It was on this day that Israel paused at Marah after crossing the Red Sea. It’s recorded in Exodus 15:
“So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 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 15:22-23)
The word translated as “bitter” is spelled מרים and is pronounced marim. That same spelling can also be pronounced, Miryam, which was the name of Moses’ sister, also meaning “bitter.” Interestingly, just before the bitter waters of Marah, Miryam led the congregation of Israel in praises to the Creator because He delivered them from Pharaoh’s chariots, and brought them through the salty (bitter) waters of the Red Sea. Just three days after this great miracle, the people of Israel complained of thirst because they only found bitter (salty) water.
How is it that we can see something as awe-inspiring as the crossing of the Red Sea and then turn around and choose to see everything so negatively? Finding fault with the water was just the beginning of Israel’s complaints – they found fault with a lot of things. While they did direct their insults at Moses, primarily, and sometimes Aaron, it was nevertheless insinuated that the real reason for their frustration was God. Remember, all of this happened just three days after they had escaped through the sea. Notice what happened next:
“So he (Moses) cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:25)
The Hebrew word translated as “tree” is also understood, at times, to be the “branch” of a tree. Supposedly there are certain shrubs that can sweeten bitter waters by absorbing the salt from the water. The main point, though, is when Israel complained, God called their attention to a tree – a factor that becomes important in just a moment. This story should remind us of something James had to say concerning our mouth:
“With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?” (James 3:9-11)
The people of Israel used their mouths to praise God at the deliverance at the Red Sea but, just three days later, were using those same mouths to accuse God of bringing them into the wilderness to die. They were really saying that God wasn’t able to take care of them even though He had already demonstrated He could and would. With their mouths, they had produced sweet and bitter waters.
James makes it clear that our mouth should not produce bitter and sweet waters because this is contrary to what the Messiah taught us. In fact, He taught us to be selfless and to trust in God’s deliverance and His provision. He dedicated Himself to please the Father and to do what was right in His eyes so that we might be delivered from the bondages of sin. His selfless example is demonstrated to us by what He accomplished on the tree. If He abides in us and His example is before us, the bitterness of our lives can be transformed into something sweet. So the next time we are tempted to find fault with someone or to complain about a situation in our life, may God direct our attention to a tree – specifically, the one upon which the Messiah exhibited a selfless example for us to follow.