<< Exodus 15: The Song of Moses >>
and the Bitter Waters of Marah

wat1523_500_348 And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore, the name of it was called Marah. And the  people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet; there he made for them a statute, and an ordinance, and there he proved them.--Exodus xv. 23-25.

THE chapter from which our text is selected has this peculiarity--that it contains one of the oldest and grandest pieces of sublime poetry which exists in the world, and far more sublime than exists in any other language whatsoever. If we endeavor to realize this magnificent production in the circumstances in which it was given, we shall find how wonderful is the grandeur that is stored up in it. We must bear in mind its description of, and its applicability to, the peculiar circumstances of the Israelitish passage over the Red Sea. There is seen the eagerness of Pharaoh and his host to seize their escaping bondsmen, and make them their slaves once more. The Israelites, apparently cooped up and imprisoned, saw the dreaded Egyptian army behind them, the chariots and horsemen led by Pharaoh himself, and the vase host of infantry behind, for the Egyptians had rallied from their discomfited condition, when they had allowed Israel to escape them, and had increased every step in eagerness--we might say in viciousness--until at length the excitement was beyond all expression, except in such magnificent and graphic sentences as those which occur in this chapter, The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my lust shall be satisfied upon them. Just conceive the tyrannical pride, the impetuous ardor to grasp the prey and make it once more their own, which is expressed in these words. Then the Word goes on, I will draw my sword, thus expressive, as it were, of the very moment of inflicting their vengeance upon the Israelites:--My hand shall destroy them. And then think of the sublime majesty ad power of the Godhead which defeated all this malignity, Thou didst blow with thy wind.

There was no array of outward parade, but the invisible power of the wind was all that was needed to discomfit the eager serried host, and lender the whole mass weak, sinking, and silent, as it is described next, The sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters. With the blase of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together; the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea. There is nothing equal to this in majesty and sublimity, even in its very letter, In any language whatsoever, finishing up, as it does, with those sublime words, in the 17th and following verse, Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in: in the sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.

But interesting as these divine events are in the letter, sublime, and beyond all measure magnificent, as they are in the circumstances in which they are given, and eloquent and grand as are the descriptions of those astonishing events, we must bear in mind that they call our attention to something infinitely more grand than the scene disclosed in the letter of the Word before us. And here allow me to remark, that though hitherto we have dwelt upon the various circumstances of Israel in Egypt, and their delivery from the house of bondage, especially in relation to the spiritual deliverance by which every man who comes into the path of the regenerate life is redeemed from the powers of evil, and of hell; yet there is a sublime redemption, a wondrous series of events of illimitable grandeur, that is prefigured in relation to the whole condition of the universe, in this sublime deliverance of Israel from Egypt. This wondrous event is that of the redemption of the world, which differs only in magnitude, from the redemption of each individual soul.

We cannot pass on in the divine history before us then, without first resting here for a little time, to contemplate the teaching of this wondrous narrative in relation to that; still more wondrous event.

You are aware that at the time when it became necessary for God to become a Redeemer, the whole world was in a worse than Egyptian bondage,--it was in a spiritual bondage, in which the powers of hell enveloped the human mind to so deep, to so horrid an extent, that we can but faintly grasp the truth while we learn it from the Prophets and from the Gospels.

Through a long series of degradations the powers of darkness had been multiplied. Millions of bad men had passed into the eternal world, and taken their selfishness and falsehood and infamy with them; and the result was that the powers of hell bad increased. The powers of heaven had been rejected, until human minds, as seen by the eye of the all-seeing God, mere just as the description in the Word, where we are told that they sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. He saw, it is said of the Lord, in the 59th of Isaiah, that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. And all flesh shall know that I Jehovah am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.--Isaiah xlix. 24-26. Now that wondrous work of redemption, so little understood and so much perverted by those who are for ever crying--believe that Christ died for you; believe that Christ saved you--but who understand scarcely a whit of the sublime work in which redemption and salvation consisted and consists, was represented by Israel being brought out of Egypt.

The powers of hell are here represented on the one hand by the Red Sea, symbolical of an awful mass of falsehood, interposing itself to bar the progress of the people; and on the other hand by Pharaoh and his host pursuing, symbolical of those who were malignantly opposed to what is good, being interiorly evil. Conceive of this! Realize the awful spectacle, and then just look at the chapter, and see Who it was that saved them, and you will perceive, in every salient point of this description, it is declared to be Jehovah Himself. At the very commencement, how sublimely this is given (bearing in mind that wherever we find Lord written in capital letters, it is Jehovah in the original) I will sing unto Jehovah, for he hath triumphed gloriously. The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. Jehovah is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: He is my God and I will prepare him an habitation; my fathers God, and I will exalt him: Jehovah is a man of war: Jehovah is his name. How different from that idea so widely spread, the root of so many false notions, and of so many evils of conduct,--that Jehovah was the Being who held the people in bondage; who weighed them down by His wrath; who threatened them with eternal ruin; who had to be pacified; who had to be bribed to be gracious by the punishment of Christ, a punishment infinitely dear, and infinitely terrible.

