22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.
Tree=Miracle or Medicine? Both?
Marah (mahʹrah; Heb., ‘bitterness’), the unpalatably bitter pools of water (whence the name) reached by the Israelites after they crossed the Red Sea and entered the Wilderness of Shur (Exod. 15:22; the Wilderness of Etham according to Num. 33:8). Thirsty and angry, the Israelites slandered Moses who, upon God’s orders, turned the waters sweet by throwing wood into the brackish pools.Occurring so soon after the great miracle at the Red Sea, this incident not only gave evidence of Israel’s tendency to doubt God (Exod. 15:24), but God’s own propensity to test his chosen people (v. 25). Despite the many locations proposed as the site of Marah, none has gained the complete confidence of scholars; as a result, the location remains in doubt.
The waters of Marah and Elim
The Desert of Shur is barren and sandy. When they get to Marah (meaning ‘bitter’—like myrrh), they find the water unpleasant. Marah may have been today’s Ain Hawarah, which has an artesian well tainted by mineral salts.
The people grumble. The joy of freedom evaporates in the heat of hardship. This is the first of many occasions when they blame Moses for their troubles. Moses, in despair, cries out to God.
The Lord ‘shows’ Moses a piece of wood. Moses throws the wood in the water and it becomes sweet. The Hebrew word for ‘show’ is ‘torah’. It means ‘instruction’—the way to something good. It will be used for the ‘Torah’, the law of God, which the psalmist will describe as ‘sweeter than honey’ (Psalm 119:103).
The wood may have been a shrub such as a barberry bush, which would have a strong enough flavour to make the water drinkable. The Lord reveals himself as One who can give his people a healthy life, if they follow his way.
The Israelites move on some seven miles to Elim, which means ‘terebinths’ or ‘oak trees’. This could have been the modern Wadi Gharandel, which is a more comfortable oasis. These places are hard to trace, because the names have been changed so often by nomads passing through.
The Cross Healed the Bitter Waters of Our Lives
There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, 26 and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”
heed the voice (listen)
do right (act)
give ear to commandments (know the law)
keep statutes (obey the law)
distinct from the heathens
Jehovah-Rophe: I am the Lord who heals you
Psalm 103:1–5 (NKJV)
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
3 Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
4 Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
What He has done before, He will do again!