I have been thinking this week about the subject of bitterness and how much it can impact lives (yes, even the lives of Christians).
In Exodus 15, the Israelites (led by Moses) had seen a tremendous victory, and they were celebrating and thanking God for their deliverance. They were singing ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted…the Lord reigns for ever and ever.’
But just three days later, they were in the desert, and their water supplies had run out. They came to the waters of Marah, but they couldn’t drink from it because the water was so bitter. The same people who had been praising God just a short time ago were now grumbling and complaining. Moses cried out to God, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood which he was able to throw into the water. Verse 23 says ‘The water became fit to drink.’ Later, God led the people to Elim, which had ‘12 springs and 70 palm trees,’ and they camped there near the water.
In our lives, many of us face difficulties which could leave us feeling bitter. When faced with tragedy or hard times, we have a choice to walk through the situation (with God’s help) and get better, or we can stay in that situation and camp out in our bitterness. The story in Exodus paints a clear picture of how I believe God wants us to respond when faced with life’s hardships.
Don’t camp at Marah
The word ‘Marah’ (the place of the bitter springs) actually means ‘bitter,’ and it is interesting that in the Exodus story, although Moses led the people there, God did not command them to camp and stay there. It was just a passing through on their journey.
Later when they arrived at Elim (which means ‘roots’ and also means ‘a place of refreshing’) they were able to stop and set up camp. We all go through times of feeling bitter, but I believe it is important to not camp in that place and instead view it as an experience, a place we have to walk through, with God’s help.
We already have the answer
When Moses cried out to God for an answer, the Lord provided him with a tree branch which would make the water drinkable. Trees take decades to grow, and long before Moses and the people encountered this problem, God had already provided a way out, a growing tree which would be used to solve the problem.
We see this again later in the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19. Zaccheus was the chief tax collector and was not well-liked. Luke says he was a man of small stature, and because of the great crowds (and his height), he was not able to get through the crowds to see Jesus. Zaccheus climbed a nearby sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, and later, he met with Jesus personally. We do not know how long it took, but it is likely that the tree had been growing there for a long time. I like to imagine that maybe God even sent an angel to protect that tree, knowing that one day it would be used as an important tool in allowing a man to hear the life-changing words of Jesus. It reminds us that whatever we are going through, God has already provided the answer.
Believe the promise
In our world today (maybe you are going through this yourself), many people have become stuck in a place of bitterness. Bitterness can be like a spiritual cancer, and if we allow it to, it can overtake our thinking and lives.
If you are experiencing that today and wondering how you can break free, can I encourage you to go back to the promises of God. Whatever you are going through, I believe that God has already provided the answer (even if you cannot see it) and that if you walk diligently, God will eventually lead you to ‘Elim’: a place of rest and security.
The tree in the stories of Moses and Zacheus are also a symbol of the cross. If you look to the cross and look to the promises of God, He will lead you through.
It may not be easy, but living a life free of bitterness is living life to the full. And this is how I believe God wants us to live.