THE JOURNEY FROM THE RED SEA TO ELIM. After a stay, which cannot be exactly measured, but which was probably one of some days, near the point of the Eastern coast of the Gulf of Suez, at which they had emerged from the sea-bed, the Israelites, under the guidance of the pillar of the cloud, resumed their journey, and were conducted southwards, or south-eastwards, through the arid tract, called indifferently "the wilderness of Shut" (Exodus 15:22), and "the wilderness of Etham" (Numbers 33:8), to a place called Marah. It is generally supposed that the first halt must have been at Ayun Musa, or "the springs of Moses." This is "the only green spot near the passage over the Red Sea" (Cook). It possesses at present seventeen wells, and is an oasis of grass and tamarisk in the midst of a sandy desert. When Wellsted visited it in 1836, there were abundant palm-trees. It does not lie on the shore, but at the distance of about a mile and a half from the beach, with which it was at one time connected by an aqueduct, built for the convenience of the ships, which here took in their water. The water is regarded as good and wholesome, though dark-coloured and somewhat brackish. From Ayun Musa the Israelites pursued their way in a direction a little east of south through a barren plain where sand-storms are frequent—part of the wilderness of Shur—for three days without finding water. Here their flocks and herds must have suffered greatly, and many of the animals probably died on the journey. On the last of the three days water was found at a spot called thenceforth "Marah," "bitterness," because the liquid was undrinkable. After the miracle related in Exodus 15:25, and an encampment by the side of the sweetened spring (Numbers 33:8), they proceeded onward without much change of direction to Elim, where was abundance of good water and a grove of seventy palm-trees. Here "they encamped by the waters," and were allowed a rest, which probably exceeded a fortnight (See the comment on Exodus 16:1.)
So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea. There is no such connection between this verse and the preceding narrative as the word "so" expresses. Translate "And Moses brought." The wilderness of Shur, called also that of Etham (Numbers 33:1-56.8) appears to have extended from Lake Serbonis on the north, across the isthmus, to the Red Sea, and along its eastern shores as far as the Wady Ghurundel. It is almost wholly waterless; and towards the south, such wells as exist yield a water that is bitter in the extreme. Three days. The distance from Ayun Musa to Ain Howarah, the supposed representative of Marah, is not more than about 36 miles; but the day's march of so large a multitude through the desert may not have averaged more than twelve miles. And found no water. No doubt the Israelites carried with them upon the backs of their asses water in skins, sufficient for their earn wants during such an interval; but they can scarcely have carried enough for their cattle. These must have suffered greatly.
And when they came to Marah. It is not clear whether the place already bore the name on the arrival of the Israelites, or only received it from them. Marah would mean "bitter" in Arabic no less than in Hebrew. The identification of Marah with the present Ain Howarah, in which most modem writers acquiesce, is uncertain from the fact that there are several bitter springs in the vicinity—one of them even bitterer than Howarah. We may, however, feel confident that the bitter waters of which the Israelites "would not drink" were in this neighbourhood, a little north of the Wady Ghurundel.
And the people murmured against Moses. As they had already done on the western shores of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11, Exodus 14:12), and as they were about to do so often before their wanderings were over. (See below, Exodus 16:2; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:2; Numbers 16:41; Deuteronomy 1:27, etc.) "Murmuring" was the common mode in which they vented their spleen, when anything went ill with them; and as Moses had persuaded them to quit Egypt, the murmuring was chiefly against him. The men who serve a nation best are during their lifetime least appreciated. What shall we drink? Few disappointments are harder to bear than that of the man, who after long hours of thirst thinks that he has obtained wherewith to quench his intolerable longing, and on raising the cup to his lips, finds the draught so nauseous that he cannot swallow it. Very unpalatable water is swallowed when the thirst is great. But there is a limit beyond which nature will not go. There "may be water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink."
Exodus 15:25, Exodus 15:26
The Lord shewed him a tree.—Several trees or plants belonging to different parts of the world, are said to possess the quality of rendering bitter water sweet and agreeable; as the nellimaram of Coromandel, the sassafras of Florida, the yerva Caniani of Peru, and the perru nelli (Phylanthus emblica) of India. But none of them is found in the Sinaitic. peninsula. Burckhardt suggested that the berries of the ghurkud (Peganum retusum), a low thorny shrub which grows abundantly round the Ain Howarah, may have been used by Moses to sweeten the drink; but there are three objections to this.
