The Bitter Made Sweet

And the people complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (v. 24).

- Exodus 15:22–27

We return to our study of Exodus in chapter 15 where the Israelites come to the land of Marah. They traveled south away from the Red Sea and into the wilderness of Shur, which was located between Egypt and Palestine, north of Sinai. This land was uncultivated, so it is not surprising that they found the water in this area unfit to drink. Israel must have felt a keen sense of desperation at this point. They had traveled many miles, and if they did not find suitable water soon they would die from dehydration.

But as legitimate as their concern might have been, they were wrong to allow their concerns to turn into complaints. We have here one of the first instances of unbelief in the wilderness, coming not long after they had been singing joyfully to the Lord for His mighty deliverance through the Red Sea. It is not uncommon that after times of intense rejoicing in the Lord hard times come, tempting us to complain against the God who only recently showed us such grand manifestations of His love and grace. The greatest joys can soon turn into the greatest fears with those who live by sense only and not by faith. Whenever we find ourselves embittered by the world or thirsty for relief from trial, we must trust in the Lord to provide for us, to meet all our needs, and to do it in His timing. We should make such trials a time for praying and not for complaining.

To satisfy their thirst and to cease their complaining, God directed Moses to a tree, which, when he cast it into the waters, made them pure. We don’t know if the tree itself had any healing powers, or if it was only symbolic of God’s miraculous work, but we do know that it causes us to remember the Cross of Christ, which sweetens the bitter waters of affliction and enables the faithful to rejoice in tribulation. And so, it is only by faith in Christ that the bitter can be made sweet.

Upon this occasion, God made a statute with Israel, putting them under a trial. He expected the Hebrews to obey Him in all His commandments. They needed to know that, though they were free from bondage, and they could not live as they wanted; they were God’s servants. This was true for the Israelites, and it is true for us today. Our response to God’s mercy should not be one of complaining and disobedience, but of submission and faithfulness to His commands.

Coram Deo

Are you quick to complain? When you are suffering some kind of difficulty, do you pray for relief or do you accuse God of injustice? Do you look for what God might be teaching you in every situation, or do you struggle against Him? Read and meditate on Philippians 2:12–18. Memorize Philippians 2:14.

Passages for Further Study

James 5:7–12
1 Peter 4:7–11

We Recommend

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343