- Sermon Notes
Turning Bitter to Sweet
May 14 -15, 2022
At this point in Exodus, Israel has been set free from oppression and slavery, God had split the red sea, they walked through on dry land and the Egyptian army was destroyed. Because of this, they sang a song of joy to the Lord. Now, the journey continues.
In chapter 15, God led Israel three days journey beyond the Sea into the wilderness. They were distressed because they found no water. They came to a place called Marah where they did find water, but the water was bitter; it was salty or brackish.
Here Israel was to learn important spiritual lessons and there are many lessons for us to learn as well. They are now traveling through the desert, and they are faced with the question, “How are we to survive? What will we drink? How will we live?” It’s a question of faith for them and for us.
The problem was in how they responded. They grumbled against Moses. How you respond when you encounter bitter things has everything to do with your faith.
I. Don’t Let Bitter Things Make You Bitter
- Israel was beginning a forty-year journey and must learn to trust God along the way.
- Bitter things happen in life. The question is – how will you respond?
- The Israelites crossed the sea. There was no going back to Egypt to get water. God demonstrated His power and destroyed the Egyptian army, but it also created a “burn the ships” moment. They must go forward, they could not go back.
- That also meant they could not go back for provisions. They would have to trust God along the way.
- They were in the desert and were thirsty. They saw water up ahead and everyone’s hopes were lifted. That is, until they drank the water and found it was bitter.
- They respond by grumbling against the Lord. Not just asking, “What shall we drink?” But grumbling. Complaining. Becoming bitter.
- The attitude of the Israelites amazes me. It speaks of a sense of entitlement. Instead of coming before God with humility, acknowledging him as their source for everything in the desert, asking for His grace in the situation, they start grumbling as if God owes them something.
- It is easy to look at this story in retrospect and judge the Israelites, but is this not the same attitude we see in some people today? We are living in the desert land of this world day by day. Our only hope is the graciousness, kindness, and goodness of God on which we rely. He does not owe us anything. Yet, many times when things don’t go people’s way, they have the audacity to shake their fists at God, as if saying, ‘God, do better!’
- This can even escalate to getting bitter because of bitter times.
Illus – In the book of Ruth, Naomi and her husband encountered hard times in Israel, so they moved to Moab with their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, whose names meant sickness and wasting away. Times have to be bad to name your sons ‘sickly’ and ‘wasting away.’
In Moab, her husband died and then her two sons also died. She returned to Israel with Ruth, the Moabite wife of her son, Mahlon. When her friends see her returning, they say, “Is that Naomi?” ( Which means ‘my delight’) She responds, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Lord has dealt bitterly with me.”
- Bitter things made her bitter. Bitterness became her story. It defined her. She gave over to a victim mentality.
- But God wasn’t finished with her story and God isn’t finished with your story either. Don’t let bitter things make you bitter.
A. God teaches faith along the way
- The Israelites had lived as slaves for hundreds of years and didn’t know how to live as men who were free; and they most certainly did not yet understand how to live by faith.
- They needed a new way to live. God will give them statutes and principles and wisdom, but they must learn to trust that God’s way is right and best.
- We also need to learn to live as free people. We were not called to freedom to sin, but to live a life of spiritual victory.
- God gives us the wisdom and principles of His Word as well and wants us to trust that His way is right and good and best for our lives.
Illus.- Turn the other cheek? What do I do if he strikes me of both cheeks? Forgive? Be gracious? Be patient?
- The same is true of Christians in the sense that when many come out of the world, they don’t yet know what it means to walk in the ways of the Lord.
- God wasn’t just taking them out of Egypt; He was also bringing them into something. In other words, God doesn’t just take us out of the world; he brings us into a life of faith.
- The wilderness becomes a school of discipleship. God is in the process of taking Egypt out of us.
Psalm 25:8-13, The Lord instructs sinners in the way, He leads the humble in justice and teaches them His way. All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth…Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose and his soul will abide in prosperity.
B. Salty water makes you more thirsty
- They were three days into the wilderness beyond the Sea and someone saw water. You can imagine the clamoring as they rush to get their first drink, but they immediately spit it out; the water is bitter.
- There could have been a bitter root growing near the edge, more than likely however, the water was salty, or brackish.
- There’s a reason you must not drink salty water. It will make you sick. Instead of quenching your thirst, you actually become more dehydrated.
