God had just revealed Himself to His people Israel in a mighty and powerful way, rescuing them from the hands of their enemies. Now they were three days into their journey with no water, and when they finally found water, it was bitter. Was God testing them? Did He not care about the fact that they were thirsty and desperately needed water? How many times throughout life do we do the very same thing? Only three days prior they had seen the mighty power of God in His control over water. They had seen their enemies destroyed and they themselves saved by the grace of God. They even said, “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exo 15:11 KJV). They really didn’t believe the very words they had spoken three days earlier.
God has designed the bitter circumstances of life to drive us to Himself. Without the Savior, life is bitter, nothing fits, and it doesn’t make sense; our existence is an unfulfilled experience. Sin leaves a bitter taste in life. Perhaps bitterness in my life is not always because of personal sin, but God is speaking and trying to get my attention.
The people’s reaction to the bitter water was to complain to Moses. Many times throughout their journey, the people sinned against the Lord by complaining (Exo 16:8). Moses’ response was to cry out to the Lord. This is the result that the Lord is looking for. He is longing for sinners to turn from their complaining and cry out to the Savior.
God so graciously showed Moses a tree. When the tree was cast into the water, it not only made the water bearable, but also made it sweet! What a beautiful picture of new life in Christ! “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1Pe 2:24 KJV). Christ, the Lamb of God, took our sins, our complaints, and bore them in His own body on the tree, the terrible cross, so that we, who were dead in sins, might live!
Christ doesn’t merely make life bearable, but He takes away the bitterness of sin, of life, and gives us the sweetness of knowing sins forgiven, peace with God, and a purpose in life. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1 KJV).
“Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water” (Exo 15:27 ESV). Water and shade were in abundance. To people who were used to living and traveling in a hot desert place, there was nothing more refreshing than cool water from a well and the cool shade of a tree. How beautiful the picture of sweetened life in Christ. Rest in the shade of God’s gracious provision, drinking freely from the wells of eternal life!