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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?”
Exodus 15: 23-24


The desert became a classroom for the Israelites in their journey to the Promised Land. God chose Moses as His professor and mouthpiece to teach them His truth. He sent tests to examine their faith and give them opportunity to behave they like they believed. This passage includes one of many tests the Israelites will be given in their desert classroom.

Desert travel would not be easy.  Our text tells us the Israelites had traveled for three days without water. They are understandably thirsty.  And when they finally find water, someone must have scooped it up, swallowed, and then spewed it out quickly –choking and grimacing, and declaring it bitter. Marah means “bitter,” so this place was called Marah for a reason.

Have you even gone through a bitter circumstance? Maybe you are living through one right now. Difficult journeys will come….the unexpected will reveal itself.  We will all have Marah Moments as long as we live in this world.  The question is – how do we respond to those Marah tests?  Can we keep our wits about us long enough to see them as not only great physical challenges, but as great spiritual tests?

Our response to hardship reveals much about the depth of our faith.

The Israelites fail the test in the classroom called Marah.  They respond in a human way to a spiritual challenge camouflaged as a physical challenge.  They grumble and complain and they blame Moses.  Long forgotten is the praise and worship of God three days before. (See Exodus 15: 1-22).

But Moses passes the test. He cries out to God and God responds. God shows His power over the most common disease that will continue to plague the Israelites: bitterness. We see God’s loving provision as the bitter water is made sweet. We see God’s abundant grace as the next stop on their journey is Elim – where they find twelve springs and seventy palm trees.  A place of blessing and rest and provision.

Will they remember the lesson learned at Marah?  Will they be ready for the next pop quiz?  Will they trust God when the next test comes?

What is your Marah moment? Are you surprised and taken off guard when life’s classroom brings something unexpected and bitter– like a student when the professor comes in and announces a pop quiz? As 21st century believers living in the relative ease and comfort of the western world, it’s easy for us to adopt a spirit of entitlement– to think that because we follow God, life should be comfortable and easy.

But one of the blessings of growing older is that we come to realize that it’s the hard things in life that really hone us…teach us…and have us learning to lean into and onto our great God.  We come to realize we are not here so much to be comfortable or even happy (although those things may or may not come)…but we are here to bring Him glory – to walk with you this journey of faith –to know Him and to make Him known.

He is so good and kind.  He brings, as Mr. Wierbse (one of my favorite commentators) says, “enough blessings to encourage us…and enough burdens to humble us.”  The question is, are we woman enough to accept both? Can we lift up praise to God for the blessings…and also cry out to God as we learn lessons in the burdens?

The woman of God cries out to God when life is bitter.


The audio for this week’s teaching lecture can be found here:


Laura Macfarlan