A Way Through the Wilderness - Chapter 2

A Way Through The Wilderness
Beauty For Ashes Part II - George H. Warnock


"Bitter and Sweet" - The Waters of Marah

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

After crossing the Red Sea, the Cloud of God began to turn in a southerly direction, along the western edge of the Peninsula of Sinai. For three days they travelled into the wilderness, and found no water. On and on they travelled, and suddenly they came upon a pool of water. But soon their hopes were dashed as they stooped to drink and found that the waters were "bitter." Rather than quenching their thirst, the bitter waters merely aggravated their souls more severely than ever. One of the most tragic things about Israel's journey through the wilderness was the fact that they could never seem to come to that place where they recognized the faithfulness of their God. Over and over again they witnessed His mighty working and delivering power; but never did they learn His ways, and have the assurance of His ever-abiding faithfulness. I think we have all been inclined to sympathize with the children of Israel in all of their trials, because we want to sympathize with ourselves. After all, God was leading them this way, as a picture and as an example for us. Now let us be assured of this: God does not give His chosen ones bitter waters to drink. Then why does He lead them to Marah, if He does not want them to drink of its waters? God leads His people to Marah because He must reveal the condition of our heart if He is going to be able to deal with it. And one of the first things we have to discover in our journey, is that by nature we are filled with bitterness... and God wants to deal with that. He wants us to discover His way of rooting out the bitterness that is there. The word "Marah" means "bitterness"; and so God leads us to Marah, to a place of discovery. He leads us to Marah so we can discover the inherent bitterness of our fallen nature, and show us how to deal with it.

We come into this world in a state of bitterness, and we grow up in that state. All the while we may be quite oblivious to the fact that the bitterness, the envy, the strife, the quarreling, the jealousies, are things that are "earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:15). When we turn to God these things have to be uprooted from our lives. Few there are, it seems, who care about dealing with the old life once they have discovered the new. Like the people James writes about, we think it to be normal to let the tongue remain in its wild, untamed state; and to let the new water of life of which we have partaken, flow forth from our lives intermingled with the bitter fountains of the old nature:

"But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" (James 3:8, 10-11).

We see the sweet and the bitter everywhere, and think it to be normal. We are slow to believe that God wants the "bitter" to be so completely dealt with that all those jealousies, envyings, strivings, ill-feelings, resentments, and hardness of heart, all are to be submitted to the work of the Cross, that the fountains of our life might be wholly in God, that all our springs might be in Zion.

So let us not be disturbed and frustrated when we come to our Marah, to the place of Discovery, the place of Uncovering, where God begins to reveal the bitterness of our hearts. It did not begin when we came to Marah. It began at birth... at our natural birth. We enter this world with a cry of pain and resentment. But now that God has brought forth a new spring of life within us, He wants to deal with the old... that the fountains issuing forth from our lives might henceforth be rivers of refreshing, uncontaminated with the salty waters of the old life. What is the solution? It is in another Discovery... the discovery of a certain Tree.

Lord, Shew Us The Tree!

"And he [Moses] cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet..." (Ex. 15:25).

When we come to Marah, beloved, we need to pray this prayer, "Lord, show me the Tree!" There is a Tree growing on the banks of every Marah, if we will but make the effort to find it; and we will need the help of the Lord to make this discovery. He will be faithful to show it to us, if we really want to find it. When He does, let us be quick to cut it down, and cast it into the waters. You will have to discover this Tree for yourself; because for every Marah there is an individual Tree. Yet they are all of one likeness. It is the Tree of His Cross; but for you and for me there is a very individual application of that Cross. Your Cross is tailor-made for your needs, and so I cannot tell you explicitly what may be involved, except that it will involve a humbling of yourself before God or before your neighbor. It may involve a confession of some hurt that you are nursing, You may be required to ask the forgiveness of another. Or you may be required to forgive one who has harmed you. For if indeed you can be harmed, there is a Marah in your nature that must be sweetened. And you may discover that the bitterness of your heart is not because of what another has done to you, but because you are not able to forgive. Once you find the grace to forgive, you are going to discover that suddenly the waters are sweetened... not because your neighbor has changed, but because you have changed. Very likely when your neighbor sees that you have changed, he also will be changed. Forgiveness may not be released easily, but if you seek the Lord earnestly, you will discover the Tree.

You may have to start praying for the one that has misused you, misunderstood you, spoken evil against you. As you continue at this, the Lord may show you that the bitterness you have known is the result of drinking waters our of the cistern of your own heart... and that the more you drank of it, the more bitter you became. And all the while you have been blaming your neighbor, or blaming God. "God, why are you doing this to me?" Why is God doing this to you? Perhaps it may be His way of revealing to you the bitterness of your heart, that you might discover the Tree.

But you will have to cut it down, and throw it into the waters. God will not do this for you; but He will show you how to do it. You may not know how to forgive, but you can start by recognizing your lack of grace, and asking God for help. As you continue to pray for the one who has "hurt" you, the more you will come to recognize the unforgiving nature that you have, so that eventually you will think less of yourself and more highly of your brother.

This could lead to the place where you almost forget the hurts that you have received from your brother, and you begin to reflect upon the incurable state of your own heart. You may soon begin to indulge in self-accusation and personal guilt. At least, the problem has been narrowed down to the confines of your own heart: "I am the problem." But let the Tree continue to do its work in the bitter waters of your Marah until you can exult in the Tree upon which our Lord and Savior died for our cleansing.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn. 1:9).

"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a Tree" (Gal. 3:13).

He became a Curse, that you might no longer curse your brother, or even curse yourself!

Marah Becomes A Place Of Health

"There [at Marah] He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I WILL PUT NONE OF THESE DISEASES UPON THEE, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I AM THE LORD THAT HEALETH THEE" (Ex. 15:25-26).

It was at the bitter waters of Marah that God came forth with the covenant of healing, of health, and of life. How can we expect health and life to flow in the midst of God's people, as long as we continue to drink from bitter waters? As long as the old nature and the new are encouraged to flow together from the Temple of God? As long as the people of God are taught to forget these admonitions of the Lord to purge their hearts and minds completely from every trace of the old carnal nature, until Christ and Christ alone flows forth in life-giving streams from the House of God?

Let me assure you, beloved, when God's people earnestly seek God for the Tree that will bring crucifixion and death to the old carnal life, and the streams of bitterness that flow from the heart are replaced with streams of forgiveness, of mercy, of kindness, of gentleness, and of LOVE, there is going to be released a stream of physical and spiritual healing in the House of God; and we are going to be delivered from the diseases of this old world.

Elim, The Place Of Strength

"And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters" (Ex. 15:27).

"Elim" comes from a word signifying "strength." After the bitter experiences of Marah, the faithful God leads His people to Elim, a place of strength, a place of refreshing waters, a place of victory and blessing. It would be nice to camp here indefinitely; but the journey is far from complete. We must continue on our way farther, and farther to the south. Canaan is over there on our left; but somehow the Lord says, "Continue to go southward..." And as we travel on, we just know that we are getting farther and farther away from the Land of Promise. Why does the Lord deliberately lead us the long-way-around? And why is it that with every encampment we are subjected to more and more devastation? It is because God is really portraying His care and concern toward His people. Our lives are the untamed wilderness areas that He is dealing with, and we are slow to comprehend and understand the work that He must yet perform in our lives, in order to bring forth the Beauty of the Lord.

Chapter 3 - The Wilderness of Sin
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