1. Moses is not said to have used the berries, but the entire plant;
2. The berries would not have been procurable in April, since they do not ripen till June; and
3. They would not have produced any such effect on the water as Burckhardt imagined. In fact there is no tree or shrub now growing in the Sinaitic peninsula, which would have any sensible effect on such water as that of Ain Howarah; and the Bedouins of the neighbourhood know of no means by which it can be made drinkable. Many of the Fathers believed that the "tree" had no natural effect, and was commanded to be thrown in merely to symbolise the purifying power of the Cross of Christ. But to moderns such a view appears to savour of mysticism. It is perhaps most probable that there was some tree or shrub in the vicinity of the bitter fountain in Moses' time which had a natural purifying and sweetening power, but that it has now become extinct. If this be the case, the miracle consisted in God's pointing out the tree to Moses, who had no previous knowledge of it. The waters were made sweet. Compare the miracle of Elisha (2 Kings 2:19-22). There he made for them a statute and an ordinance. See the next verse. God, it appears, after healing the water, and satisfying the physical thirst of his people, gave them an ordinance, which he connected by a promise with the miracle. If they would henceforth render strict obedience to all his commandments, then he would "heal" them as he had healed the water, would keep them free at once from physical and from moral evil, from the diseases of Egypt, and the diseases of their own hearts. And there he proved them. From the moment of their quitting Egypt to that of their entering Canaan, God was ever "proving" his people—trying them, that is—exercising their faith, and patience and obedience and power of self-denial, in order to fit them for the position which they were to occupy in Canaan. He had proved them at the Red Sea, when he let them be shut in between the water and the host of the Egyptians—he proved them now at Marah by a bitter disappointment—he proved them again at Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7); at Sinai (Exodus 20:20); at Taberah (Numbers 11:1-3); at Kibroth-hattaavah (Numbers 11:34); at Kadesh (Numbers 13:26-33), and elsewhere. For forty years he led them through the wilderness" to prove them, to know what was in their heart" (Deuteronomy 8:1-20.), to fit them for their glorious and conquering career in the land of promise All these diseases. See Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:27. Kalisch correctly observes that, though the Egyptians had the character in antiquity of being among the healthiest and most robust of nations (Herod. 2.77), yet a certain small number of diseases have always raged among them with extreme severity He understands the present passage of the plagues, which, however, are certainly nowhere else called "diseases." There is no reason why the word should not be taken literally, as all take it in the passages of Deuteronomy above cited.
They came to Elim. Elim was undoubtedly some spot in the comparatively fertile tract which lies south of the "wilderness of Shur," intervening between it and the "wilderness of Sin"—now E1 Murkha. This tract contains the three fertile wadys of Ghurundel, Useit, and Tayibeh, each of which is regarded by some writers as the true Elim. It has many springs of water, abundant tamarisks, and a certain number of palm-trees. On the whole, Ghurundel seems to be accepted by the majority of well-informed writers as having the best claim to be considered the Elhn of this passage Twelve wells. Rather "springs." The "twelve springs" have not been identified; but the Arabs are apt to conceal the sources of their water supplies. A large stream flows down the Wady Ghurundel in the winter-time (ibid.), which later becomes a small brook, and dries up altogether in the autumn. The pasture is good at most seasons, sometimes rich and luxuriant; there are abundant tamarisks, a considerable number of acacias, and. some palms. Three score and ten palm trees. The palm-trees of this part of Arabia are "not like those of Egypt or of pictures, but either dwarf—that is, truntdess—or else with savage hairy trunks, and branches all dishevelled". There are a considerable number in the Wady Ghurundel, and others in the Wady Tayibeh. They encamped there. It has been observed that the vast numbers of the host would more than fill the Wady Ghurundel, and that while the main body encamped there, others, with their cattle, probably occupied the adjacent wadys—Useit, Ethal, and even Tayibeh or Shuweikah—which all offer good pasturage
The trials and vicissitudes of life.
Israel in the wilderness is a type of our pilgrimage through life.
I. MONOTONY. The long weary sameness of days each exactly resembling the last (Exodus 15:22)—the desert all around us—and no water! No refreshing draughts from that living spring, which becomes in them that drink it "a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). Israel was afflicted by want of earthly water for three days. Many poor pilgrims through the wilderness of life are debarred the spiritual draughts of which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman for twenty, thirty, forty years] Debarred, it may be, by no fault of their own, born in heathenism, bred up in heathenism, uneducated in what it most concerns a man to know. How sad their condition! How thankful those should be who may draw of the water of life freely
(a) from the written word;
(b) from the Living and Eternal Word who has said—"if any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink!"
II. DISAPPOINTMENT. Hopes long cherished seem about, at last, to be satisfied. The long sought for treasure—of whatever kind it may be—is announced as found. Now we are about to enjoy ourselves, to take our fill of the delight long denied us. Alas! the dainty morsel as we taste it proves to be—
"As Dead Sea fruit, which, fair to view,
Yet turns to ashes on the lips."
