So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness…
No human experience is uniformly joyful or sorrowful. A great triumph is succeeded by a great obstacle and sometimes by a great defeat. But there is another equally constant fact to offset this. As we look at this alternation of Elims and Marahs in our life, and recognize it as a law of our human experience, we find it supplemented by something else which is equally a law; and that is the economy of God by which this alternation is happily adjusted. In other words, I mean this: that if it is a law of our life that joy and sorrow succeed each other, it is equally a law of our life that God interposes and keeps the joy from corrupting and the sorrow from crushing us. If sorrow is a part of God's economy, healing is equally a part. You hear abundance of popular proverbs to the effect that clouds have often silver linings; that calamity usually stops short of the very worst; that time dulls grief; that nature reacts from its depression, and much more of the same sort, all which may be more or less true, but which do not cover the same ground as this blessed name, "Jehovah that healeth thee": which throw man for his compensation for sorrow merely upon nature and circumstances. Both are-lawless and accidental, the alleviations no less than the sorrow itself. But there is a radical difference between a grief which is accidental, and a grief which falls in with happier things into an order arranged to make the man purer and more blessed. There is a radical difference between accidental mitigations, and the firm, wise, tender touch of an omnipotent Healer upon a sorrow: and there is a radical difference between that conception of sorrow which makes it an intrusion and an interruption, and a conception which sees both sorrow and healing as parts of one Divine plan, adjusted by that same Divine hand all along the line of man's life. With the alleviations of sorrow which come in what we call the natural order of things, I have therefore nothing to do here. That nature has certain recuperative powers is a familiar fact: that God often uses these or other natural means in His own processes of healing, as a physician uses for medicine the herbs and flowers which he gathers by the roadside, is an equally familiar fact. But we are not concerned with the question of means. Our text leads us back of the means. That to which alone sorrow can grapple securely is not means but God. God, on this occasion, though He uses a branch to sweeten the water, also uses it to direct the attention of the people to Himself. When He gives Himself a name by which they are to know and remember Him all through this desert journey, it is not, "the God of the branch," nor "the God of the rod," nor "the God of the strong east wind," but simply, "I am Jehovah that healeth thee." No matter what means I use. If He had called Himself the God of the rod, the people would have despaired of healing in any case where there was not a branch or a rod present. He would have them know that healing was in Him, by any means or by no means as He might choose. And thus it is well for us to bring every bitter experience of life at once to God — directly. The fountain of healing is there, and there is no need of our taking the smallest trouble in seeking any lower source of comfort. God is not like certain great medical authorities who leave all minor maladies to subordinates and hold themselves in reserve merely for consultation on cases of life and death. He wrought the great miracle at Marah, not only to relieve the people's thirst on that occasion, but to encourage them to seek His help in smaller matters. God sometimes reduces a man to terrible straits so that he may learn that lesson. The branch which he throws in is this: Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. When one is in such confusion and bewilderment, a great deal of the distress is thrown off in the throwing off of all responsibility for the way out. Many years ago, while in Rome, I went down into the Catacombs. I had not gone five feet from the entrance when I saw that if I should try to find my way back, I should be hopelessly lost. Passages opened out on every side, and crossed and interlaced, and my life was literally in the hands of the cowled monk who led the way with his lighted taper. But that was a relief. Having no responsibility for finding the way, and having faith in my guide, I could give myself up to the impression of the place. There is a beautiful passage in the one hundred and forty-second Psalm which brings out this truth. The Psalm is ascribed to David when he was fleeing from Saul's persecution and wandering in a labyrinth of caves and secret paths. "When my spirit is overwhelmed within me, Thou knowest my path." Few things are more painful or humiliating than the sense of having lost the way. The sweetening branch then is just this blessed consciousness that Divine omniscience knows the path; that the knowledge is with one who knows just how to use it, who knows the path through, the path out, knows what the trend of the trouble is and what its meaning is. But let us not forget the other great truth of this story, a truth quite as important as the first, and perhaps quite as hard to learn; and that is, that God's healing is a lesson no less than a comfort. The aim of a physician's treatment is not merely to relieve his patient from pain. It is, further, to get him on his feet for active duty. God did not sweeten the waters of Marah in order that the people might stay there. Marah was only a stage on the way to Canaan; and the draught at the sweetened spring was but to give strength for a long march. And God never heals His people simply to make them easy. If He takes off a load it is that they may walk the better in the way of His commandments. Whatever God may say to us by sickness, when He comes to us as the Lord of healing He says, "I will raise thee up that thou mayst do that which is right in My sight; that thou mayst give ear to My commandments and keep My statutes." Healing means more toil and more burdens and more conflict, and these will continue to the end. But let us remember that God never forgets to give rest along the road, and refreshment at the right places to His faithful ones. Even on earth there will be intervals of sweet rest, though the desert lie on beyond.
(M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water.