Exodus 15:23
And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) The waters of Marah . . . were bitter.—The extreme bitterness of the springs at the southern extremity of the wilderness of Shur is witnessed to by all travellers. (Burckhardt: Travels in Syria, p. 777; Robinson: Palestine, vol. i., p. 106; Wellsted, Arabia, vol. ii., p. 38, &c.) There are several such springs, that called Ain Howarah being the most copious, but scarcely so bitter as some others.

Therefore the name of it was called Marah.—“Marah” means “bitterness” both in Hebrew and in Arabic. It appears to be a form of the root which we find also in mare and amarus.

Exodus

MARAH

Exodus 15:23 - - Exodus 15:25
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I. The time of reaching Marah-just after the Red Sea. The Israelites were encamped for a few days on the shore to shake themselves together, and then at this, their very first station, they began to experience the privations which were to be their lot for forty years. Their course was like that of a ship that is in the stormy Channel as soon as it leaves the shelter of the pier at Dover, not like that of one that glides down the Thames for miles.

After great moments and high triumphs in life comes Marah.

Marah was just before Elim-the alternation, how blessed! The shade of palms and cool water of the wells, one for each tribe and one for each ‘elder.’ So we have alternations in life and experience.

II. The wrong and the right ways of taking the bitter experience. The people grumbled: Moses cried to the Lord. The quick forgetfulness of deliverances. The true use of speech is not complaint, but prayer.

III. The power that changes bitter to sweet. The manner of the miracle is singular. God hides Himself behind Moses, and His miraculous power behind the material agent. Perhaps the manner of the miracle was intended to suggest a parallel with the first plague. There the rod made the Nile water undrinkable. There is a characteristic economy in the miraculous, and outward things are used, as Christ used the pool and the saliva and the touch, to help the weak faith of the deaf and dumb man.

What changes bitter to sweet for us?-the Cross, the remembrance of Christ’s death. ‘Consider Him that endured.’ The Cross is the true tree which, when ‘cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet.’

Recognition of and yielding to God’s will: that is the one thing which for us changes all. The one secret of peace and of getting sweetness out of bitterness is loving acceptance of the will of God.

Discernment of purpose in God’s ‘bitter’ dealings-’for our profit.’ The dry rod ‘budded.’ The Prophet’s roll was first bitter, then sweet. Affliction ‘afterwards yieldeth the peaceable fruit.’15:22-27 In the wilderness of Shur the Israelites had no water. At Marah they had water, but it was bitter; so that they could not drink it. God can make bitter to us that from which we promise ourselves most, and often does so in the wilderness of this world, that our wants, and disappointments in the creature, may drive us to the Creator, in whose favour alone true comfort is to be had. In this distress the people fretted, and quarrelled with Moses. Hypocrites may show high affections, and appear earnest in religious exercises, but in the time of temptation they fall away. Even true believers, in seasons of sharp trial, will be tempted to fret, distrust, and murmur. But in every trial we should cast our care upon the Lord, and pour out our hearts before him. We shall then find that a submissive will, a peaceful conscience, and the comforts of the Holy Ghost, will render the bitterest trial tolerable, yea, pleasant. Moses did what the people had neglected to do; he cried unto the Lord. And God provided graciously for them. He directed Moses to a tree which he cast into the waters, when, at once, they were made sweet. Some make this tree typical of the cross of Christ, which sweetens the bitter waters of affliction to all the faithful, and enables them to rejoice in tribulation. But a rebellious Israelite shall fare no better than a rebellious Egyptian. The threatening is implied only, the promise is expressed. God is the great Physician. If we are kept well, it is he that keeps us; if we are made well, it is he that recovers us. He is our life and the length of our days. Let us not forget that we are kept from destruction, and delivered from our enemies, to be the Lord's servants. At Elim they had good water, and enough of it. Though God may, for a time, order his people to encamp by the bitter waters of Marah, that shall not always be their lot. Let us not faint at tribulations.Marah - Now identified with the fount of Huwara. The fountain rises from a large mound, a whitish petrifaction, deposited by the water, and is considered by the Arabians to be the worst in the whole district.23. when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters—Following the general route of all travellers southward, between the sea and the tableland of the Tih ("valley of wandering"), Marah is almost universally believed to be what is now called Howarah, in Wady Amarah, about thirty miles from the place where the Israelites landed on the eastern shore of the Red Sea—a distance quite sufficient for their march of three days. There is no other perennial spring in the intermediate space. The water still retains its ancient character, and has a bad name among the Arabs, who seldom allow their camels to partake of it. No text from Poole on this verse. And when they came to Marah,.... A place in the wilderness, afterwards so called from the quality of the waters found here; wherefore this name is by anticipation:

they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; and they must be very bitter for people in such circumstances, having been without water for three days, not to be able to drink of them: some have thought these to be the bitter fountains Pliny (f) speaks of, somewhere between the Nile and the Red sea, but these were in the desert of Arabia; more probably they were near, and of the same kind with those that Diodorus Siculus (g) makes mention of, who, speaking of the Troglodytes that inhabited near the Red sea, and in the wilderness, observes, that from the city Arsinoe, as you go along the shores of the continent on the right hand, there are several rivers that gush out of the rocks into the sea, of a bitter taste: and so Strabo (h) speaks of a foss or ditch, which runs out into the Red sea and Arabian gulf, and by the city Arsinoe, and flows through those lakes which are called bitter; and that those which were of old time bitter, being made a foss and mixed with the river, are changed, and now produce good fish, and abound with water fowl: but what some late travellers have discovered seems to be nearer the truth: Doctor Shaw (i) thinks these waters may be properly fixed at Corondel, where there is a small rill, which, unless it be diluted by the dews and rain, still continues to be brackish: another traveller (k) tells us that, at the foot of the mountain of Hamam-El-Faron, a small but most delightful valley, a place called Garondu, in the bottom of the vale, is a rivulet that comes from the afore mentioned mountain, the water of which is tolerably good, and in sufficient plenty, but is however not free from being somewhat bitter, though it is very clear: Doctor Pocock says there is a mountain known to this day by the name of Le-Marah; and toward the sea is a salt well called Bithammer, which is probably the same here called Marah: this Le-Marah, he says, is sixteen hours south of the springs of Moses; that is, forty miles from the landing place of the children of Israel; from whence to the end of the wilderness were six hours' travelling, or about fifteen miles; which were their three days' travel in the wilderness, and from thence two hours' travel, which were five miles, to a winter torrent called Ouarden; where, it may be supposed, Moses encamped and refreshed his people, and from thence went on to Marsh, about the distance of eight hours, or twenty miles southward from the torrent of Ouarden:

therefore the name of it is called Marah; from the bitterness of the waters, which the word Marah signifies; see Ruth 1:20.

(f) Nat. Hist. l. 6. c. 29. (g) Bibliothec. l. 3. p. 172. (h) Geograph. l. 17. p. 553. (i) Travels, p. 314. (k) A Journal from Grand Cairo to Mount Sinai, A. D. 1722, p. 14, 15.