The delicious draught, as we expected it to be, is "Marah," "bitterness." Most of life is to most men made up of such disappointments. Men crave happiness, and expect it here, and seek it through some earthly, some temporal means—wealth, or power, or fame, or a peaceful domestic life, or social success, or literary eminence—and no sooner do they obtain their desire, and hold it in their grasp, than they find its savour gone—its taste so bitter that they do not care to drink. Then, how often do they turn to vent the anguish of their heart on some quite innocent person, who, they say, has led them wrong! Their disappointment should take them with humbled spirits to God. It actually takes them with furious words to the presence of some man, whom it is a relief to them to load with abuse and obloquy. They imitate the Israelites, not Moses—they murmur, instead of crying to the Almighty.
III. UNEXPECTED RELIEF. God can turn bitter to sweet. Often, out of the bitter agony of disappointment God makes gladness to arise. Sometimes, as in the miracle of Marah, he reverses the disappointment itself, turning defeat into victory, giving us the gratification of the desire which had been baulked of fruition. But more often he relieves by compensating. He gives something unexpected instead of the expected joy which he has withheld, lie makes a temporal evil work for our spiritual good. He takes away the sting from worldly loss, by pouring into our hearts the spirit of contentment. lie causes ill-success to wean us from the world and fix our thoughts on him.
IV. A TIME OF REFRESHMENT. Marah led to Elim. If there are times of severe trial in life, there are also "times of refreshing from the Lord" (Acts 3:19)—times of enjoyment—even times of mirth (Ecclesiastes 3:4; Psalms 126:2). But lately toiling wearily through an arid wilderness, only to reach waters of bitterness, on a sudden the Israelites found themselves amid groves of palms, stretched themselves at length on the soft herbage under the shadow of tall trees, and listened to the breeze sighing through the acacias, or to the murmur of the babbling rill which flowed from the "twelve springs" adown the dale. 'Encamped there by the waters" (Exodus 15:27) they were allowed to rest for a while, secure from foes, screened from the heat, their eyes charmed by the verdure, their ears soothed by gentle sounds, their every sense lapped in soft enjoyment by the charms of a scene which, after the wilderness, must have appeared "altogether lovely." And so it is in our lives. God does give us, even here in this world, seasons of repose, of satisfaction, of calm content. It were ingratitude in us not to accept with thankfulness such occasions when they arise, lie knows what is best for us; and if he appoints us an Elim, we were churlish to withdraw ourselves from it. The Church has its festivals. Christ attended more than one banquet. "Times of refreshing" are to be received joyously, gratefully, as "coming from the Lord," and designed by him to support, strengthen, comfort us. They are, as it were, glimpses into the future life.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Marah and Ellim.
"So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, anti they went out into the wilderness of Shur," etc. The main topics here are—
I. THE SWEET FOLLOWED BY THE BITTER. Singing these songs of triumph, and praising God with timbrel and dance, on the further shores of the Red Sea, the Israelites may have felt as if nothing remained to them but to sing and dance the rest of their way to Canaan. They would regard their trials as practically at an end. It would be with regret that they broke up their pleasant encampment at the Red Sea at all. Their thought would be, "It is good for us to be here, let us make here tabernacles" (cf. Matthew 17:4). But this was not to be permitted. The old call comes—"Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward" (Exodus 14:15), and the halcyon days of their first great exuberant joy are over. Their celebration of triumph is soon to be followed by sharp experience of privation.
1. The Israelites were conducted by the wilderness of Shur. There they went three days without water. God might, as afterwards at Rephidim (Exodus 17:6), have given them water; but it was his will that they should taste the painfulness of the way. This is not an uncommon experience. Every life has its arid, waterless stretches, which may be compared to this "wilderness of Shur" "There are moments when the poet, the orator, the thinker, possessed, inspired with lofty and burning thoughts, needs nothing added to the riches of his existence; finds life glorious and sublime. But these are but moments, even in the life of genius; and after them, and around them, stretches the weary waste of uninspired, inglorious, untimeful days and years" (Dr. J. Service). It is the same in the life of religion. Seasons of spiritual enjoyment are frequently followed by sharp experience of trial. We are led by the wilderness of Shur. Spiritual comforts fail us, and our soul, like Israel's at a later period, is "much discouraged because of the way" (Numbers 21:4). We are brought into "a dry and thirsty land, where no water is" (Psalms 63:1). A certain sovereignty is to be recognised in the dispensation of Divine comforts. God leaves us to taste the sharpness of privation, that we may be led to cry after him (Psalms 119:81, Psalms 119:82).
2. They came to Marah, where the waters were bitter. This was a keen and poignant disappointment to them—"sorrow upon sorrow." As usual, it drove the people to murmuring, and Moses to prayer. Bear gently with their infirmity. Do them the justice of remembering that there is no record of their murmuring during the three past days of their great privation in the wilderness. It was this disappointment at the well of Marah which fairly broke them down. Would many of us have borne the trial better? It is easy to sing when the heart is full of a great fresh joy. But let trial succeed trial, and disappointment follow on disappointment, and how soon do the accents of praise die away, to be replaced by moaning and complaint! The "Song of Moses," which was so natural on the banks of the Red Sea, would have had a strange sound coming from these dust-parched throats, and fainting, discouraged hearts. The note of triumph is not easily sustained when the body is sinking with fatigue, and when the wells to which we had looked for refreshment are discovered to be bitter. Take Marah as an emblem
3. God's ends in permitting Israel to suffer these severe privations. We do not ask why God led the Israelites by this particular way, since probably there was no other way open by which they could have been led. But we may very well ask why, leading them by this way, God, who had it in his power to supply their wants, permitted them to suffer these extreme hardships?
