Exodus 15:22-25 “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’ 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 sweet.”
Not everyone is a natural-born leader, but following doesn’t come naturally to us, either. Are you satisfied to follow the car ahead mile after mile, or do you feel the urge to pass him, especially if his speed is erratic? Are you content to let the driver in your own car drive when you are a passenger, or do you feel the need to offer a steady stream of driving tips and commentary?
When we became Christians we surrendered the position of leader of our own lives. We are in the Lord’s army now. We are his followers.
The children of Israel were just learning this lesson in Exodus 15. Here God gives them a little taste, and a little test, of what following him is going to be like on the road through the wilderness ahead. We need to learn the same lesson.
Note how Israel got into this mess in the first place. Moses was leading them, and it is true that Moses was the man they could see out in front, showing them where to go. But Moses wasn’t aimlessly picking his way along through the desert on his own. The Lord guided the nation in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Moses was simply following God’s own lead. It was the Lord who led them to this place and into this predicament.
Does that seem strange to you? I get into enough trouble all by myself. I don’t need God’s help with that. We are tempted to object that it is the devil who brings evil into my life and makes my life miserable. Sometimes, that is true.
In the case before us, it is clear that the Lord was deliberately leading Israel into this difficult and painful situation. Three days in the desert with no water was no small problem. It is estimated that the nation of Israel would require about 11 million gallons of water a day at this point in time. If that much water were going to be hauled in by train today, it would take 1800 tanker cars. Now the little water they do find is so bitter they can’t stand to drink it, even after three days of thirst.
Why make a point of the fact that the Lord led Israel to this bitter trouble? We simply don’t want to believe that it is right or fair for God to impose troubles on us. We take issue with the way he is running our lives. Sometimes, it just makes us mad at him! Why should my child have an incurable disability? Why should I be struggling to find a decent job? How come I can’t find someone with whom to share my life? Why am I terminally ill?
Why? Because the Lord is testing us. He isn’t trying to make us fail. He wants to exercise our faith to make it stronger. He is helping us to put it into practice. Where do we turn in times of testing? Do we remember our God, and the nature of our relationship with him? He is not primarily the great Guide in the Sky. He is our Rescuer, the God who saves us.
Israel had just been schooled in that lesson at the Red Sea. The Lord did not teach them how to overcome the Egyptians and free themselves from slavery by their own wits or power. He delivered them. He taught them to turn to him in their need.
We have learned this lesson even better at Jesus’ cross and empty tomb. The Lord did not place us on some sort of spiritual installment plan for paying off our own sins. He wiped out the debt for us by giving his life in place of ours. The Lord does not offer some super-secret diet and exercise plan that enables us to achieve immortality through self-discipline. He overcomes death by his own resurrection. He pours faith into our hearts to give us new life. His powerful voice will call our dusty corpses out of our graves some day and transform us into creatures fit for heaven.
That means that the crisis of the moment is also well within his control, though it may be far beyond our own. Don’t panic. Don’t complain. Pray. Trust. His rescue methods may be supremely unconventional. His timing often comes as a surprise. But his deliverance is effective without fail. His solutions promise sweet relief.