From Bitter to Sweet

Throughout our lives we encounter times when things either seem to be going against us or for us. We would all likely agree that we much prefer the latter. But as believers we know that bitter experiences will come and Scripture reminds us that such times are opportunities to grow in our faith. One such reminder comes in the aftermath of God’s miraculous deliverance of His people out of Egypt.

               Evidently Israel didnt want to leave the glory days by the Red Sea that had been filled with dancing and singing. Moses had to get them moving, Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea…” (Ex. 15:22; italics mine). But after three days of travel in the wilderness, there was no clean water (v. 23). The situation was serious. The water was not just unpleasant to their taste, it was actually dangerous for them to drink, perhaps even poisonous. No wonder the place was called Marah, meaning bitterness. But the water that was bitter to the taste only served to reveal the deeper bitterness in their hearts. Instead of turning to the Lord and crying out to Him to provide for their need, they grumbled against Moses, What shall we drink?” (v. 24). Moses, the mediator for Gods people, knew what to do. He went to the Provider and cried out to Him for help. The Lord showed him a tree, and when Moses threw it into the water, the water turned sweet (v. 25). Imagine Israel cupping their hands and drinking plenteously of this sweet water. How good it must have tasted!

               Marah was a place of testing. Just like the Lord gave Adam and Eve a test involving a tree in Eden, so too the Lord gave Israel a test involving a tree in Marah. The Lord had given Adam a rule. He could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). If he obeyed, he would receive blessing, but if he disobeyed he would be under the curse of death. Now the Lord gives Israel a rule. If they obeyed Him, they would be blessed. I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer” (Ex. 15:26). But if they disobeyed Him they would be cursed (see Lev. 26:14-39; Deut. 28:15-68).

               We know from Israel’s history that they were unable to obey God. It is very good news, then, that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:13-14). What Israel failed to do, Christ accomplished by His active obedience to Gods law. In addition, His death on the cross secured our salvation. These two aspects of Christs work, His active and passive obedience, accomplished our redemption.

               The apostle John, in speaking of the new heaven and earth, says:Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:1-2). The Lord Jesus Christ is the healer of the nations. To Him anyone who thirsts for salvation can come and receive eternal life (Rev. 22:17; see also John 4:14; 7:37-39).

               When we have tasted the bitter waters of life, sweet water becomes even sweeter. But when the Lord grants us an oasis, its a shower of abundant blessings that feels too good to be true. As Israel emerged from Marah and entered Elim there were enough springs of water for every tribe to have their own, and enough palm trees for every elder of Israel to sit under and rest (Ex. 15:27). They must have once again sung and danced, as they did at the Red Sea. The Lord is indeed our healer. He can bring us from bitterness to blessing in a short amount of time. This is all the more reason to trust His plans for us. Since we cannot see the twists and turns of the wilderness we often worry. But the Lord sees and knows all, and He is leading us, just as He led Israel. Although we no longer have the cloud by day and fire by night, we have something better. The Holy Spirit indwells us and guides us in the way we should go. Whether we are at Marah, a bitter place, or Elim, a place of blessing, the Lord our healer is present with us. Therefore, let us look to the future with confidence, be patient in the midst of affliction, and seek first Gods kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). 

Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit


Sarah Ivill