Illus. – if someone is lost at sea with no fresh water, their thirst tempts them to drink the sea water. Drinking salt water, or sea water, will actually cause a person to die of dehydration. The more you drink, the more dehydrated you get. What a powerful picture of worldliness.
App – There are many things in this world that people think will satisfy but have the opposite effect; the world leaves the soul empty and unsatisfied and even more thirsty. They’re looking for love in all the wrong places and then say, “I’m worse off than when I started.”
- But if we drink of the consequences of wrong decisions, they are bitter for a reason; so that we long for water that is sweet.
Illus. – When the prodigal son had received his inheritance early, he spent it all on worldly living. But there came a time when he was lonely, hungry, and empty. He came to a place where he saw that it was better to go back to his father.
Luke 15:17-18, “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father…’”
C. Don’t grumble; watch for what God is doing
- When the Israelites passed through the Sea they were overjoyed at the powerful, miraculous hand of God, but something changed in three short days.
- On day one they were dancing and singing, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”
- On day two the kids started saying, “Are we there yet?” Now they are singing with slumped shoulders.
- On day three they are murmuring against God.
- God did not bring them to Marah to make them bitter; He was showing them the bitterness that was already in their hearts.
App – The situation doesn’t make you bitter, it shows you what is already there.
Illus. – When Jesus was being nailed to the cross, He didn’t say, “You’ll pay for this! When you stand before the judgment seat of God, you’ll regret what you did to Me!! No, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He didn’t speak bitter words because he didn’t have bitterness in his heart.
- The heart is the key.
Luke 6:45, “The good man out of the good treasures of his heart brings forth what is good and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil. The mouth speaks from that which fills the heart.
- Hard times reveals the heart. God sometimes allow us to experience pressure so the truth will pop out.
Illus. – It is easy to friendly with those who are friendly towards you, but it is much more difficult to be friendly with those who are not friendly towards you.
- The question is, how to get good treasure into the heart so the heart is good?
Psalm 119:11, Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.
II. God Can Turn Bitter Water Sweet
- When the Israelites murmured and grumbled to Moses, he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet.
- There is a powerful lesson about changing that which is bitter into that which is sweet.
A. Will you trust the Lord?
- God let them be thirsty, that He might teach them to trust. He answered their thirst, but He also gave them a statute and a promise.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry; and fed you with manna… that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
- When Moses cried out to God, God showed him a tree and told him to throw it into the water.
- It wasn’t the tree, it was God who gave it the power to heal the water.
- This a picture of the cross of Jesus Christ. That which he did on the tree of Calvary is the remedy we need to throw into the midst of the bitter things that happen to us.
1 Peter 2:24, He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed.
Galatians 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”
- God has provided what we need so our hearts are no longer bitter and we learn to trust God.
Romans 8:31-32, What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
- He gives them a principle and gives them a promise.
B. He is Jehovah Rapha; the God who heals
- God showed Moses the provision of the tree that made the bitter water sweet.
- He also gave them a statute and a promise. God answers troubles with a promise.
- They learned that God is Jehovah Rapha; the LORD our healer.
- God reveals Himself by His names and he has revealed something that they must always remember — that God is the source of healing and there is no other.
Illus. – You can learn the names of God on flash cards. How much better to learn the names by experiencing the power of each of God’s names.
- God gave them a statute, a principle, to guide their lives. If they would give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord, then none of the diseases of the Egyptians would be upon them.
Illus. – When the Jews followed the laws given to them by God they were kept from many diseases. They had laws about sanitation and what not to eat, about handling dead bodies, etc.
For example, Jews were forbidden to eat rats, snakes and roaches. The countries of early Europe thought the Jews were responsible for the plagues because they didn’t become infected, yet they were just living by God’s laws.
- But is this not also true spiritually? Does it not heal us to forgive those who hurt us? If we have a thankful and joyful spirit does not that keep us from many troubles?
- They then came to a to a place called Elim where there were twelve springs and seventy date palms.
- God didn’t want them to camp at Marah; they just passed Marah on their way to Elim.
Psalm 84:5-7, How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca (weeping), they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength.
- He wanted them to learn that they needed to get the bitterness of Egypt out of their hearts and move on to camp at the place of blessing.
- Do not let bitter things make you bitter. Do not get stuck at Mara. Move on to blessing.
- Do not let it paralyze you and define you. Allow God to grow your faith through it.
- It too shall pass.