The Name of it … Marah

"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 people of Israel had to taste the bitter waters. There they groaned in a bitter bondage, which typifies what a man suffers from the tyranny of the devil before he knows the delivering power of the Lord.

Nor was it on the memorable passover night. Then they ate bitter herbs with the lamb roast with fire, which typifies the sorrow of heart and repentance which we feel when first we realise that the Lamb of God suffered for us, and that our sins were the cause of all His anguish.

The bitter waters were in the wilderness; the sons of Israel came to them after their enemies had been swallowed up, and when they had sung their exultant song to the Lord who had set them free, and when they thought they had said "good-bye" to trouble for ever. Then it was that they came to Marah, and the waters were bitter. This was an exceedingly strange experience, and it certainly needs to be explained, and the more so since 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 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 was to be let down in a basket over the wall of the city, an unlooked-for and humiliating experience for this zealous convert.

A Mohammedan priest, of whom I heard, tasted the bitter waters when, having found a living and all-sufficient Saviour in the Lord Jesus, he confessed His Name to his fellow priests, and they struck him with their fists and spat in his face. A bitter trial, this, for a proud Mohammedan who had been trained to resent every insult.

A little High school girl of fourteen, whom I know well, came suddenly on these same waters of Marah when, on the day after she had owned the Lord as her Saviour, her school-mates mocked at her, and refused to allow her to join them at tennis, and left her to travel home alone, a solitary and distressful figure.

But the waters were made sweet for Saul of Tarsus when he realised that it was for Christ's sake that he suffered; when he could say, "I am crucified with Christ … the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). And the waters were made sweet for that Mohammedan priest as, during his great trial, a sense of what Christ had suffered for him so filled his soul, that he said afterwards, "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, how great must be the joy, O Lord, of dying for Thee.'" And the waters were made sweet for my little High school friend in her isolation and rejection 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?
Alone on dark Calvary, by faith, I can see,
  My blessed Redeemer is dying for me."

It is sometimes supposed that those who turn to the Lord will thenceforth have no difficulties or troubles. But it is not so; indeed for that very reason troubles often thicken about them. It is because they belong to Christ that they are opposed, despised and flouted, and find that the world which once courted them can now do without them, that it prefers, in fact, their room to their company. Where they would wish to be loved the most, there they get the most hatred; and before those with whom they would stand well, they are humiliated. The hopes and ambitions which they cherished before they knew the Lord are now checked, and they find that the will of God often leads them right athwart the desires of nature. These are trying experiences; they are the waters of Marah, and so bitter are they that we could not drink them at all, and we should but murmur and be discontented were there not the tree at hand to cast into them.

The tree cut down and cast into the water tells us of Christ who came into the world and went into death. It was love for us that led Him to do it, and the knowledge of this sweetens every bitter draught. As we consider this love it constrains us, and we get a new motive and object in life: Christ instead of self. We judge that if He died for us and we live in consequence of His death, then we should no longer live to self but to Him who died for us and rose again.

But He not only died for us, but we died with Him, and if so, what does it matter if we are scorned and humbled and cast out? What better can we expect here where Jesus suffered? And if through these things we decrease and Christ increases, we have cause for rejoicing, and His love is the solace for all. We would like to please ourselves, but God in His care for us prevents this in some way or other in order that we may take His way instead of our own. We may and often do strongly resent this; it is a bitter experience to be held up in some pleasant path of our own choosing and turned into one from which we would naturally shrink, but when we remember that even Christ pleased not Himself, that He went even to the death of the cross in obedience to the will of God, it changes everything. The waters become sweet to our taste, and we rejoice to be subject to God and prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

But we must drink the waters; these things must not be mere doctrines to be discussed, but must become our soul's experience, for that is what drinking signifies. As the bitter experience is real and we have felt it in our very souls, so must the sweetness and solace of Christ's love be real, and the blessedness of the will of God. Let us be satisfied with nothing less than this.

This turning of the waters of Marah into sweetness was made the occasion of "a statute and an ordinance" to Israel, which I understand to mean, that God would by it teach them that He would turn the bitterest trials of the wilderness into sweetness and blessing to them as they clave to Him, and that these trials would be a test as to whether God and His will were more to them than their own will and ease. And we must learn the same lesson. If we have come under the leadership of the Lord Jesus and He is now our Hope, the world has become a desert where many trials abound; and by these we shall be tested, and the tests will prove us as to whether God is everything to us. But there He will also prove to us His unfailing resources in Christ for all our need.

"In the desert He will teach thee
  What the God that thou hast found,
Tender, patient, powerful, holy,
  All His grace shall there abound."

Then we shall judge of what God is, not by the trial but by the death of Christ, the gift of God's love, which sweetens every trial; for we judge that since God has given to us such a matchless proof of His love, every bit of tribulation must be a proof of that same love and permitted by it for our soul's good.