The Water and Bread of Life
The next stage in Israel’s life begins following the rescue through the sea. Between then and the entry into the Promised Land, Israel is going to be trained and matured in the wilderness. Their life—like ours—is going to be preparation for the life to come.
This section is like a replay of Genesis 2—involving water and food for life. There, the events took place in a garden, but here in a wilderness, but the issues are the same – the real issue is not food and drink, but the kingdom of God and His righteousness. This story is going to play through again when the time of Christ comes, dealing with the same issues but ending in a much better way!
Wilderness time is to train the people of God to walk in faith and obedience, which have their deepest meaning when they take place in adversity. Here Israel feels adversity (lack of water, food) but instead of faith and obedience their response is to grumble. (Grumbling is muttering about God but without talking to God. Crying out in protest to God is what Moses does in this section, which is the better way.)
There is an interesting feature in both the provision of fresh water (in abundance!) and food (in abundance and regularity!!) that we might overlook. The provision of both is explicitly called a test(15:25, 16:4) as to what is in the people ‘s hearts; will they walk in the law of God or not. Will they trust and obey? This is real food, this is real drink—to do the will of our saving God.
The sweetening of the water in 15:22ff when the LORD directs Moses to throw a log (or tree?) into the bitter waters at Marah goes right to the heart of this. The word for the LORD “directed” Moses is directly related to a key word in Hebrew, “torah.” Life was bitter in Egypt under Pharaoh’s draconian rule. The rule of the LORD will be freedom and rest for Israel (note the Sabbath provision at the giving of the manna.) Egypt’s oppressive law led to the judgment of Egypt by “diseases” (the plagues). The law of God to Israel, carefully followed, keeps them from judgment. The torah is God’s good wisdom for a healthy, just, blessed society.
And what sweetens the whole thing? A tree. Finally, when the true Moses comes, Jesus Christ, he will throw a tree into the midst of all the bitterness that has come from human sin. In his sacrificial obedience unto death, even death on the wooden beams of a cross, Jesus takes the bitterness of our sin into himself, all with the purpose of releasing us into the sweetness of his own being in the blessedness of God the Father. By his wounds we are healed. And what is this sweetness, this blessedness? That we delight to do the Father’s will.