And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23. Marah] Burckhardt, Travels [1810–11] in Syria, &c., 1822, p. 472, suggested that this might be the well of Howarah (or [Palmer] Hawwárah), about 47 miles SE. of ‘Ayûn Mûsâ, and 7 miles from the coast, on the usual route to Mt. Sinai, with water so bitter as to be undrinkable,—though at times (Palmer, Des. Exodus 40) it is palatable. It is ‘a solitary spring of bitter water with a stunted palm-tree growing near it, and affording a delicious shade.’ The identification has been accepted by many since Burckhardt: but it is far from certain (it need hardly be said that there is no etym. connexion between Hawwárah [said by Palmer to mean a small pool of undrinkable water] and Marah), In itself the site would be suitable, supposing that the Israelites crossed the sea at or near Suez: but it agrees badly with Numbers 33:8 (P), if Marah is here correctly placed in the ‘wilderness of Etham’ (see on Exodus 13:20), and it would be much too far, if the Israelites made their crossing at or near the Bitter Lakes: by those who adopt the latter view, ‘Ain Nâba (also called el-Ghŭrkŭdeh), a fountain with a considerable supply of brackish water (Rob. i. 61 f.), about 10 miles SE. of Suez, and 50 miles from Lake Timsâḥ, has been suggested for Marah, and ‘Ayûn Mûsâ (though this is only 6 miles SW. of ‘Ain Nâba) for Elim (v. 27). Under the circumstances, as Di. says, it is impossible to speak with an certainty respecting the site of Marah.Verse 23. - And when they came to Marah. It is not clear whether the place already bore the name on the arrival of the Israelites, or only received it from them. Marah would mean "bitter" in Arabic no less than in Hebrew. The identification of Marah with the present Ain Howarah, in which most modern writers acquiesce, is uncertain from the fact that there are several bitter springs in the vicinity - one of them even bitterer than Howarah. (See Winer, Realworterbuch, ad voc. MARAH) We may, however, feel confident that the bitter waters of which the Israelites "would not drink" were in this neighbourhood, a little north of the Wady Ghurundel. "Thou wilt bring and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, the place which Thou hast made for Thy dwelling-place, Jehovah, for the sanctuary, Lord, which Thy hands prepared." On the dagesh dirim. in מקּדשׁ, see Exodus 2:3. The futures are not to be taken as expressive of wishes, but as simple predictions, and are not to be twisted into preterites, as they have been by Knobel. The "mountain of Jehovah's inheritance" was not the hill country of Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:25), but the mountain which Jehovah had prepared for a sanctuary (Psalm 78:54), and chosen as a dwelling-place through the sacrifice of Isaac. The planting of Israel upon this mountain does not signify the introduction of the Israelites into the promised land, but the planting of the people of God in the house of the Lord (Psalm 92:14), in the future sanctuary, where Jehovah would perfect His fellowship with His people, and where the people would show themselves by their sacrifices to be the "people of possession," and would serve Him for ever as their King. This was the goal, to which the redemption from Egypt pointed, and to which the prophetic foresight of Moses raised both himself and his people in this song, as he beholds in spirit and ardently desires the kingdom of Jehovah in its ultimate completion.

(Note: Auberlen's remarks in the Jahrb.f. d. Theol. iii. p. 793, are quite to the point: "In spirit Moses already saw the people brought to Canaan, which Jehovah had described, in the promise given to the fathers and repeated to him, as His own dwelling-place where He would abide in the midst of His people in holy separation from the nations of the world. When the first stage had been so gloriously finished, he could already see the termination of the journey."..."The nation was so entirely devoted to Jehovah, that its own dwelling-place fell into the shade beside that of its God, and assumed the appearance of a sojourning around the sanctuary of Jehovah, for God went up before the people in the pillar of cloud and fire. The fact that a mountain is mentioned in Exodus 15:17 as the dwelling-place of Jehovah is no proof of a vaticinium post eventum, but is a true prophecy, having its natural side, however, in the fact that mountains were generally the sites chosen for divine worship and for temples; a fact with which Moses was already acquainted (Genesis 22:2; Exodus 3:1, Exodus 3:12; compare such passages as Numbers 22:41; Numbers 33:52; Micah 4:1-2). In the actual fulfilment its was Mount Zion upon which Jehovah was enthroned as King in the midst of his People.)

The song closes in Exodus 15:18 with an inspiring prospect of the time, when "Jehovah will be King (of His people) for ever and ever;" and in Exodus 15:19, it is dovetailed into the historical narrative by the repetition of the fact to which it owed its origin, and by the explanatory "for," which points back to the opening verse.

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