Bitter Water: Bitter Hearts

Now that deliverance was accomplished and Israel was birthed into a new creation through her “baptism” in the Red Sea, it was time for her to take her next step with her God. Israel is every man, every woman. What is true about her in these narratives is true about us all. Salvation takes on the same pattern of creation: God draws us out of chaos, sets up order, bringing us to rest. Israel was taken out of chaos, that is, Egypt. Though taken out of chaos, chaos has yet to be taken out of her. Ahead is the long six day process of putting to order the primal elements of our souls. Rest is attained only by degrees, in fits and starts, not fully realized in this life. Moreover, it is interesting the text never tells us that Pharaoh died in the battle. This is because, as we have said before, Pharaoh represents that “old man,” or “seed of the serpent” (See The Battle Begins: An Allegory, November, 2014) which never really dies in us until our physical body dies. He remains, even though defeated, a force to be reckoned with, representing that part within us which is in rebellion with God.

It was always YHWH’s intention to take Israel into the wilderness. It is there, and only there, that God can really deal with our interior chaos. True, we were made for the fertile earth, the garden. But a garden on the outside does not match well with chaos on the inside; it would be like remaining in the garden after the fall, partaking of the tree of life with darkened hearts. The Cherubim would not allow this duplicity. YHWH therefore takes them three days journey into the wilderness (Ex.15:22). Of course, three days stretches out to forty years, the span of a lifetime in those days. This life is a journey with God through the wilderness. The garden is the goal.

The people do not know themselves. The last we saw, they feared God and believed in YHWH and Moses (14:31). This was before their three days journey into the horrors of the desert. The Goshen of their former days of slavery was fertile delta country. When placed under this extreme situation, it is no wonder that they remembered “leeks and onions” (Num. 11:5) and not the whips of their former cruel masters. Their first trouble was bitter water. Imagine experiencing a thirst onto death, coming upon water, only to find that it was poisonous. This is a real problem; death is always near at hand in the wilderness. The natural reaction is murmuring. Murmuring is the sign of bitter waters of unbelief within. Indeed, YHWH placed them before bitter waters so that they could have a visible image of their invisible interiors. God’s tests are always serious and exactly to the point.

That the real problem wasn’t the bitter water itself is evident by YHWH’s response to their murmuring. YHWH “showed” Moses a “tree” which, when he threw it into the water, it became sweet. Evidently, the tree was missed by all and had to be “shown,” therefore it took a revelation to see it. A murmuring heart that focuses on the chaos blinds us to what is really there. Of course, the tree motif takes us back to the Garden in Eden, and functions here as the tree of life creating the living waters of Eden. The point is that God changes chaos into life as at creation. But the lesson takes us even further. The context would have us link the healing of bitter water with the healing of Israel’s interior diseases picked up in Egypt, the “world” (15:26). True, Egypt’s diseases on one level mean physical diseases, but as we have seen before, the physical is directly related to moral and spiritual condition.

God heals the interior through external circumstances. It was a harsh lesson. But God’s motives in all of this are made clear in the conclusion of the matter where He led them to Elim. In this place there were 12 springs of water and seventy palm trees (15:27). Twelve is the number of tribes of YHWH’s covenant people, and seventy is the number for the totality of the nations of the world (Gen. 10). The oases of life’s desert journeys sustain the body and soul, and remind us from whence we originated as well as point us to our journey’s end.

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