“He [the Lord] said, ‘If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.’”
It happened just three days after the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. God had triumphantly rescued His people from the Egyptians, showing His complete power over Pharaoh and over all the so-called gods worshipped by the Egyptians, first through the plagues, and then by the closing of the Red Sea which drowned the Egyptian army. God had successfully led His people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. But they couldn’t find water. Then the water they found was too bitter to drink. The people began to complain.
Usually when I hear this story, the focus is on the people and their untrusting attitude. At first glance, it really does seem remarkable that they would worry about water after all they had been through. We wonder why they complained instead of just asking their obviously-almighty God for something to drink.
We have to remember, though, that we have the benefit of a complete history of God’s people from the time God established them as a people through Abraham to their rise, division, and fall as a nation, to Christ’s coming and the beginning of the Christian church. We know why God rescued His people and what He had planned for them and how much He loved them.
The Israelites, however, were kind of in the dark. They’d been slaves in Egypt for so long, they thought God had completely forgotten about them. Then along came Moses with the good news that God, Whom they’d almost given up on, had somehow, actually, finally heard their prayers and planned to deliver them at last. Next they witnessed all the horrors of the plagues and the drowning of the Egyptian army. They knew without a doubt that the God of their ancestors had rescued them . . .
. . . but they didn’t know Him.
They were probably scared out of their minds wondering just what this awesome (as in powerfully frightening) new god (as in one of many others they’d heard of, not yet their One, true God) had in store for their lives.
God loved these stubborn people. He rescued them, so He could establish them as His people for the whole, wide world to see. Yet He knew they were still confused and weak. He also knew that, as far as relationships go, He was still in the early-wooing stage.
That’s what makes the story of the waters of Marah so beautiful! God knew what His people needed most from Him, and He provided it with an object lesson before they even asked.
After three days alone with an unknown, scary God, the people weren’t only thirsty. They were afraid. And so they complained. So God gave them water to drink.
Then, once they’d satisfied their thirst, he essentially said, “If you listen carefully to my voice and if you do what is right in my eyes, I will not treat you like I treated the Egyptians. I am the God who heals you.” In other words, so long as you honor me as your God, you don’t have to be afraid of me. I am on your side.
His people were thirsty and afraid; so God met their need—with water, with assurance of His good intentions, with a glimpse into His nature meant to calm their fears, with a promise of healing as they put their trust in Him.
God does the same for us. Whether right or wrong, we can take our fears, disappointments, confusion, and complaints to Him. He won’t treat us as He did the Egyptians. We are His people. If we listen carefully to His voice and do what is right in His eyes (according to the Bible, His Word), He’ll treat us as He did the Israelites that day, providing what we most need, whether it’s basic provisions, strength to endure a tough situation, wisdom to act, or assurance of His Presence and good plans for our lives.
God knows we are confused and weak sometimes. But when we honor Him as Lord, He assures us, we’re always on His good side.
Father, You know our needs better than we do. Please forgive us when we lash out in confusion or fear. Thank You for hearing our voices, for understanding our pain, and for bringing necessary healing by whatever means are necessary. Most of all, thank You for glimpses of Your character. We need these most of all. For as we get to know You better, our trust in Your love and goodwill for us grows. Thank You, Lord. Amen.