As if the Lord Jesus Christ were not God Himself, and His sufferings, while He was redeeming men, were not from evil men and evil spirits. It was Jehovah Himself that wits our Redeemer. The very same truth that is taught here, and throughout almost every verse of this divine song, is found in nearly every chapter of the divine prophecies.

We read in Isaiah xliii. 10, 11, Before me there was no God formed; neither shall there be after me. I even I am Jehovah, and beside me there is no Savior. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people.Luke i. 88. It is always the same truth. The Lord of infinite love, our adorable Father, is our Redeemer Himself. And who does not feel his heart spring up with ten thousand times more thankfulness to believe that he is saved and redeemed by, and that he will owe every blessing to, his Heavenly Father. I would not like to think I was saved by anybody else. It would disturb the gratitude that loves Him, because He created and formed me with all my faculties of mind and body, to think that all these had been of no use if it had not been that some other came and redeemed me. Oh no! we could not love with all our hearts: a God whose plan in creation was utterly defeated unless he was helped out by a second divine person. Rather let me with the deepest emotions of a thankful heart say, in the language again of the prophecy of Isaiah, Thou, O Jehovah, art our Father, our Redeemer, thy name is from everlasting.

All mankind were redeemed, and therefore all mankind were made salvable. But salvation itself comes after our souls have been set free, and when as individuals we fight against our own evils by the Lords power, and expel them from the heart. Until redemption was effected, souls could not do that. They were fettered, they were in captivity, they were Israel in Egypt. But when redemption had been completed they were free, and could work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Of the Lord it is said, His name should be called Jesus--for He would save His people from their sins. The Lord worked out our redemption alone, but He gives us the power to work out our salvation, by co-operating with Him.

Hence, we have it described as the chief point of the redemption from Egypt by the Red Sea, that the triumph for which this glorious song was offered, was of Jehovah alone. So the redemption of the world was of Jehovah alone. The feelings of thankfulness and gratitude, glowed with the holy outburst. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever. This song of triumph was when their redemption was entirely completed.

When the redemption of the world was finished, and hell conquered, all heaven burst into heartfelt and triumphant glorification, which was the song of spiritual Israel then, Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors I and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? Jehovah of hosts, he is the King of Glory.--Psalm xxiv. 7-10.

Let us now resume our consideration of the Israelitish journey. So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water.--v. 22.

If we recollect the previous history of Moses, we shall be convinced he wits admirably fitted for the leadership of the people in a, country with which he must have been well acquainted. Although related in very simple expressions, such as need reflection to enable us to make ourselves acquainted with the full meaning of the divine narrative, we must not forget that Moses was forty years old when he fled from the palace of the daughter of Pharaoh, and eighty years old when he returned to commence the deliverance of his enslaved brethren. During the intervening period he had been chiefly inhabiting the neighborhood of the foot of Mount Sinai, and the wilderness of Shur, and thus for forty years had been familiarizing himself with the whole district, and consequently, was an instrument perfectly prepared for the divine work that he had to perform in this country, into which he was to lead Israel. The circumstances mentioned are such as enable us if we are at all acquainted with the natural condition of the country, to recall every particular that is wanted here--to think of the dry and arid wilderness through which the people had to pass, within the distance which must have been traversed in these three days. There would be all the circumstances intimated here--a hot sun, arid rocks, sands all around, with just one exception. There is a small oasis in the desert, called the wells of Moses to the present day, where probably the Israelites drank and made ready for the succeeding journey of three days.

Then comes a district which is easily reached in three days, where there is still a stream of brackish bitter water, now called Howara. Probably this is the very stream which is intimated as having been found by the Israelites. They would doubtless be in a state of great thirst. They would be excited by the sight of water, as is customary with the Arabs when they have traveled far, with little of the refreshing stream.

Then when they found its bitter nauseous taste was such as to prevent them from enjoying it, m their disappointment, they said murmuring, What shall we drink?

Now, in all this is represented precisely what takes place in the regenerate life. We shall have the key to it, and to all the circumstances which are brought before us in the remainder of this chapter, if we bear in mind the correspondence of water. First, we have the waters of the Red Sea; next, we have the water after which the people longed; then, we have the bitter water which they could not drink, again, there is the sweetened water that seems to have been a delightful enjoyment after their trouble; and lastly, the abundant water mentioned at the end of the chapter, v. 27, And they came to Elim where were twelve wells of water.