II. THE BITTER CHANGED INTO THE SWEET. Moses, we read, "cried unto the Lord, and he showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet" (verse 25). Observe,
1. The agency employed. The tree had probably some peculiar properties which tended in the direction of the result which was produced, though, of itself, it was incompetent to produce it. The supernatural does not, as a rule, contravene the natural, but works along the existing lines, utilising the natural so far as it goes.
2. The spiritual meaning. That God intended the healing of these bitter waters to be a "sign" to Israel—a proof of his ability and willingness to heal them of all their natural and spiritual diseases, is abundantly plain from verses 25, 26. The lesson God would have them learn from the incident was—"I am Jehovah that healeth thee." His Jehovah character guaranteed that what he had shown himself to be in this one instance, he would be always, viz; a Healer. As Jehovah, God is the Being of exhaustless resource. As Jehovah, he is the Being eternally identical with himself—self-consistent in all his ways of acting; so that from any one of his actions, if the principle of it can but be clearly apprehended, we are safe in inferring what he always will do. God sweetens, or heals, the bitter waters of life—
"Just to let thy rather do
What he will.
Just to know that he is true,
And be still.
Just to let him take the care,
Finding all we let him bear
Changed to blessing.
This is all! and yet the way,
Marked by him who loves thee best!
Secret of a happy day,
Secret of his promised rest."
FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL.
III. THE RIGHT IMPROVEMENT OF MARAH EXPERIENCES (verse 26). We should accept them,
1. As a motive to obedience. If God has healed us that is a new reason for loving, trusting, and obeying him (Psalms 116:1-19.). Accordingly, consequent on this healing of the bitter waters, God made "a statute and an ordinance" for Israel, taking them bound to serve him, and promising them new blessings, if they should prove obedient, This "statute and ordinance" is the comprehensive germ of the subsequent covenant (Exodus 24:3-9).
2. As a pledge. The sweetening of the waters, as already seen, was a revelation of Jehovah in his character as Healer. It pledged to Israel that he would, if only they obeyed his statutes, exempt them from such plagues as he had brought upon the Egyptians, and, by implication, that he would heal them of whatever diseases were already upon them. He would be a God of health to them. The healthy condition of body is one which not only throws off existing disease, but which fortifies the body against attacks of disease from without. Natural healing, as we see in the New Testament, and especially in the miracles of Christ, is a symbol of spiritual healing, and also a pledge of it. In the gospels, "to be saved," and "to be made whole," are represented by the same Greek word. We may state the relation thus:—
IV. ELIM (verse 27).
1. An illustration of the chequered experiences of life. The alternation of gladness and sorrow; of smiles and tears; followed again by new comforts and seasons of joy.
2. There are Elim spots—places of cool shade, of abundant waters, of rest and refreshment provided for us all along our way through life. In the times of hottest persecution, there were intervals of respite. The Covenanters used to speak of these as "the blinks."
3. These Elim-spots should not lead us to forget that we are still in the wilderness. The prevailing aspect of life, especially to one in earnest, is figured by the wilderness, rather than by Elim. Our state here is one of trial, of discipline, of probation—no passing snatches of enjoyment should cause us to forget this.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The want of water and the want of faith-Marah and Elim.
It will be noticed at once how the interest of this passage is gathered round that great natural necessity, water. It is a necessity to man in so many ways. He needs it for drinking, for cleansing, for cooking, and for helping to renew the face of the earth. We may note also that Israel was soon to discover the necessity of water in ceremonial duties. A great deal of water had to be used in the tabernacle service. (Exodus 29:4; Exodus 30:18-21; Le Exodus 6:27, Exodus 6:28; chaps, 13-17.) Hence it is no wonder that the very first thing Jehovah does after delivering the Israelites finally from Pharaoh, is to bring them face to face with this great want of water. We see them passing in a short time through a great variety of experiences with regard to it. First, they go three days in the wilderness and find no water; next they come to the waters of Marah and find them undrinkable; then these waters are suddenly made sweet; and lastly, they journey on to the abundant supplies, and therefore inviting neighbourhood of Elim.
I. THE ISRAELITES EXPERIENCE THE WANT OF WATER, There is here a curious contrast between the fate of the Egyptians and the want of the Israelites. Water proved the ruin of Pharaoh and his host, while the want of water led Israel rapidly into murmuring and unbelief. Thus we have another illustration of how temporal things—even the very necessities of life from a natural point of view—are only blessings as God makes them so. He can turn them very rapidly and easily into curses. We call to mind the grotesque words of Laertes over his drowned sister:—"Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia." So the Egyptians had too much of water, and the Israelites could not get any at all. God was immediately beginning to teach and test his own people according to the explanation of Moses in Exodus 15:25, Exodus 15:26. They were to learn faith in Jehovah for support as well as deliverance; and the first lesson was to be taught by a three days' deprivation of water. If they had had the believing spirit in them this was an opportunity to say, "Assuredly such an awful deliverance has not been wrought that we may straightway perish of thirst." Notice also how the reality of the wilderness life is at once brought before us by these three days of waterless wandering. So short a time had they been out of Egypt, and so little distance had they got away; and yet they are as it were in the very worst of wilderness experiences. Thus even the moment they became effectually clear of the external bondage of Egypt, the truth was impressed upon them that they were without a home. There was no swift exchange from one storehouse of temporal comforts to another. For remember, Egypt with all its misery was a sort of home; there the Israelites had been born and trained; there they had got into a bondage of habits and traditions which was not to he removed in a day. And now Jehovah would have them understand that to be free and able to serve him meant that they must endure with these privileges the privations of the wilderness. We cannot have everything good all at once. If we would be clear of the bondage of this world's carnal ways, we must be ready for certain consequent and immediate privations. We cannot get away from Egypt and yet take with us the pleasant waters of Egypt. Unless our springs be in God, and heaven begun in the heart, the needful change of external associations may bring little but pain. External circumstances, and to some extent external companionships, may remain the same; the new home feeling must be produced by the change within.
II. WHEN THE ISRAELITES FIND WATER IT IS BITTER. Imagine, when they see the water after three days privation, how they run to it. But taste does not confirm sight. The water is not drinkable. Possibly this was a just complaint; although it may rather be suspected that the water, even if bitter, was not so bitter but that it could have been drunk by thirsty people. The Israelites, however, were thinking of the sweet waters of Egypt. A little longer privation and they might have found sweetness even in bitter waters. Still one cannot but consider how it is there should be this difference between the bitter waters and the sweet, between Marah and Elim. And then we are at once reminded that bitterness is no essential part of water, but comes from foreign and separable matters. So the comforts and resources flowing from God get mixed on the way with human and embittering elements, and these elements are so strong and disturbing that we utterly forget the sweet Divine part because of the discomforts of the bitter human one. We are ready to cast all away as if the nauseous could not be expelled. When Jesus told his disciples certain things which required a changed mind, and the creation of spiritual perceptivity in order to lay them to heart, they called these things hard sayings; not considering that hardness might be made easiness. In our early experiences of religion there is sure to be something of the bitter. The exhortation, "Taste and see that the Lord is good," is a serious and experimental one, yet many on their tasting find bitterness. The water of life has flowed through nauseating channels. Moses had his Marah: he got a taste of it even here, and he had full draughts afterwards. (Exodus 32:19; Numbers 11:10-15; Numbers 12:1; Numbers 14:5; Numbers 16:3.) David also had his Marah. (Psalms 42:3; Psalms 80:5; Psalms 102:9.) One can see a good deal of Marah even in the letters of the Christian Paul to his brethren in Corinth and Galatia. He had expected great things from the gifts of the Spirit, and correspondingly bitter would be his disappointment. We must have our Marah water to drink. Water may fail altogether for a while, and then when it does come it may seem worse than none at all.
III. GOD QUICKLY MAKES THE WATER PALATABLE. Note the request of the people. They do not stop to consider even for a moment whether this water, bitter as it is, may be made palatable. They turn from the whole thing in disgust and despair. "What shall we drink?" If Moses had straightway replied, "Ye shall drink of Marah," they would have counted him a mocker; yet his reply would have been correct. In the very things from which we turn as obviously useless, we may be destined to find an ample and satisfying supply. Moses himself knew not at the moment what they were to drink, but he takes the wise course and cries to Jehovah. More and more does his now habitual faith come out in contrast with the unbelief of the people. With regard to the casting in of the tree, it may have been that the tree had in itself some salutary effect; but the probability rather is that Moses was asked for another pure act of faith. This is more in harmony with the miraculous progression observed hitherto. When we remember the multitude that had to be supplied from these waters, there is something ludicrously inadequate in the supposition that the branches gathered to themselves the saline incrustations. The casting in of the tree was rather a symbolic channel for the sweetening than the actual cause of it.
