Scripture: And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. Exodus 15:24-25
Observation: Having pressed through a dramatic swing of events from a near-catastrophic war against a raging Egyptian army to a miraculous escape through the Red Sea, it’s now time to get on with the journey to the Promised Land. But where water was plentiful by the sea, finding sustainable sources for the remainder of their desert wanderings would prove challenging. Indeed, from the start, Israel encounters a barrier in the arid Wilderness of Shur (which means “wall” in Hebrew) where there is no water source. So they continue to the aptly-named “bitter” waters of Marah (15:22-23). Unsuitable for drinking, Israel again grumbles against their leader, provoking Moses to cry out to God. Graciously, Yahweh instructs Moses to throw a log into the water—transforming it from bitterness to sweetness (above verses). The author then adds that Yahweh struck a covenant with his people to test them (15:25). Israel is to:
- diligently listen to him,
- do that which is right in his eyes, and
- give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes.
And Yahweh will keep them free from the diseases he inflicted on Egypt, for he is their healer (15:26).
Satisfied with their response, God leads his people to the bountiful oasis of Elim, where there are twelve springs and seventy palm trees (15:27). Worthy to note, “Elim” is another name for a tamarisk tree, the same tree Abraham planted as a memorial to God’s covenant with him. So, in effect, God leads Israel to a place of rest and refreshment that memorializes his covenant with this Exodus generation.
Takeaway: The pairings in this passage are not coincidental. Indeed, bitterness to sweetness points us to their means (disobedience to obedience) and their outcome (plagued to healed). Thus, to bring healing, the Lord “showed” Moses a tree (log in the above ESV translation), which theologian Peter Enns notes derives from the same verb that means “to teach” or “instruct,” from which the name “Torah” traces its roots. Yahweh instructs, Moses obeys, and the Lord heals—bitterness to sweetness.
So what does this mean for you and me? When we, the children of God, under our New Covenant of Grace, receive instruction (come under conviction) from the Holy Spirit, repent, and agree to obey with his help, he begins to heal us from the bitter waters that run deep in our souls. And as we embrace Christ’s grace and drink from his living water, it overflows and displaces the bitter streams of our memories, bringing spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical healing. For Jehova Rapha is our healer who transforms us from bitterness to sweetness.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you are the God who heals, as ultimately exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection of your Son, in whom we receive healing by his wounds (Isaiah 53:5). Would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit in receiving and obeying your instruction so that we might live abundant lives marked by the sweetness of your Son? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling