16/01/2016 - Exodus 15:23 ‘When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter…’
The Israelites were singing and dancing their hearts out on the shores of the Red Sea. Finally, all the hardships of those awful years in Egypt were now behind them. The party couldn’t go on forever so off they went in the direction of the Promised Land. Three days into the journey they were in serious trouble. Their water supplies had run out and now they were desperately thirsty. How their spirits must have lifted when the waters of Marah came into view. God was with them – he was true to his word and had provided for them – except he hadn’t. The water was so bitter that it was undrinkable.
We would say that wasn’t fair. If we were God we would do things so differently. How could it be kind to show desperately thirsty people sparkling water only for it to be impossible to drink? Haven’t they already suffered enough at the hands of the Egyptians? Why do this to them?
Jesus received his Father’s seal of approval at his baptism, he was full of the Holy Spirit – and was promptly led by that Spirit into the wilderness ‘to be tempted by the Devil’ (Matthew 4:1). Why bless someone only to put them through the mincer? Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps we are put through trials straight after blessing because we should be fired up with faith. The steam train will pull its load up the long incline more readily when the fire is at its hottest.
Many of you reading this will have had times when you heard God clearly. He spoke to you or led you so definitely that you couldn’t doubt him. And then things went wrong. Problems with the children, with the marriage, with work, church – or life in general. You long for the joyful times when everything seemed simple and clear. If only we could turn the clock back. But then you would have no depth. You would never have to face your heart. You would never root out those wrong attitudes and deal with the dross within that gets in the way of real trust, real obedience and genuine commitment. Experiencing pain after joy makes us examine our hearts to discover whether we are dependent on the good times or on the God who gave them – whatever he chooses for us.
Time and again God put his people through their paces in that desert, exposing them to hunger and thirst, requiring of them that they purify their hearts – and he will do the same for us. It may not be hunger or thirst, but it may we wondering how we can possibly pay the bills this month. It may not be snakes in the desert but it might be the doubts in our hearts that cause us to distrust God’s love and our own value. We can be like the Israelites and grumble – or like Jesus and let that trust in our loving Heavenly Father be driven so deep that it becomes the bedrock on which we build our lives. God was upfront with his people about why he did it - ‘he tested them’ (Exodus 15:25). He did so because he loved them and he wanted their love. He loves you so he will test you. And when the test was over he led them to Elim – ‘where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees’ (Exodus 15:27). We will never outdo God in blessing but when he appears to be withholding it, keep the faith so you pass the test.
See comments below: On 16/01/2016 KF wrote: Thank you, John, for reaffirming that testing times are times of blessing - even if it doesn't always feel that way. The Lord is in charge, He is never taken by surprise by what happens in our lives & His love & patience are infinite. We can turn to Him in all our circumstances and know we are in safe hands.
On 17/01/2016 Julie wrote: Thank you for this helpful insight, John. Although it is a dynamic that I've experienced before and understood on one level, the picture of the steam train pulling its heavy load up a hill illustrates it very clearly and enabled me to understand it at a deeper level. It's very relevant to my current experience. Over recent weeks the Lord has been leading me and I've felt excited and encouraged by what I believe he's calling me to do. However, as I've gone into the New Year I've struggled with the circumstances that have enabled me to follow that call and with the practical outworking of it. At times my feelings have felt overwhelming and I have told the Lord that it's not fair! Yet, as John wrote, I also know that he's testing me because he loves me and there are good things ahead. The knowledge of the Lord's goodness and faithfulness and his blessings do provide the impetus to keep going when the hill ahead feels steep and it's good to be reminded of that.
On 31/01/2016 Phil wrote: Thanks John. Really encouraging. This is the gritty stuff that should be talked about more in church to support people in the realness of their struggles rather than glossing over it.