As we read through God’s Word, we sometimes come to stories that seem a bit odd, and here is one of them from Exodus 15 –
22 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. 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.
There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He 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.” (Exodus 15:22-26)
Though I believe absolutely that this is a true story, I must admit it’s rather unusual. Three days after God delivered the children of Israel from the Egyptian army by allowing them to pass safely through the Red Sea, this mass of people found themselves thirsty as they traveled through the wilderness. They came to a spring in the wilderness of Shur, but the water was bitter. They couldn’t drink it. What look liked it held great promise turned out to be a huge disappointment.
They were thirsty. There was water. But the water at Marah (meaning “bitter”) was unable to quench their thirst. So they turned their complaints to the guy who (in their opinion) had gotten them into this mess. They grumbled against Moses. “This man is obviously in over his head. Sure he got us through the Red Sea, but his leadership skills are woefully lacking. He leads us to a spring, but it’s worthless! You got us into this mess, Moses. You get us out!”
They were correct to assume that Moses didn’t have an answer to their problem. God hadn’t given him a map showing the location of the nearest fresh water supply. So, he did the only thing he could do. He turned his eyes and heart heavenward and asked the Lord to intervene. It was an impossible situation, so Moses turned to the Lord who had already shown He could make the impossible possible.
The Lord directs Moses to a piece of wood. (The word could also be interpreted as”tree” or “log.”) The Lord instructs Moses to throw the piece of wood into the bitter spring. Having done so, the water became drinkable, and the people quenched their thirst and were refreshed.
There are lots of lessons we can gain from this odd story. We could learn that no problem is too hard for God. We could learn that when we have no answers, we can go to God who has all the answers. We could learn those who lead on behalf of God will often face complaints. All that is true, but in light of our current national situation, perhaps there is another lesson for us.
Moses listened to God’s instructions and acted. He may have wondered why God would ask him to do such a strange thing. Who ever heard of a piece of wood turning bitter water sweet?! But Moses did what God told him to do, and God met the need of that grumbling group. So, what might that mean for us?
We live in a time of deep bitterness. The hurt and anger and violence we see in the streets of our major cities is just a symptom of a deeper problem. This world is broken. People are broken. It began with the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden. It’s still alive in the world today. It may hide in the shadows for a while, but it reemerges with a vengeance at every opportune moment.
Moses was instructed to do something that seemed ridiculous, but it turned bitterness into sweetness. You and I, fellow believers, are called to do something that may also seem ridiculous. We are called to love everybody. We are called to serve everybody. We are called to be set apart from the ways of the world and to live a different lifestyle. We are called to be salt and light, to make a difference wherever we are. Jesus said, “They’ll know you belong to me because of how you love one another.”
In the face of the violence and hatred and division we are witnessing daily, intentionally expressing love to others may seem like such a small thing. What good is this little stick tossed into the bitter spring? But never underestimate the power of God’s calling on your life to change hearts and minds and circumstances. When we do what the Lord calls us to do, it unleashes a power beyond our imagining. And there is no power greater than letting God’s love flow through us.