I’m headed out of town for some conferences, so Daniel is on leave until I return. Meanwhile, I’m recycling a piece I wrote more than ten years ago when I was at Marah. I’ve revisited Marah over the years, but I’ve been to Elim, too. These days, I’m somewhere in between. 🙂 Maybe you’re at Marah now, and maybe a new perspective can be helpful. The story comes out of Exodus 15.

Parched. With the watery walls of the Red Sea three days behind them, the wandering Israelites were parched. There was nothing in the world they wanted and needed more than fresh water.

God let them get practically dehydrated before leading them, via the pillar and cloud, to the waters of Marah. Dry mouths started to salivate and seared lips cracked into smiles at the overdue sight of water, but the race to the waterfront ended with a spitting contest. Bitter waters spewed across the sand to the sputtering sound of “blech!” God’s provision turned into a bitter (literally) disappointment.

I would’ve grumbled, too. Being in the desert would’ve been bad; not having water would’ve been worse; having hopes dashed would have been the worst.

Fortunately, God’s always got a plan—even in the desert. Pointing Moses to a nearby branch, He directed him to throw it into the bitter water. When the wood splashed into the watery pool, the undrinkable turned sweet and the people gulped water until their stomachs ached. God had shown His power and provided for them at the same time.

I’ve always ended the story of Marah’s bitter waters right there. God let them get good and thirsty; He led them to water; He disappointed them; He turned the bitterness sweet and met their need. Turn the page.

But the story doesn’t really end there. Notice where He takes His grumbling people from Marah: “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.” He led them to a virtual paradise in the desert! They were surrounded by palm trees and a dozen springs instead of just sand and a scorching sun. He took them to a place of abundance, a place they couldn’t have fully appreciated if they hadn’t come by way of Marah.

God provides for His people—always. Sometimes, though, He takes us through bitter waters first. Sometimes He needs to show us that He alone is the One who works wonders out of disappointments. It’s only from bitter waters that we get to taste His magnificent sweetness.

I’ve camped along the shores of Marah, tasting its bitter waters. (I’ve done an indecent amount of grumbling about it, too.) I’ve wondered why God would lead His thirsty child to sheer nastiness. But somewhere in the middle of it all, God has done the miraculous and I’ve found a cup of pure sweetness from the generous hand of God.

Sounds impossible. Sounds unlikely. Sounds like God. But the best part of the story is yet to come; there are springs and palm trees just ahead.

“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)

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