Exodus 15:22-27 ~ 20110327 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
03/27 Exodus 15:22-27 Bitter Waters Sweet
From Worship to Discontent
Last time we watched as the Lord saved his people. They saw his great power, they feared the Lord, they believed in the Lord, and they sang his praises. God is victorious; he is the source of strength; the theme of worship; he is rescuer; proven faithful; warrior, fighting for us; he is self-existent; all powerful; conqueror; he is rightly proud; he is justly angry; he is unrivaled; incomparable; totally set apart; awe-inspiring; he is active in power; he is our faithful lover; our purchaser/ redeemer; our caring guide; he dwells with his people; he is the perpetual king. 72 hours after they see their enemy crushed by God at the Red Sea, after they had praised his awesome attributes in song, now they are grumbling. It did not take God very long to get his people out of Egypt. As we will see, it takes much longer to get Egypt out of his people. But God is faithful. God saved his people by sheer undeserved grace. Now they must learn to walk by faith in that same grace. Here we see an amazing example of his grace toward undeserving people.
The first observation we can make in this passage, is that Moses made the people set out from the Red Sea. They had just seen great victory, and we often want to camp out in the place of victory. But God was guiding by fire and cloud. And he was guiding into the wilderness. The people were understandably reluctant to follow. But God's purpose was that they move from bondage to Pharaoh into glad service to their true King. They must learn what it is to walk with God and serve him, and that is a lesson that must be learned in the desert. God's aim was that his people know him, that they know the LORD, and some of God's attributes are only taught through difficult circumstances. This day they will learn a new name for their God.
We must not be too quick to judge the Israelites. Three days in the desert with no source of water would be disconcerting. They were traveling with families and flocks to water, and a three day supply would be a lot to carry. When water came into sight, they would drink whatever remained and prepare to refill. When they discovered that this water was undrinkable, they panicked. They targeted Moses, the visible representative of God, and they grumbled. They complained. They murmured. The root of this word means 'to stay the night, to remain, abide, or dwell'. They camped out on their problem. They focused on their situation. They dwelt on their lack and it consumed them. All they could talk about was what they didn't have.
Ruth and Naomi
The place was named Marah because the water was bitter. Marah is the Hebrew word for bitter. And bitter circumstances made bitter Israelites. There is another naming in the Old Testament, not of a place, but of a person who named herself 'Mara'
Naomi's name meant – 'my delight, beauty, or pleasantness'. She asked that her name be changed from 'delight' to 'bitterness'. She said:
Ruth and her family had moved from Bethlehem in Judah to Moab because of famine. They remained in Moab for about ten years. Her husband and both her married sons died. Her life was bitter, and she blamed God. 'The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. The LORD has brought me back empty. The LORD has testified against me, the Almighty has brought calamity upon me. The hand of the LORD has gone out against me'. She dwelt on her painful circumstances and delight was changed to bitterness. But this was not the end of her story. When she began to see the big picture, she exclaimed '...the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!' (Ruth 2:20). Out of Naomi's bitter circumstances comes the most beautiful picture of redemption we have in all of the Old Testament. The women whom she asked to call her 'bitter', by the end of the story say to her “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.' (Ruth 4:14-15). Bitterness was turned to beauty again as Naomi became the great great grandmother to David the King.
Hebrews and James
The author of Hebrews argues that God's discipline is evidence of his love toward us, and that 'for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.' (Heb.12:11) He goes on to say:
Bitterness is a highly infectious cancer that spreads rapidly and brings death. God provides bitter circumstances to train us in his grace. We can be teachable and allow it to blossom into righteousness, or we can allow bitterness to fester and erupt in a rottenness that contaminates those around us. Painful circumstances are evidence of God's grace, an undeserved kindness to keep us looking to him, trusting in him, depending on him. Bitter circumstances can keep us from becoming self-sufficient and complacent and unbelieving. This is how James can write:
Will you look at your bitter circumstances, or will you look through you bitter circumstances? God provides us with circumstances to train us, to test us, to prove us. We can be patient and teachable, keeping our eyes on God and believing that he loves us and has good in store, or we can focus on the circumstances and putrefy in our own bitterness to the harm of those around us. Bitter circumstances do not cause bitterness. They only bring the bitterness that is already in our hearts to the surface so that we can see it and deal with it. Amy Carmichael, missionary to India (1867-1951) wrote:
This is what Jesus told us:
This was a test
God had saved them and they had seen and believed in him, but now he was sending them into the wilderness, sending them a test to shake them, to see what was really in them.
This was a test. You just sang that God is victorious, that God is sovereign over his enemies, that God is sovereign over the waters. Now will you live like you sing? Will your deeds and your attitudes match your words? They were self-centered, and focused on their own needs and what they could see. They had been three days in the desert with no source of water and they began to fear. They saw water and put their hope in what they saw. The water was bitter and they lost all hope and grumbled. God is gently lifting their eyes to look at him. Get your eyes off yourself and your problems and look to me! Your problems are simply a stage for me to show myself strong on your behalf. Listen listeningly to YHWH your God, do what is right in his eyes, give ear to his commandments, keep all his statutes. Get your focus off of you and your perceived needs and get your focus on God and what he wants. Become God-centered in your thinking and feeling. God allows our needs to go unmet to teach us that what we really need is him. He gives us wants to teach us to want him more.
God gives his people a promise. If you remain in relationship with me, I will not judge you like I judged the Egyptians. I will not give you what you deserve. I will deal with you out of my grace.
God's grace is amazing in this passage. So quickly after God's sovereign rescue of his people at the sea, they are grumbling and complaining, hearts filled with bitterness rather than praise. There is not a word of rebuke here from God. God met their grumbling with provision, with promise and with revelation. God provided for their immediate need. God showed Moses what to do and the bitter water was made sweet. God met their grumbling with a promise. He promised escape from judgment based on relationship. He met their grumbling with self-revelation. He responded by teaching them a new name for himself. He said 'I am YHWH-Rapha or Jehovah-Rapha, the self-existent one, our Healer; our Physician. This is not the name I would expect in this context. God provided them with a basic need. I would expect 'Jehovah-Jireh', the Lord our provider. He is promising exemption from judgment; I would expect YHWH-El-Rakhoom, the Lord our merciful God. Instead we have Jehovah-Rapha – the Lord our healer, our doctor. In Ezekiel 47 this same word 'rapha' 'heal' is used to describe bitter water becoming fresh. The water is healed of its bitterness. God promises to put none of the diseases on the people in relationship with him that he put on the Egyptians. When we look at the ten mighty acts God unleashed against the Egyptians, most of them would not be described as diseases. Only the sixth plague, boils, and possibly the tenth, the death of the firstborn, could be described as sicknesses or diseases. But what God said he would do throughout the narrative was to cause their hearts to become hard. This fits well with the bitterness we see in this passage. God is the healer of bitter waters, and he is the one who heals our sick hearts that are callous toward God and are consumed so easily with bitterness and self-centeredness. Praise God he is a physician of sin-sick souls! He has the wisdom to properly diagnose my condition, and he has the power to apply the cure. We see this so beautifully in Jesus, the Great Physician.
When some people carried a paralyzed man on his bed to Jesus, Jesus responded 'Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven' (Mt.9:2). When a religious leader in Israel came to him under cover of darkness impressed by his miracles, Jesus saw his heart and said to him 'you must be born again' (Jn.3:7). When a disreputable sinner came to a well to get water, Jesus pointed her to himself as the source of living water that would satisfy her deepest longings (Jn.4). He confronted the unbelieving Jews who refused to hear him, to honor him, to come to him, to believe in him, to set their hope in him so they can have life (Jn.5). Jesus confronted the crowds who were following him for a free lunch “do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” (Jn.6:27). To the Jews who boasted in Abraham he said “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin... if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn.8:34-36). To a woman grieving the death of her brother, Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn.11:25-26). When a condemned criminal who was being executed confessed his own sins and recognized the sinlessness of Jesus and cried out to him, Jesus said “Today you will be with me” (Lk.23:43). When Thomas was wrestling with doubts about the resurrection, Jesus said to him “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (Jn.20:27). Jesus, the Great Physician, can see right into the sin-sick condition of our heart and give us himself as the cure.
Did you notice how the bitter waters were made sweet?
The Lord showed Moses a log. In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, this same word is translated 'tree' and it is a means for execution of someone convicted of a capital crime. This verse is quoted by Paul in Galatians:
Moses threw a tree into the bitter waters and they were made sweet. Jesus became a curse for us by being nailed to a piece of wood. He redeemed us from the curse of the law by paying the death penalty we deserve with the price of his own perfect life. He turned God's curse into a blessing for us. Peter puts it this way:
The tree that brings healing to hearts bitter with the guilt of sin is the cross. Jesus, the Great Physician, bore our sins, sins of hard heartedness, bitterness, self-centeredness, pride. He bore our sins in his body on the tree. Because of his wounds he is YHWH-Rapha, the Lord our Healer. When the cross is applied to us, it brings death to the bitter bondage of sin, and makes us alive to God in his righteousness.
Oh, let Christ the Great Physician cure your heart today!