How beautiful, how valuable, how universally useful is WATER.

We have said that the key to the interesting instruction which is given in these several parts, is just simply that correspondence of water which exhibits it as the symbol of truth, or its opposite; and which, when reading the Sacred Word, or when we are seeing water in any of its conditions in the world, we should never forget. It is in the very nature of things that water is the symbol of truth. Just as water is the grand means of purifying the body, so Truth is the grand means of cleansing the soul; and hence you find it written, Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.--Ezek. xxxvi. 25.

Without water, neither food, medicine, nor manufactures could exist. Vegetation would languish and speedily perish without water.

Without water there would be no digestion. All beverages are water with more or less of addition, and derive from water their chief efficacy and value.

Water is the great means that enables our food to go through the process of being turned into the strength and the nourishment of the body.

Water is the universal solvent the universal purifier. Water is the soul of all medicines, and in its various applications the most potent means of health.

By water those lovely colors are obtained which enrich the robe of the monarch, and give homely beauty to the dress of the cottager.

All the operations of the human body require water, and the body itself is composed three-fourths of water, and one-fourth of all other substances.

In its rivers, seas, and oceans, water is the grandest of highways.

No landscape is charming without water; a fountain in the sunbeams is one of the most beautiful objects in nature, and water itself, fresh and clear, dazzles the eye with a loveliness like liquid silver.

Well then may WATER. be regarded as the symbol of that which in its relation to the soul is equally useful, equally healthful, equally universal, equally beautiful,--TRUTH. Truth refreshes the soul, truth purifies the soul, truth fertilizes the soul, truth builds up the soul in nobleness and usefulness of character, truth, like water, constitutes the way to good and progress of every kind. Truth brings out the loveliness of everything else, and is a supreme beauty in itself. TRUTH therefore is SPIRITUAL WATER.

We read in the Scriptures of drinking of the water of life, of doctrine which comes down like gentle showers upon the grass, of being made clean through the Word, of being sanctified by the truth of thirsting after righteousness, of fountains of living water, and of the pure river of the water of life proceeding out of the throne of the Eternal. All these attributes of water applied to our mental wants, reveal the incalculable importance of truth, of divine truth, to the well-being of the immortal soul.

Yet there are a great number of persons who live as if they had never learned the fact, that truth is the grand element of power and progress, who go on through the whole of their life in the world, just accepting mentally what other people ask them to take, and never enquiring what is truth and grasping it. The circumstance that without water solid food is of little use, and that we can endure much longer without solid food than without water, teaches us the importance of water, and by correspondence the Importance of truth. Our very body, as we said, is built up of water, and so is every sound spiritual system. The mind that does not yearn after truth, that does not pray to the Lord, Give me to drink, that does not sigh and long after the truth in the spirit expressed in the Psalms, As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God has no real healthy life. With such a soul there is no real solid progress.

He lives in delusions, and dreams and dies, without ever acquiring that true nobility of character which constitutes mans chief likeness to God. Ho! every one that thirsteth, says the Word, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk, without money and without price.

When the soul has fully realized the blessings of one state, and made its gracious mercies its own, it is prepared for further and higher truth. That it may come into an ardent spiritual appetite, it does not obtain that new truth at once. It goes three days, or through a full spiritual experience, and finds no water.

It then comes to water, but BITTER WATER. That is, truth is revealed to it, but truth bitter, unpleasant and condemnatory.

How often is this the case! Truth reveals to us tempers which we now see for the first time are not heavenly.

Some annoyance, some trial, some disappointment, shows us we can be angry, impatient, unforbearing, and unkind.

We cannot bear this truth. We cannot drink this water. What shall we drink?

If we have elevated the LAW OP THE LORD--OUT Moses--to be our leader, he will cry unto the Lord, and the Lord will show him some WOOD, as the word translated tree in our text might be better rendered. Wood corresponds to the solid love of duty. It is the solid substance of a tree. The wood thrown into the waters turned them sweet, to teach us, that the spirit of duty which takes divine teaching, however unpleasant, and determines lovingly to obey, which takes up the cross and kisses it as it were, this will turn the bitterest waters into sweetness. The wise have long known that

Sweet are the uses of adversity.

Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow, is the language of the Psalmist and of the true soul in every age. And when the regenerating soul says lovingly and meekly, Thy will be done, a softening, hallowing, sweetening process commences, a smile from heaven lights up the fear, the bitter waters become sweet.

This is said to be for them a statute and an ordinance.

This blessed lesson is for true Israelites in every age. Let us never forget it. Whenever the waters of truth are bitter to us, let us pray to our Heavenly Father to make us faithful, obedient, and true, and soon shall we realize the fact that what is bitter is often salutary, and that afterwards comes the blessing. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.

Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)

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