The first mention of Marah in the Bible comes in the book of Exodus, chapter fifteen. It occurs after the Israelites had escaped from slavery in Egypt. They had miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, and from there Moses led the Israelites into the Desert of Shur. After a great victory and celebration of God’s deliverance, Israel were straight into a wilderness experience. Isn’t life often like that? Just when we think that everything is going well, we unexpectedly hit a problem or issue and find ourselves in a hard place.
What does Marah mean in the Bible?
They travelled for three days, without finding any fresh water. What they had brought with them was quickly used up and the situation was becoming serious. The human body quickly dehydrates, for water is essential for our survival.
FACT – A person can survive about three days in the desert without water.
Marah – meaning in English
They arrive at Marah – a place where there was water. Can you imagine the sense of relief and the feeling of joy that they must have had as they saw, and heard the water. But, it was undrinkable! It was bitter to taste, and Marah translated into English means bitter. The well of water should have been life-saving, sustaining and satisfying, but proved to be none of those things. The water tasted bitter, but more than that, the people were also left with a feeling of bitterness.
Failed expectations are difficult to deal with. When we expect something good, but we are let down and we do not receive what we were expecting. Disappointment, a sense of injustice, of being unfairly treated, can all rise to the surface. Grumbling, complaining, and looking for someone to blame, are easy responses.
The children of Israel responded in that exact way – and blamed Moses. Of course as their leader they could see and relate to Moses, but on a spiritual level, they were grumbling and complaining against God. Is there a challenge there to us in the way that we sometimes respond to those in authority over us?
It was here at Marah, that God tested the people for the first time – to reveal what was in their hearts. And maybe it is in those tough times that we learn what is in our hearts.
God showed Moses a certain tree, and when he threw it into the water, the water became fit to drink. The miracle working God, who had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, demonstrated once again that He was able to provide for their needs.
Lessons from Marah – Time to Move on to Elim
Before they moved on, Moses reminded the people once again of their covenant commitment to God, that obedience would bring blessing. Then, God led them to the oasis of Elim – a place of refreshing and renewal. At Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, a place where they could be physically refreshed!
There is symbolism in numbers in scripture – twelve represents ‘perfect authority’ and seven is the ‘complete’ number and therefore seventy is a ‘magnitude of completeness.’ At Elim there was all that the people needed, there they could see the all sufficiency of God!
A Marah Experience
Our Marah is unlikely to be a well of bitter water. But we can still experience times of disappointment, and failed expectations. Anger and resentment can rise when we feel we have been treated unfairly and bitterness comes with a sense of helplessness. When we feel that the situation we are in, is not of our making, and it is not our ‘fault.’ And more than that, there is nothing that we can do to change the situation. We may even feel angry with God.
“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.”Proverbs 3: 5-6 MSG
God has delivered us from the bondage of sin, a certain tree became the means of our forgiveness, by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. God made a way for our broken relationship with Him to be healed and restored, that we might receive life. We need to remind ourselves how much we are loved! God is able to provide for all our needs. The call for God’s people to place their trust in Him has not changed. God wants to lead us from our place of ‘bitterness,’ a time of trial and testing, to Elim, a place of spiritual refreshing!
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”Psalm 23: 1-3
Seven ways to leave bitterness behind
Have you got ‘stuck’ at Marah? A hard and difficult situation where you felt let down by people. In your heart, you may even have felt abandoned and let down by God. You can move on from that place.
Trust – God is reaching out His hand to you, and asking that you trust in Him.
Listen – for God’s voice, what He is whispering to your spirit.
Take a step of faith – do what you can, as God shows you what is in front of you. Then allow God to lead you on to a place of refreshing and renewal!
Confess – If we have been bitter, or angry, grumbling or complaining, then we can come back to our Father and confess our sins.
Receive forgiveness – God is faithful, and He is willing to forgive us.
Be forgiving – If necessary, we need to be willing to forgive, and release other people.
No condemnation – and finally to be gracious and willing to forgive ourselves.
Three Scriptures to deal with bitterness:
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
(Love) “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:7
Often we only trust in God when all other options are removed! Trust in God comes through those difficult times, when we cannot resolve the situation ourselves, we come to know the One who can. I pray that we will know Him more, each and every day.
You may also like to read ‘Why did Naomi change her name to Mara? I share two stories of moving on from loss and grief, with three scriptures of hope and encouragement.