If You Will Listen
22Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, 26saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” 27Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.
Only three days after songs of celebration were sung by the Children of Israel for the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, God’s people were complaining. They were running out of water. I get it. That’s a problem. What they had not yet learned was that instead of complaining to someone who could do nothing about the problem (Moses), they needed to turn to the God who had thus far graciously provided for their every need. They even had a physical presence of God in their midst (pillar of cloud/fire) and yet they whined to Moses instead of bringing their problem to God.
Shur is a vast, rugged, and sparsely populated wilderness region in the northern Sinai, stretching from what in modern times is the eastern side of the Suez Canal to the Negev of Israel. At the time of the Exodus this region was the perfect spot to take the escaped Hebrews. There were few people there and it would be a great place for God to bring instruction and give the ex-slaves a chance to regroup after the excitement of the 10 Plagues, the great escape, and the crossing of the Red Sea. The problem with the complaints of the people over the water wasn’t that they were asking Moses for help. It was their attitudes about their situation. They panicked.
Finding foul water at Marah was not merely a disappointment but a cause of panic. “Bitter” water is often clear so that it looks potable but in fact contains large percentages of dissolved mineral salts that render it undrinkable. Thirsty people and animals will try to drink any water they find, but if they find it simply offensive, they will resist any consumption unless delirious with thirst.
Stuart, D. K. (2006). Exodus (Vol. 2, pp. 365–366). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Panic is a terrible feeling. It denotes a loss of control and fear is a quick follow-up emotion. Where to turn for help becomes our first thought. Because this situation quickly becomes a teachable moment that is exactly what God does. He doesn’t chastise them – yet – for their complaint. Instead He again miraculously provides what they need through Moses. And then He provides some instruction. “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes . . . “