Introduction – 1 Corinthians 10
We need to make brief mention of a method of interpretation in use which is based on what Paul teaches in the New Testament. Paul parallels our experience as believers in God through Jesus Christ with the experience of the Old Testament children of Israel and their journey out of Egypt, into the wilderness and eventually to the Promised Land.
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all went through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 But God was not pleased with the majority of them, for they were struck down in the desert. 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we should not be desirers of evil things, just as those also desired them, 7 and not become idolaters, as some of them did, …1 Corinthians 10:1–7a (LEB)
In verse 6, the word “examples” comes from the Greek word tupos (Strong’s #5179) which means a type, pattern or example. The word example is not quite strong enough to convey the reality of what Paul is saying. (Note: I will use the phrase “in type and picture” in this entry) Paul is saying they are exactly like us in their experience leaving Egypt, wandering in the wilderness and coming into the Promised Land.
In summary, we can look at all of their experiences to be instructed on the exact types of problems that we can have in our walk with the Lord. God did us the amazing favor of capturing every prototypical type (i.e. primary example) of problematic behavior possible on our part. This is what we call idolatry where we follow after something more than we follow after God. Our hearts and minds relate to something else in competition with God himself. See 1 Corinthians 10:7b-14 for confirmation that it is idolatry.
Just before we get to Exodus 15, there are some significant events. In type and picture:
- The last plague (Passover) and Deliverance from Egypt represents our salvation where blood is shed to redeem us from this world
- Egypt represents to us the slavery to sin under the rule of the Enemy of God (Satan). In type and picture, Egypt contains all the things of “this world” that can keep us away from God.
- Crossing the Red Sea represents our baptism experiencing the death and resurrection of Christ including the very real defeat of the Enemy of God through the symbolic act of baptism.
Exodus 15:1-21 – Celebration after Salvation & Baptism
This brings us to the Song of Moses (Ex 15:1-19) and celebration of Miriam (Ex 15:20-21) which matches the experience of many believers shortly following salvation when we have a “honeymoon” period with the Lord. In truth, we have been made clean by the blood of Christ and we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful experience and there is rejoicing in our being!
Exodus 15:22-25a – The Lord Our Healer
So, now, delivered from slavery to sin with the defeat of the Enemy. We are free from sin. We’ve been baptized into a new life in Christ. We have reached Marah (which means bitterness). Hmm… That’s interesting. This brings us to our key passage in Exodus:
22 And Moses caused Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went out into the desert of Shur, and they traveled three days in the desert, and they did not find water. 23 And they came to Marah, and they were not able to drink water from Marah because it was bitter. Therefore it was named Marah. 24 And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25a And he cried out to Yahweh, and Yahweh showed him a piece of wood, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.Exodus 15:22-25a (LEB)
This means God healed the bitter waters. He made them sweet.
Here is a commentary on this part of the passage which matched my understanding, but had some additional insight which is worthy of review.
… The message for us is clear: Whatever the bitter obstacles that we encounter in life’s journey we can count on God to transform them, to use/redeem them for good, as God leads us to Elim. When we cry our Marahs out to God, God is able to “sweeten” them, that is, to make them drinkable, to turn them into a resource for the next leg of the journey.
… Our English translations obscure this focus because of the difficulty in translating the verb for Yahweh “showing” or “directing” Moses to a tree/piece of wood. The verb used actually means to instruct or teach. Yahweh instructed/taught Moses a tree. That does not make much sense, but it is important to note because this verb is the root verb of the word “Torah”. Torah means instruction, and it specifically refers to the instruction/law that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai for how the Israelites were to live in covenant with this God who brought them up out of Egypt. We might say that Yahweh “torah-ed” Moses a tree.
Exodus 15:25b-26 – Voice of the Lord
There may seem to be little connection between the bitter waters of Marah being sweetened and the voice of the Lord, but in fact the connection is significant. We are not dealing with a God of logic according to our view of logic and reason. We are dealing with a God who created us and knows how we really work. He knows the right solutions for our problems. He knows how to speak to us to bring healing if we will respond to His speaking (i.e. voice) to each one of us.
25b There he made a rule and regulation for them, and there he tested them. 26 And he said, “If you carefully listen to the voice of Yahweh your God and you do what is right in his eyes and give heed to his commands and you keep all his rules, then I will not bring about on you any of the diseases that I brought about on Egypt, because I am Yahweh your healer.”Exodus 15:25b-26 (LEB)
When the children of Israel encounter bitterness, the solution is found in paying close attention to the voice of the Lord. It is clear that the source of bitterness is from their time in Egypt (i.e. in type, the world). Their past experiences have left memories that are not wiped away by their salvation experience. At this point, God makes a rule and a regulation at this time to connect the children of Israel to His voice for the purpose of a healthy walk in the wilderness. This applies directly to each one of us. The voice of the Lord is crucial to our spiritual health. This is not the written Word of God taken apart from hearing the voice of the Lord. God is prescribing that we need to hear His voice, listen and do what He asks of each of us. This is the path to healing. This will remove all bitterness from our souls and prepare us for the next phase of our walk with the Lord.
We should take note of a few things:
- It should be noted that this is the FIRST interaction after salvation, baptism and celebration of this new life in Christ.
- It should also be noted that the children of Israel grumble to Moses. Moses understands that he is not the solution, God is. He turns and cries out to God for the solution. We (as believers in God through Jesus Christ) have the same access to God. We should reach out to Him directly and not look for a Moses (i.e. a leader). We should go right to God Our Healer.
Exodus 15:27 – Strengthening for the Journey Ahead
27 And they came to Elim, and twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees were there, and they encamped there at the water.Exodus 15:27 (LEB)
Elim means a “grove of trees (oaks or palms)”. It is based on the root word meanings:
- a strong, robust tree
- to strengthen
With our bitterness healed, we move on to a time of strengthening. God brings us to a better place that is very conducive to strengthening and preparing us for the journey ahead.
The twelve springs of water signify that God will administer perfect strengthening in our lives through distributing good nutrition to our being and removing the waste (i.e. junk) from the past.
The seventy palm trees signify that God will provide spiritually perfect provision and protection in a perfectly organized (ordered) way to support our strengthening after the healing which comes from heeding His voice.
Call to Return to the Voice of the Lord
Many have lost touch with the voice of the Lord in their lives. There are many (and various) reasons this can happen. This happens even with very observant Christians who are very disciplined in their christian disciplines of praying, reading the word, attending church, etc. In fact, there is a whole range of experience which could be explored. An analysis of present circumstances across many believers is not the goal. This is just a reminder to learn how to hear and follow the voice of the Lord in your life. Seek Him. Seek to hear His voice and follow Him. Ask Him to help you. He will.
If you are more mature in Christ, then you know to also test what you hear. If you are still growing in Christ and have not learned the need to test or found a toolbox for testing any speaking you believe you have received, then I encourage you to find an older believer who can help you learn how to test what you believe to be the voice of the Lord.
Lastly, if you are a believer who has not recently heard the voice of the Lord or haven’t had much experience interacting directly with the voice of the Lord, then I encourage you with a simple prayer.
Lord, I submit myself into your hands to hear your voice properly for my life and follow your voice. You have said that your sheep hear your voice and you know them and they follow you. Help me to hear your voice and follow you. I give you permission to teach me and to lead me into a walk with you that is based on your written Word (Greek: Logos) and on your spoken Word (Greek: rhema) to me. I trust that you will teach me directly and through others. I thank you and praise you for everything you do for me, including this.– a. layman’s prayer