Blessing in the Bitterness

In an earlier message, I told the story of Hagar, a woman turned out by Abraham to wander in the wilderness. She would have surely died, but God intervened and blessed her. Many of you responded about your "Hagar experiences" at the hand of jealous and cruel people--people you've learned to forgive anyhow.

Now, let's look at a wilderness experience that is planned by God...a "passing through" place always scheduled on our itineraries when going from one level of blessing to another, from glory to glory.

God is like Price Line and some of these newer travel sites: you get the greatest benefit when you let Him arrange your schedule and stops. If you bypass the wilderness, your cost goes up!

The Israelites, fresh out of Egypt, embarked on their destination to the Promise Land (Exodus 15). It was only a 240 mile journey across the wilderness, but because the purpose of the wilderness was never embraced by most of them, it took over forty years to complete a journey that would have taken them only eleven days from Kadesh-Barnea.

Interestingly, our Father always maps out the quickest, direct route. The wilderness was never meant to be a place in which God's people delay or dwell, although many have wandered in circles and even perished there!

The wilderness is a place of testing…not for God to discover what you're made of (remember, He's omniscient), but for you to see what comes to the surface--alloys (mixtures) that compromise and dull the gold.

Each new level of blessing, every new place and assignment from God, will have an unfamiliar set of challenges from the enemy and increased responsibilities from God. The wilderness is not a season of punishment if God sends you through's a place of preparation.

After the great victory at the Red Sea, the camp wandered for three days without finding water. Three days is the maximum time the human body can go without water in the desert. Have you ever been on a mountain top experience to only plummet to the depths of despair a few days later? You're not alone!

It's during these times that we must learn an important truth: Moses was acquainted with God's ways, but the people with God's acts. (Psalm 103:7)

Knowing God's ways means that you do not need proof to trust; knowing His acts, however, means that your trust is based only on the last thing He pulled you through.

God led them to springs of water that appeared cool and refreshing. They ran to their answered prayer and fell down to drink, only to quickly spit out the bitter, oily liquid. Unable to believe a good God would do this to them, loud cries and complaints soon swelled among the disappointed souls.

You can still find those springs today along the shore to the Gulf of Suez. The late Jamie Buckingham, noted Christian author, took several trips through the desert while tracing the Exodus Route. He wrote of his fascinating experiences in A Way Through The Wilderness.

Even now, the water is heavily laced with calcium and magnesium. The high mineral content makes the water extremely bitter. In fact, Buckingham's guide told him that the Bedouins have a saying: "One spoonful and you go for a week"!

No wonder the Israelites named the place "Marrah", meaning bitter.

In Matthew 7, Jesus teaches us to employ the principles of "ask, seek, and knock" when praying. In the Greek, the verbs denotes continuous action; clearly then, we are to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking.

Jesus assures us that even though the answer may be delayed, if an imperfect man will neither give his son a serpent if he asks for a fish nor a stone if he asks for bread, then we can trust our flawless Heavenly Father to only give us good things.

So how in the world were the bitter waters of Marrah a loving gift to the people who were already at the dangerous point of dehydration? Perhaps you've figured it out. The waters had strong laxative properties.

You see, the Israelites were "constipated"…maybe not literally, but 400 years of living in Egypt--even as slaves--had adapted them and their families to the ways of Egypt. In this case, God knew that down the road they would have to depend on Him totally for sustenance. On his menu was Manna (Heavenly food), but they were used to Egyptian (worldly) food. God needed to first purge their systems!

However, their cry was so great that God finally told Moses to cast in a tree to make the waters sweet. Buckingham observes that all such bitter pools in the region have nearby trees used by the locals for the same purpose. By breaking the limbs to release the sap as they're tossed into the water, the chemical reaction causes the minerals to move to the bottom. What's left is sweet water.

Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, didn't want to drink from "the bitter cup" either and asked that if possible, it pass from Him. Nevertheless, He prayed, "not My will, but Thine."

You see, if the Israelites had first taken their medicine, then God would not have abandoned them to their need for clean water. The casting of the tree would have followed in its proper time. How many times, due to our grumbling and complaining, does God give in to our demands?

Not long after the Marrah incident, the people began to covet what they had in Egypt: "the flesh pots and bread, which we ate to the full" (Ex. 16:3). God granted their desire by having millions of quails fly directly to their camp! 

However, the second time they asked for quail was AFTER the divine provision of Manna from which they quickly tired, whining once again for the "fish, which we did eat freely in Egypt; the cucumbers, the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic…" (Numbers 11)

This time, they had tasted the goodness of God and ate miraculously and faithfully, day after day; yet, God's people were still as dissatisfied as they were at Marrah. The taste for Egypt lingered, and was preferred over God's fare.

So God once again sent quail--lots of it--tons of it! The lusting people grabbed the birds and began to tear into the flesh with their teeth, but they dropped dead before they could swallow the meat.

Thousands upon thousands died that day. The people who remained named the place "Kibroth-Hattaavah" or graves of lusting. Interestingly, archeologists in this region have found thousands of human remains in shallow, quickly dug graves.

God knew all along that once He got His people out of Egypt, the real battle would begin to get Egypt out of His people. Nothing has changed. Leaving Egypt on foot is easy; renewing the Egyptian mind and crucifying its flesh is not.

If God's people had surrendered at the bitter waters rather than resisted, many lives would have been spared. We, too, do not have to end up on the casualty list because of prolonged, stubborn disobedience.

If you ask for good and get the bitter, realize there is a tree (Calvary) that will make it sweet in time. For now, there is a life-saving purpose for the bitter! Something needs to come out of you that is opposed to God's best and if left unaddressed, will hinder you on your journey to His promises. Therefore, the bitter is really a blessing in disguise!

Read on a little further in Exodus, and you'll see that after Marrah, God led them to Elim--a place of 12 clear, sweet and refreshing springs and 70 palm trees.

Beloved, after every Marrah there is assuredly an Elim!

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