IV. GOD SEIZES THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW ISRAEL WHEREIN THEIR SAFETY LIES. "He proved them" (verse 25). He points out, as it were, that they have been subjected to a test and have failed. At Marah they are shown forth as inattentive to past experiences, forgetful as to how God had remembered them and delivered them. Being now free from the bondage of Egypt, they must no longer blame outward constraints, but look earnestly on inward defects, for these are about to prove their greatest hindrance and danger. Yet this was not a time to speak sternly, even though unbelief had put forth its baleful front; they were but at the beginning of the journey, and gentle admonition was more proper than stern reproach. Therefore he counsels them—
1. To listen steadily to his voice;
2. To make his will, as expressing most clearly that which is right, the rule of their conduct;
3. To carry out all his commandments and statutes, some of the most important of which had already been laid before them in connection with their departure from Egypt. Let them attend to all this, and they will be free from Egypt's calamities. Notice the negative aspect of this promise. God promises exemption from suffering rather than attainment of good. It was well thus to make Israel give a backward look, not only towards the Red Sea, but across it, and into Egypt, where so many troubles had come on their recent oppressors. It would almost seem as if already the hearts of many were filling with the expectation of carnal comforts. They were thinking, eagerly and greedily, of what they were to get. But God speaks out very plainly. He demands obedience; and the most he has to say is that if obedience is given, there will be exemption from suffering. The positive element is left out, and doubtless there is wisdom in the omission. That element will come in due time. Yet of course it is there even now, for the devout and discerning, who can penetrate below the surface. The keeping of Jehovah's commandments is, infallibly, the attaining of the highest and purest blessedness.
V. AFTER MARAH HAS DONE ITS WORK, THE ISRAELITES COME TO ELIM. The pillar of cloud doubtless led them to Marah purposely before Elim, and to Elim purposely after Marah. Thus the people got a rest before coming to another trial of their faith and submissiveness; God did not take them straight from the difficulty with regard to the water to the next difficulty with regard to the bread. It is easy to understand that there were many attractions at Elim which would make them wish to linger there; but at Elim they could not stay. It had water in abundance; but water, great blessing as it is, is not enough. Pleasant it was to rest for awhile at these wells and seventy palm-trees; but before them lay a still better land where they would have, not only brooks of water and fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills, but also wheat and barley and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; and all the rest of the good things mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:7-9. The great lesson of Elim is that we must not make a resting-place, however attractive, into a home.—Y.
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
I will hear what God, the Lord, will say.
There is no reason why a powerful sermon should not be preached from a seemingly strange text. All depends on how the text is treated. God himself is the greatest of all preachers. See what sort of a sermon he preached from a text which most would have thought unpromising.
I. THE TEXT (Exodus 15:22-25).
1. What it was. Israel three days without water; at length "a large mound, a whitish petrifaction," from which flowed a fountain. Eagerness followed by disgust. The water bitter, loathsome, undrinkable. "Marah." The people murmured against their leader. A bitter fountain and an embittered murmuring people. Such the text.
2. How treated. The text was improved by applying to it the context. Many other texts might be best improved in like manner. "The Lord showed him a tree," etc. (Exodus 15:25). Clearly somewhere close at hand. The bitter waters made sweet. Discontent changed to satisfaction.
II. THE SERMON (Exodus 15:25, Exodus 15:26). Israelites too much like the bitter water. When God looked to refresh himself by their confidence and gratitude, he was met by murmuring and distrust. They, too, must learn not to fix attention wholly on disagreeables, hut to take the bitter out of them by considering the never-absent context. God himself is the context to every incident which could befall them, but they must apply his help by obedience and simple trust. Obey him and no bitter, in the heart or out of it, but his presence would sweeten. "I am the Lord that healeth thee," even as I have healed the waters. Notice:—
1. The sermon does not dwell upon the text, though it springs out of it quite naturally. Exceedingly plain and simple, so that a child can understand it.
2. The text (the ordinance) illustrates the sermon (the statute). Yet the illustration is not forced; not even strongly emphasized; just allowed to speak for itself. Some preachers make so much of an illustration, that that which it illustrates is forgotten. [You may drive a brass-headed nail so "home," that while it is fixed nothing will hang upon it.]
III. A RETREAT FOR MEDITATION AFTERWARDS (Exodus 15:27). Some excellent sermons are forgotten directly in the hurry and bustle that succeeds them. To gain by sermons we must recollect them; and to recollect them we must have time and place for recollectedness. This God gave to the Israelites at Elim; yet, even so, they failed to profit by it. Had they used their time for meditation better, much after trouble, caused by forgetfulness, would have been saved.
Application. "A sermon for preachers!" Yes, but a sermon for people also. If God's sermons can be so soon forgotten, even when he gives time for pondering them, how much sooner those we preach! Everything does not rest with the preacher. If the people will not take pains to remember—to ponder, meditate, inwardly digest—the best of preachers, even God himself, may preach home to them, and the result be nil.—G.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Trial and Blessing.
I. THE CLOUD AND SUNSHINE OF THE PILGRIM LIFE. The weariness of the wilderness journey, the disappointment of Marah, and the comforts of Elim, all lie along the appointed way.
II. A HEAVY TRIAL BADLY BORNE. The wilderness thirst had been endured without a murmur; but when in addition they were mocked by the bitter springs of Marah their spirit broke.
1. The end of a prayerless faith is soon reached. If we have not learned to cast burdens upon God and to wait upon him, but expect him to fill our life with ease and pleasure, we shall soon be offended.
2. A spirit with such a faith speedily turns away from God and breaks into complaint against man.
III. FAITH'S TRIUMPH IN DIFFICULTY (25).
1. Moses "cried unto the Lord." The need of the time was rightly read. It was a call to prayer. In times of difficulty and reproach our first recourse should be to God.
2. In answer to believing prayer the bitter waters are sweetened, and the soul finds God in the gift as without the previous disappointment he could not be manifested.
IV. GOD'S COVENANT TIME.
1. In the full experience of his mercy. We must know God's love in Christ before his covenant of service and blessing can be made with us.
2. In the midst of self-knowledge and repentance. At the sweetened waters the faithless ones knew themselves and were ashamed.
3. The nature of the covenant. If they cleave to and serve him, there may be affliction, but there shall be no judgment.
4. How God will be known in Israel. "I am the Lord that healeth thee." Note:—When God's goodness has rebuked our unbelief, he means us to listen to the assurance of his love and to renew our vows.—U.
HOMILIES BY H. T. ROBJOHNS
The well of bitterness.
"For I am Jehovah that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:26). A new chapter of history now opens, that of the wandering; it comprises the following passages.
1. Two months to Sinai.
2. Eleven months at Sinai.
3. Thirty-eight years of virtual settling down in the wilderness of Paran.
4. March upon Canaan in the last year.
Introductory to this sermon give description of the journey from the sea to Marah, keeping prominent these points, the first camp probably at "The Wells of Moses," the road thence varying from ten to twenty miles wide, the sea on the right, the wall-looking line of mountain on the left for nearly all the way—this the wilderness of "Shur," i.e; of "the wall." There may indeed have been a city called "Shur," but the wall of mountain may have given name both to city and desert. (On the line of the Roman wall in Northumberland is a village "Wall.") The route here quite unmistakable. More than forty miles. No water. The modern caravan road marked by bleached camel bones. Numbers 33:8, gives the impression of a forced march. At length Marah, to-day a solitary spring of bitter water with stunted palm-tree beside it. Here too is the place to point out, that Israel's wanderings are not so much allegorical, but tautegorical. The phenomena of spiritual life and those of Israel's desert history are net so much two sets of things—one pictorial the other real, but one and the same. This truth lies at the base of all successful practical homiletic treatment.
I. MAN MAY NOT LIVE IN THE PAST. "And Moses brought [forced away] Israel from the Red Sea." Note:—
1. Henceforth Moses is supreme leader. Aaron and Miriam sink to subordinate places. Besides these, the entourage of Moses consists of Hut, Miriam's husband; Jethro for guide; and Joshua, a sort of body servant. All over the desert are names witnessing to this hour to the sole supremacy of Moses.
2. Divine Guidance did not impair his individuality. Inspiration and the "Cloud and Fire" did not so lead as to leave no room for the exercise of judgment or the spontaneity of consecrated genius. Lesson:—God does not crush individuality, but develops it into fulness and power.
3. Moses brought Israel quickly from proximity to Egypt, and even from the scene of victory. [See Hebrews verb, to cause the camp to remove.] The last cadences of the song, the last sound of dancing had hardly died away; Miriam's timbrel was scarcely out of her hand, before "Forward!" Out of this, two lessons. Leave behind:—
1. The memory of Egypt; of old sins, of old sorrows.
2. The memory of victory. As in common life, so in spiritual, e.g; the schoolboy. (John Singleton Copley, a painter's son, had for motto "Ultra pergere," and became Lord Lyndhurst.) Graduate at University. Young tradesman. So with things spiritual, each victory the point of a new departure, even with the aged. "Christian progress by oblivion of the past." Philippians 3:13, Philippians 3:14.
II. FIRST STAGES IN NEW CHAPTERS OF LIFE'S HISTORY ARE TEDIOUS. Look here at:—
1. The experience of Israel. They had left behind many sights, they, even though slaves, would greatly miss; the Nile and its green line of fertility; cities in all their splendour; life in all its rich variety. Now, the hardship and silence of the desert, only trumpet-broken at morn and eve. And this first stage was terrible. Nothing so bad as this further on—further on oases, wells, filmy streams, tamarisk, palm, mountain shadows, and even cultivated regions. Excitement perhaps of the first day, the experience novel, the sea in view; but on the second and third, plodding, fainting, and disgust.
