Marah, The Place Where Bitterness Becomes Poison
22”Then Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea and they went into the Wilderness of Shur; they went three days [thirty-three miles] in the wilderness and found no water. 23When they came to Marah, they could not drink its waters for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah [bitterness]. 24The people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? 25And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree which he cast into the waters, and the waters were made sweet. There [the Lord] made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them, 26Saying, If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God and will do what is right in His sight, and will listen to and obey His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord Who heals you. 27And they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they encamped there by the waters. Exodus 15:22-27 Amplified
In Exodus 15, the Israelites are only a matter of days removed from having seen God do the miraculous at the Red Sea Now, having traveled a mere three days’ journey without water into the wilderness, they became disappointed and desperate. Arriving at a body of water named Marah, they believe they had found their deliverance but instead found the waters bitter and undrinkable. As a result, the people murmured against Moses.
How quickly they had forgotten the power of God at the Red Sea, and instead focused on their situation. They allowed their disappointment to build into anger and bitterness in only three days. This often occurs in our daily walk as well. We pray and believe God for something and if a few days go by and nothing has changed, we begin to doubt. Doubt becomes a disappointment. Disappointment invariably leads to bitterness at our unresolved circumstances. We are then ready to turn around and go backward, just as the Israelites so often were. However, our walk with God is one of moving forward, not backward, and the reality is that all the fulfilled promises of God are before us not behind us. If you turn and go back, you will always walk in defeat! If you feel like you are always walking in defeat, then perhaps this should be your compass, indicating that you have been steadily going backward and not forward.
There is another result of our embitterment at Marah. This bitterness is a poison to us just as assuredly as the water at Marah was bitter and undrinkable for the Hebrews. When we get frustrated with God and allow anger and bitterness into our hearts because of our situation, that bitterness becomes a poison to us. Bitterness is poison to your very soul. So what disappointments have become bitterness in your walk with the Lord?
How can we move from the place of Marah, where we are stalled in bitterness? Verse 25 shows us the answer. God provides a tree for Moses to cast into the bitter waters. As the tree hits the waters, the water became pure and sweet. What does a tree represent to us from the Word? It is the cross of Jesus. Galatians refers to Jesus as hanging on a tree. Moses, in essence, cast the cross of Jesus into the bitter water and they are made pure and sweet. When you are frustrated with a situation, rather than casting your invectives of bitterness at the situation, instead cast the name of Jesus at it. Through Him, that which is poisonous and impure is made pure and sweet. Then Marah is transformed from a place of defeat to a source of strength and renewal for you to draw upon as you move forward and advance to the springs of Elim, where the Lord has more than enough for you.
If you are at Marah and frustrated or even bitter against God because of the way things have unfolded in your life, that bitterness will poison you. You have a choice; turn in defeat and return to captivity, or apply Jesus to the situation and see the miraculous as you advance toward the greater things that Lord has for you, the things that lie beyond your Marah.
J Todd Hostetler