Week of of Jan. 29: God presence is unfailing, even in the most bitter places


Scripture:  Exodus 15: 1-3, 19, 22-26
Background scripture: Exodus 1: 8-14; 15: 1-27
     Time brings changes to a society and these changes affect people politically, socially and economically.  So it was with the Hebrew people in Egypt when there was a pharaoh “who knew not Joseph.”
     There was great fear in Egypt about the growing numbers of resident aliens within their country.  This fear had political, economic and military overtones.  The strategy conceived by the leaders was to limit the number of people by killing the male babies and to use the rest for slave labor.
     It is in this setting that the story of Moses unfolds.  The focus of this lesson is on Moses’ leadership and how he was trusted by the Hebrew people.  The fascinating account of his birth, his placement in Pharaoh’s household, and the events that unfolded to bring him to leadership are beyond the scope of this lesson. Chapters 1-15 of the Book of Exodus relate it in detail.  Cecil B. DeMille brought it to the screen – with a few extras thrown in!
     In all of this quarter’s lessons, there is the dynamic at work of God’s faithfulness and the response of faith by spiritual leaders like Moses. The Song of Moses, verses 1-18 (regrettably only 1-3 are included in this lesson), is a poem of praise to God for his wonderful actions on behalf of the Hebrew people at the Red Sea.  These verses illustrate how Hebrew poetry is different.  Each verse of the Song is a couplet—or even pairs of couplets.  An idea is stated in the first line and then repeated in a different way in a deeper, more profound way in the next line.
     The first emphasis is upon God’s action to defeat Pharaoh’s army and bring the people safely across into the wilderness.  This moment is the cause for great celebration.  Most scholars believe that Miriam’s song in verse 21 is among the oldest written portions of the Old Testament and may even go back to the event itself:
     Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously!
     The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! (Exodus 15:21)
     The second emphasis is where Moses claims the strength of God as his own.  The assurance of God’s constant love and faithfulness brings about the third emphasis – a confidence about the future that cannot be destroyed no matter what happens!  This assurance is far more than cock-eyed optimism.  Its foundation rests upon the very nature of God.  Moses will need this confidence in God as he leads his people from the sea into the wilderness.
     Having spent 40 years tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro before encountering God at Sinai and returning to Egypt, Moses knew where water could be found – at least he thought he knew!  When they arrive at the oasis, the water is undrinkable – bitter!  Yes, this was a bitter moment for them.  And the grumbling begins.  How fast they forgot what God had done for them.  “What have you done for me today?” becomes THE question. 
     The grumbling is not just a negative expression of feelings – it is a rebellion against God.  As the Hebrews left Egypt many thought their troubles were over.  Often when we trust God, we do not evade or escape the difficulties life brings.  The troubles still come and, when they do, we ask: “Why did this happen to me?”  Believers do not have an insurance policy from God protecting us from life’s pains.  We do have, however, God’s assurance of His providential care through them.  As the hymn says:
     When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
     The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow:
     For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless,
     And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
     Moses went and talked it over with God – that’s what prayer is, after all!  God answers his prayer.  He gives him a piece of wood and the water is changed.  Did the wood have scientific properties to filter out the bitterness or is there a deeper message of faith?   For Moses, the event reinforced his trust in God’s providential care.  God also wanted his people to remember and show faith through their obedience.  The hymn “Trust and Obey” focuses on this primary relationship we have with God—faith is not only something we have, but something we do!
     Our good friend Sammy Clark taught us some holy geography which is relevant here:  We, like the Hebrew people, move from Egypt (bondage to sin), through the Red Sea (baptism), to journey in the wilderness (everyday living), crossing the Jordan River (death), and into the Promised Land (heaven)!
     The experience at the oasis of Marah is such a “holy geography!”  Marah is a place on the life-map for all human beings.   Any circumstance or event or experience can be your Marah!  Illness, financial setback, broken or estranged relationships—all are bitter places to be.  As Maxie Dunham says: “Marah is any place you have come that you don’t want to be.”  If you haven’t had such an experience, just wait!  You will and you may ask, like the Psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?”
     But there is more—God is there!  We are not left desolate or alone.  In fact, God led the Hebrew people to Marah.  Whoa!!  Does that mean God causes everything to happen?  Here is one of the imponderable questions about the providence of God.  Somewhere between God’s absolute causation and the random chaos in life is our trust:  “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).  Whether or not God brings us to Marah or not, He will meet us there.  His promise is that he will heal us—from all the hurts life brings. (Exodus 15:26)