Bible Society of South Africa

Absolutely Alive: No Grumbling – The water is sweet - 16 July 2024

By Louise Gevers

Bible text(s)

21Miriam sang for them:

“Sing to the LORD, because he has won a glorious victory;

he has thrown the horses and their riders into the sea.”

Exodus 15:21GNBOpen in Bible reader

24The people complained to Moses and asked, “What are we going to drink?”

Exodus 15:24GNBOpen in Bible reader

A most amazing thing had just happened; it was almost too much to grasp. The people of Israel were no longer slaves to the tyrant who had usurped their lives. They were now liberated, free to discover what God had in store for them. They had miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry land, as a strong east wind held back the waters. However, Pharaoh and his army, in hot pursuit, were swept away by the returning waters, never to threaten or hold them captive again.

Their exhilaration quickly faded, however, after trudging through the desert for three gruelling days without finding any water. Miriam’s joyful song echoing in their hearts, and the women’s jubilant dancing, now in their memories, weren’t enough to carry the people of Israel contentedly through the wilderness of Shur, on their way to the Promised Land. When, hot and parched, they finally came upon water at Marah, meaning bitter, they couldn’t drink it because it was bitter, “so the people grumbled against Moses”. (Exodus 15:24, NIV)

For Moses, responsible for “about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:37), and animals, the cries must’ve been horrendous, and his distress and frustration real. 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 15:25a)

Imagine the delight as the people savoured the pure, sweet water, perhaps once again recognising the profound blessing of being delivered from Pharaoh’s grip. In that moment the LORD intervened, presenting them with a “statute … and there he tested them” (Exodus 15:25b) to establish their faithfulness: “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, … do that which is right in his eyes, … give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)

True to his unfailing love, God not only made the water sweet, but he made the bitter water a turning point. He showed them that if they obeyed him, he would be their healer and would keep them free from the diseases they’d seen in Egypt. Also, unbeknown to them, beckoning, from not too far away, was Elim with “twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees”, (Exodus 15:27) where they would camp – a true oasis for their weary bodies.

This beautiful and poignant image of God’s holistic care for his people is for us, too, wherever we are in our current situation. Whether we’re thirsty and trudging in the wilderness, drinking bitter water at Marah, or resting in shade at Elim, God knows, and is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) if we ask Him.

Prayer: Loving Father, please forgive me for so often grumbling and losing focus when things go wrong. I forget your goodness to me and look to others for help when you alone can sweeten the water. You are my healer; please help me to be attentive to you and to keep your commands. Amen

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