2. The present reality. So is it with all new chapters in life; the first steps are tedious, e.g; child going to school; boy to college; first steps in business; so with every serious break-up and change in life's pilgrimage. The first steps are arduous. And so too is spiritual life—to break with sin, to stand ridicule, to keep advancing in spite of comparative ignorance, etc.
3. The temptation. Many fail to stand it. Young men yield and go back to the fleshpots of Egypt—loneliness with duty and God does not suit them. If we can march from the sea to Marah, all may be well.
4. The encouragement. To say nothing of truths like these, that the way was right, the guidance sufficient, the land of Promise was before them; there was a nearer benediction. "The far horizon in front was bounded, not by a line of level sand, but by sharp mountain summits, tossing their peaks into the sky in wild disorder, and suggesting irresistibly the thought of torrents and glens, the shadow of great rocks, and groves of palms." The view was of the range of Sinai, and there Israel was to have nearly a year of high communion with God.
III. DISAPPOINTMENT WAITS US ON OUR WAY. The high-wrought expectation of the people: and lo! the spring is bitter. So with life. So much is this the case, that men of genius have described life as one long illusion. Things are never what they seemed. Neither school nor college, courtship nor marriage, home nor church, business nor pleasure. So much the worse for those who have ideality large.
IV. INTO DISAPPOINTMENT COMES HEALING. All through nature, it is probable, that every poison has its antidote, every evil its corrective, every disappointment its compensation. "Dr. Johnston, in his 'Chemistry of Common Things,' explains at length how the bark of a certain tree has power to precipitate the mineral particles, which embitter the waters, and to make them sweet and clear." Did God "show" this secret thing to Moses? Let every man examine his own life, and he will find by the side of every disappointment a compensating mercy; and more, that out of every such has come a lesson to sweeten life. It is as when (to take the most striking illustration of all) the Saviour came down into human nature, turned to bitterness by sin, and made the bitter sweet.
V. LIFE IS ONE LONG PROBATION. This is a truth illustrated by the journey to, and by the incidents at Marah. There God laid down a Fixed Principle [ חֹק ], and one that was absolutely Righteous. [ מִשְׁפָט ].
1. Israel was to hear (i.e. believe) and do.
2. And then Jehovah would be to Israel, what the "wood" had been to the water, their Healer.—R.
"And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water," etc. (Exodus 15:27). Describe locality, and point out the great change from Marah, and the miserable preceding three days in the desert. And then note the following suggestions as to the pilgrim path of a human soul.
I. OUR PILGRIMAGE LIES THROUGH EVER-VARIED SCENERY. The changes here are so great that they cannot fail to suggest the corresponding truth, e.g; fear on the west of the Red Sea, deliverance, triumph, three days' march, disappointment and healing at Marah, Elim.
II. THE SCENERY WILL INCLUDE "ELIMS." In dark days we believe no bright will dawn, and vice versa]. So the sorrowful must be reminded of Elims to come. Many oases for Israel; so to-day even in Sahara. Our Elims.—
1. Lift the mind to their Giver.
2. Are earnests of the Better Land.
III. "ELIMS" ARE THE CREATIONS OF TRUTH. Imagine all the beauty of Elim, and ask, what made it? It was the water that made the Paradise. Now, note the place of water in the economy of nature; as a constituent of the human body, in vegetation; as the chief element in all food, medicine, drink; as the universal solvent and purifier; as an agent in all dyes, gorgeous and homely; as "the eye" in every landscape, etc. It is no wonder then that water in Scripture is so often the emblem of truth, for which the soul thirsts, which is given as "water of life" from the throne of God and the Lamb. Doctrine "distils as the dew." God "pours clean water upon us that we may be clean." Note the analogy between truth and water implied in Matthew 28:19.. And is it not new discovery of truth at crises in our lives, that make our "Elims"? Not at all anything external to the soul; but internal uncoverings of the goodness, grace and glory of our Heavenly Father, etc; etc. [Develop and illustrate.] Will it be considered fanciful to add, that:—
IV. OUR "ELIMS" HAVE AN INDIVIDUAL IMPRESS. "Twelve wells," as many as tribes of Israel. "Seventy palms," for the tent of each elder a palm. There is any way a speciality in our Father's mercies, which marks them as for us, and reveals to us his personal love.
V. THE "ELIMS" OF OUR PILGRIMAGE ARE NOT FAR FROM OUR "MARAHS." Only some eight or ten miles is that journey of Israel. Then:—
1. At Marah let us hope for Elim.
2. From Marah push on for Elim. Never good to lie down and nurse sorrows and disappointments. Push "forward" along the pilgrim path of duty.
3. Marah prepares for the delight of Elim.
VI. "ELIM" IS ONLY FOR ENCAMPMENT. "They encamped there by the waters;" did not dwell, or build a city there.
VII. THE CHANGING SCENERY LEADS TO CANAAN. All the succeeding transformations of life are intended to prepare for the heavenly stability and rest.—R.