Monday, May 14, 2012

When God Leads You to a Bitter Place

The concept that for God's child, there is no aimless wandering even when she can't see the path is both comforting and disconcerting at the same time.  It's comforting in the sense that even if I feel lost, am blinded by the storm, and have no sense of my bearings, I can feel at peace knowing God knows exactly where I am and where He is guiding me towards.

Yet, this theology is also disconcerting in those moments when I am not leading myself astray through sin but when I am wholeheartedly seeking to walk the straight and narrow only to see everything fall apart.  It is then that I stop and lift my head in confusion.  

"God, did you lead me hereReally!?  Here!?"

Last week in this space, we contemplated how God led the Israelites in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night in order to show that His presence, always leading, guiding and protecting His children.  Such Scriptures serve as a reminder to us modern-day Christians that even when we feel as if we're wandering with no clear direction, God is leading us with His presence.

And yet, that path, though clear, may be anything but smooth.

Such was the case with the Israelites, fresh on the road to freedom away from Egypt and long before they incited God to slap a forty-year-curse on the whole lot of them.

In the beginning, it was obvious they were on a God-ordained path.  If any doubted, all he had to do was look back three days in the rear-view mirror to see a picture of the Red Sea miraculously sweeping to the left and right so the whole lot of them could cross over on the dry riverbed before God slammed that corridor shut, drowning Pharaoh and his army.  

If that memory wasn't enough to convince their steps were Holy-led, day or night, all they had to do was look up and see Him in cloud or fire.

And yet, that God-paved path was anything but smooth.

Three days into their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were without water, which in a dry and barren wilderness was a sure recipe for death.  And so, God rolled out the red carpet directly to a place called Marah where there was water, but "When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah" (Ex. 15:23).

I can imagine them dreaming of water at night.  Maybe in the haze of heat shimmering on sand, someone had imagined he saw the shimmer of water ahead and cried wolf several times before so that everyone no longer trusted his eyes.  Then, that mirage kept growing larger and larger until someone realized this time, it really was water.

In that instant of God's promised protection turned reality, I imagine he praised the I AM aloud as he took off running right into the flood, almost giddy as the liquid splashed his feet and thighs, covering him with cool relief as he threw handfulls of water heavenward.

And then in the midst of that relief and joy, he actually tasted that water. It was undrinkable.  Was this some kind of cruel joke!?  What kind of God would lead His people to water they couldn't drink?

If they were wandering aimlessly, this would seem like pretty bad luck.  But this was God-directed.  God intentionally led the group to a place where the water was too bitter to drink. 

I am 100% certain this is not how the Israelites expected God to meet their need.  And yet, I'm equally certain this is exactly how God intended to meet their need.

There, at Marah, God instructed Moses: "the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet" (Ex. 15:25).  Moses cut down the tree and threw it into the water--instant healing.  In the next verse, God continues this healing theme, instructing the people that they are being tested to follow His commands so that "I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer" (v. 26).

God had healed the waters' bitterness.  But this people were already deathly ill with a bitter malady only "the Lord...your healer" could cure--that deadly cancer of sin. 

God had listened to three days worth of the people's sinful hearts in their constant bitter grumbling, as bitter as the waters they spat from their mouths in complaint.  

They needed a healer, one who would offer Himself to be "cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due" (Is. 53:8).

Yes, they needed a Savior, a Messiah who would give His body to be cut down just like this tree so that He could soak up all the bitterness and judgment of sin's curse in their lives and heal their immortal souls.

When we are in the center of His will and find ourselves in a bitter place like Marah where we sink to our knees and wonder why God has led us here, the answer could be that He is refining us as silver or testing us.  It could also be that He is showing us once again our complete need for a Savior.

Either way, God's pot-hole-filled path has a purpose.  And in the midst of it all, He is right there with us, working it all together for our good.

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