Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they travelled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
From singing and dancing they quickly turned to grumbling (24 – poor old Moses! Leadership can be tough!!). Tom Hale points out that although they grumbled against Moses, they were really grumbling against God (16:8), which is not a wise thing to do (Numbers 16:41-49; 1 Corinthians 10:10) It indicates, above everything else, a lack of trust in God.
However, I find I cannot easily point the finger, because I know the ‘weather’ can change abruptly in my own soul. One moment in the sunshine; the next the mist comes down. (This happened within three days of their magnificent deliverance).
We have much to learn from the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel. One lesson is that disappointments, frustrations, trials come along. They are part of the journey of faith. It’s not going to be all ‘mountain-top’ experiences; we must also spend time in the ‘valley.’ But there are godly ways to respond – ways other than grumbling.
In all our difficulties we can earnestly pray (25). God is able to show us the way through. The Israelites had searched and searched for a solution – for drinkable water. The answer was, actually, close at hand, but it was only the Lord who could ‘show’ it to them. It could be that your answer lies nearer to you than you can imagine.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5)
When I come back to this passage, it causes me to reflect that God has shown us “a piece of wood.” (I think one translation renders this “a tree”) It is the wood of ‘the wondrous Cross.’ It is ‘the tree’ upon which Jesus died. His death is transformative. Through His Cross Jesus makes the bitter sweet for all who trust in Him. There is no natural explanation for how the piece of wood made the bitter water sweet. It was a Divine miracle (see also 2 Kings 2:19-22). It is the greatest miracle of all when lives are changed through the sacrifice of the Cross.