when I turn away and try to solve things without first turning to You. Remind me that You will eventually bring deliverance. Save me from the temptation to harden my heart against You, becoming bitter. Let Your love soften my heart. Take away any bitterness in my soul through Your miraculous, transformative, and healing power. I pray this prayer in Your Holy name. Amen.