Bitter Waters

"And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter" (Exodus 15:23).

It was not in Egypt that the sons of Jacob had to taste the bitter waters. There they groaned in a BITTER BONDAGE, which typifies the awful tyranny from which a man suffers before he is delivered from the power of the devil by the Lord.

Nor was it on the great passover night, the night of their deliverance from the bitter bondage that they tasted these waters. There they ate the BITTER HERBS with the lamb roast with fire, which typifies the sorrow of heart and repentance which we feel when first we realize that the Lamb of God suffered for us, and that our sins were the cause of the anguish that filled His soul as He hung upon the centre cross of Calvary.

The BITTER WATERS were in the wilderness, and these ransomed slaves reached them there after their foes had perished in the sea, after they had sung their song of triumph to the Lord who had set them free, and when they thought that they had said "Good bye" to trouble for ever. Then they came to Marah, and the waters thereof were bitter. This was an unexpected thing, and it greatly shook the faith of that pilgrim host. It was a strange experience that needs to be explained, and so much the more as it typifies an experience that every ransomed soul must pass through. Saul of Tarsus came to the bitter waters when with overflowing heart he preached to his brethren the Jews that Jesus was the Son of God, and found that they hated him for it and went about to kill him, and that the only way of escape from their fury was to be let down in a basket over the wall of the city, an unlooked-for and humiliating experience for that zealous convert, and a very bitter draught for such a man, sensitive and courageous as he was. A Mohammedan priest, of whom I heard, tested the bitter waters when, having found a living and all-sufficient Saviour in the Lord Jesus, he eagerly confessed His Name to his fellow-priests, and was spat upon for it, and struck in the face by their doubled fists. A sore trial for a proud Moslem who had been trained from boyhood to resent an insult instantly and indignantly.

A little High School girl, of fourteen, whom I know well, came suddenly on these same bitter waters, when on the day after she had owned the Lord as her Saviour, her schoolmates mocked her and refused to travel in the same compartment of the train that took them to the city where the school was, saying they would not ride in the same carriage with "a religious girl." That was an unexpected and bitter experience for an affectionate child, and she told me that as she watched her old friends disappear one by one she "felt very choky, and could not restrain her tears."

But a tree cut down and cast into the waters of Marah made them sweet for Israel, and that miracle teaches us that the cross of Christ can sweeten the strangest and most bitter experience for us. It can make us "glory in tribulation." The bitter waters were made sweet for Saul of Tarsus when he realized that it was for Christ's sake that he suffered, who had suffered so much for him. Then he could say, "I am crucified with Christ . . . the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). The waters were made sweet for that Mohammedan priest when, during his great trial, a sense of what Christ had suffered for him so filled his soul, that he said, "When I thought of what my Lord had suffered for me, great joy filled my heart because I was counted worthy to suffer for Him, and I said, If such joy is mine when merely smitten and spit upon for Thy sake, O Lord, how great must be the joy of dying for Thee." And the waters were made sweet for my little High School friend in her isolation and tears when she began to sing to herself —

"Oh, who can it be with His brow crowned with thorn,
The centre of hatred, the object of scorn?
Exposed to derision, and shame on the tree,
Enduring such anguish, oh, who can it be?
"The darkness surrounds him, no helper is nigh,
No sweet word of comfort, no pitying eye;
Alone on dark Calvary, by faith I can see,
My blessed Redeemer is dying for me."

That changed everything, and she said, that as she sang, the presence of the Lord seemed to fill the compartment in which her friends had left her, and she was glad that she had told them that she belonged to the Saviour.

It is sometimes supposed that when a man turns to the Lord he will henceforth have no difficulties or troubles. But that is not so; indeed, for that very reason troubles often thicken about him. Those who belong to Christ, and because they belong to Him, are often despised, flouted and persecuted; the world that once courted them can do without them, and often makes them feel that their room is preferable to their company. This is not strange, for it was thus that the Lord was treated, and the disciple is not greater than his Lord. But Marah covers more than this; indeed, in its truest, deepest meaning it involves another experience, and teaches a lesson harder to learn; and it offers water to the taste that could not be drunk at all apart from casting into it the cross of Christ. A Christian, before he knew the Lord, had natural hopes and ambitions, and these he carries with him into the pilgrimage to the heavenly Canaan, only to find them blighted and checked. God's will leads him along a road other than that of his inclination; the will of God runs right athwart the desires of his nature, and he feels it bitterly. How can he drink a draught of that sort, and say "No" to self, and take up his cross daily, and follow the Lord? The cross of Christ is the only answer. In that cross the personal love of Christ for every ransomed saint was disclosed, and the will of God came into evidence also. It was the will of God that we should be redeemed from Satanic bondage by that one and only way; it was the will of God that we should be sanctified to Himself, and this could not have been realized apart from that cross, as Hebrews 10 shows us. But in the cross of Christ the will of God has shown itself to be set upon our eternal blessing, and it will surely plan the best way for us in this life. It is the knowledge of this that sweetens the trial and enables us to say, "I am crucified with Christ," and, "the world is crucified to me, and I to the world." This is not something that is learned by faith merely, the waters have to be tasted and drunk, which implies a deep inward experience. Who can turn from self and the most cherished natural hopes for the path of God's will save he who has realized that God so loved him as to give His Son for him, and learns that the will of God is not against him but for him, and is only against everything that would do him harm? It is this that sweetens the waters and shows, as has been said often and well, that my disappointment was HIS APPOINTMENT.

There is more in this instructive and affecting type that we may learn in the presence of the Lord. It covers every disappointment and every bitter experience that we may have in this wilderness world, but the cross of Christ will sweeten every one of them for us, and make us sing,

"O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life's glories dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be."
And lo, the waters are sweet.