Bitter Turned Sweet

Freed from the land of bondage, standing on the shores of the Red Sea, the children of Israel sing. "The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea." (Exodus 15:1) Great has been their deliverance. Profound has been their experience. Unique is their God–mighty in power, awesome in deed is He.

"So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the wilderness of Shur." (Exodus 15:22) While the children of Israel and Moses are in view here, one can not help but notice that they are referred to as two individuals, specifically, Moses and Israel. An initial reading gives the appearance that two individuals, Moses and Israel, went out into the wilderness of Shur. This is not to say that Moses did not lead the children of Israel into the wilderness of Shur, but perhaps there is more happening here than what is on the surface. Could the Patriarch be accompanying his descendants into the Wilderness of Shur?

"And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water." Exodus 15:22 A three-day journey carries great significance and meaning to Israel. In obedience to the command, the Patriarch Abraham, with his son, Isaac, journeyed three days towards the place of sacrifice, before Abraham "lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off." (Genesis 22:4) The mention that they found no water points beyond the fact that it was not suitable for drinking. Why not just say that they couldn't drink the water, just as in the next verse? The double reference, they "found no water" , and that "they could not drink the waters" gives the impression that this was no surprise, but, in fact, the intended purpose for entering the wilderness of Shur. It was a Divine plan intended to bring a response from the children of Israel.

"Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah." (Exodus 15:23)

The repetition of the name three times, together with the three-day journey to arrive at Marah adds further weight to view this event with consideration. As stated, Marah means bitter. It also features in the annual Passover feast, and helps convey to every future generation of Israel the bitter sufferings experienced by their ancestors in the land of bondage. Just like the bitter waters of Marah, so too, the life of Israel while in Egypt.

"And the people complained against Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?'" (Exodus 15:24)

Note, "the people" are specifically referred to for the first time in this memorable event. And we are informed of their response, "What shall we drink?" This was more than a physical trek; surely, this was a spiritual journey, prompting a spiritual response.

The children of Israel had suffered bitterly in Egypt. Yes, they had been delivered, redeemed, and were on their way to the Promised Land, but they were of no benefit to anyone. Centuries of living in Egypt made them 'undrinkable'. Marah was a reflection of what they had become. The children of Israel could not bless the nations while in this state. In this way, "What shall we drink?" was a spiritual response, indicating a recognition of what they had become, and an expression of their desire to be healed–drinkable for the nations–so that they could be the blessing, as promised to the Patriarchs. They had complained, yes, they could not help being in Egypt, this was where they had grown. Egypt had been 'home' for centuries. Life in Egypt was unbearable, but they survived, they adapted, they coped. Perhaps, this is a reason why the Patriarch Israel might accompany them–to journey with them, to help them arrive at the place so that they would respond appropriately, "What shall we drink?"

The children of Israel had drunk from Egyptian culture and laws, for centuries. The last century, in particular, their suffering had become especially grievous. Their way of life had become tainted because of their bitter experiences. "What shall we drink?" is a thirst for the ways of God, a life bearing righteousness and justice, peace and love–the foundation of His Throne. Israel desparately needed to be healed in order to become the nation God had purposed; a kingdom of priests.

"So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them . . . " (Exodus 15:25)

We recall the Tree of Life mentioned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9), and that the commandments of God are like a tree of life to all who cling to them. (Proverbs 3:18) The righteous, also, are likened to a tree beside life-giving waters, providing shade and bearing much fruit. And finally, that the Righteous One was crucified on a tree for our sakes.

At Marah, the children of Israel had witnessed an amazing transformation. The bitter water became sweet–the undrinkable was made drinkable, when the tree was cast into the bitter waters. The tree was the key to turning the waters of death into life-giving waters.

The tree cast into the water is a picture of the Torah, which as the tree of life, would heal the children of Israel. The Torah, the commandments of God, would instruct the children of Israel in the path of righteousness. The Torah, therefore, is the key to "healing" the children of Israel, making them living waters for the nations to drink. By maintaining the faith, the children of Israel would live life to the full and would be a well-spring of life to the nations.

Ultimately, the tree which Moses cast into the bitter waters of Marah points to the Righteous One whose atonement makes righteous all who believe in Him. In the same way that the bitter was made sweet, so too, are all whose lives have been embittered by a life enslaved by sin, made sweet (righteous) through the Messiah's righteous achievement. The Messiah has borne the punishment of our sin, that through Him we might become acceptable (stand upright) in the sight of God. Through the Messiah's meritorious act we have received atonement and forgiveness for our sins. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, " . . . He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed . . . " (Isaiah 53:5)

In Egypt, the children of Israel had "worn" the garment of slavery and bondage. They had "worked" the Egyptian horse (way of life), and bowed and scraped to the dictates of their Egyptian masters. "The horse and its rider He had thrown into the sea." Now at the waters of Marah, the children of Israel would enter a new era, a life of sweetness, dedicated to the holy service of the One True God. By following Him, keeping His commandments, and by walking in His ways, the children of Israel would enjoy long life and good health, unlike in Egypt, where the Egyptian way of life meant sickness and a short life.

"There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, and said, 'If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.'" (Exodus 15:25-26)

Israel would now walk the good and right path (sweetness), by fulfilling God's laws. The many bad experiences and injustices which were part of the 'norm' in Egypt would be corrected. The Lord would provide instruction in justice, and guide them in truth, making sure they would know the path of righteousness.

The Egyptians experienced diseases because of their lifestyle and laws. The children of Israel, however, would escape these diseases by observing and keeping the commandments of God–His Torah–the instructions to life. Israel would demonstrate to the nations how to achieve prosperity and well-being.

"For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it?'

"Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may do it.'

"But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

"See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgements, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess." (Deuteronomy 30:11-16)

As the holy people, sanctified and living by the commandments of God, Israel would bless the nations with the knowledge of God, and thereby, teach the nations of God's ways and of His Messiah. As the ultimate Servant of God, the Messiah would also be the Living Torah. He would be the exact expression of all of God's commandments. Since He would be the Saviour of the World, all nations would look with eager anticipation for the Messiah's arrival. The children of Israel would signal His Coming, and then bring Him forth to the nations, who would submit to Him and call Him, LORD.

"Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters." (Exodus 15:27)

The children of Israel arrived at Elim and camped by the waters. Elim means palm trees. The trees are a picture of righteousness. The twelve wells are symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. As the people of God, the children of Israel are the righteous nation, and the one nation on earth who can testify of the One True God and His Messiah. While the twelve wells of water represent the twelve tribes of Israel, they are one people, a Community of Redeemed, consisting of twelve distinct tribes, who each have specific talents, tasks and gifts. Israel is God's conduit (the twelve wells), giving living water to the nations, depicted by the seventy palm trees. The palm trees growing next to the twelve wells represent the nations "growing" in righteousness through God's conduit, Israel. Note, it is through the nation of Israel that the nations become righteous. As the nations heed the witness and testimony of the children of Israel, and learn of the ways of the One True God, and of His Messiah, they become trees of righteousness.

Hear the testimony of the psalmist:

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of the sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water . . . " (Psalm 1:1-2)

At Marah, the children of Israel had learned that they were unfit for the nations to drink. When Moses cast the tree into the bitter waters making them sweet it demonstrated that the God of Israel would heal His people through His Word. Moreover, God would provide healing and everlasting life for all peoples, through His Servant, the Messiah who is the Living Word. In this way, Israel will be made living water for all nations.

Hear then the testimony of Messiah Yeshua:

"Then the woman of Samaria said to him, 'How is it that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?' For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

"Yeshua answered and said to her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.'

"Then the woman said to him, 'Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where then do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?'

"Yeshua answered and said to her, 'Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.'" (John 4:9-14)

May we be blessed to see many who drink from the living waters of Messiah Yeshua.