Part 1: Life’s Bitter Pool (Part 1)
Throughout the Old Testament, God dealt with His people in ways that I find truly remarkable. Often, how He treated them is a pattern for how He deals with you and me in our lives today. As it was with the children of Israel, we experience moments of pressure and tremendous difficulties, followed by moments of triumph and praise. Like the Israelites, our tendency after the test is to take the attitude, “Now everything is settled! No more problems.”
We discussed that incorrect assumption in Part 1 of our 3-part Teaching Letter series, "Life’s Bitter Pool". Here was the mistake the children of Israel made: that there would be no more trials or testing.
This was their thought after experiencing a miraculous deliverance from Pharaoh’s armies and passing safely through the waters of the Red Sea: “Surely our problems are over!” However, three days later, in the hot dry desert with no water, they came to the pool of Marah—and to a bitter disappointment.
“When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” (Exodus 15:23-24, NIV)
Why would God allow such tremendous victories to be followed by a devastating disappointment? This question will be our continuing focus in this letter, “God’s Ultimate Objective,” which is Part 2 of our series, "Life’s Bitter Pool".
Two Vital Lessons
Let me begin by commenting on two lessons which stand out from our study on the bitter pool thus far. The first lesson? Great victories prepare us for great testing. Successes do not mean that the rest of our lives will be without further testing. The greater the victory, the greater the test we will be able to face on the basis of that victory.
The second lesson (and this is vital) is that the bitter pool was in God’s program. God actually had a purpose in bringing the children of Israel to that pool—and this is true in our lives as well. From time to time, He will lead us to the bitter pool.
The real question in our lives is not whether we will experience testing, but how we respond to the testing. The test at Marah exposed a problem in the character of the Israelites that needed to be dealt with—grumbling.
I want to make this very clear: the Bible has nothing good, anywhere, to say about grumbling. This character flaw indicates a lack of faith, a lack of gratitude, and self-centeredness. Grumbling does not solve your problems—it magnifies them. You will never find the way out of your problems by grumbling.
Moving Beyond Marah
The Lord intended for Israel to go a lot farther than the pool of Marah. He was, in fact, taking them to the land He had promised to Abraham. However, they were not fit to enter the Promised Land until that flaw in their character exposed at Marah—grumbling—had been dealt with.
When you and I come to our Marah, our bitter waters, let’s not begin to grumble. Let’s remember instead that God has brought us to this place because He desires to take us further. To do so, He must first deal with our character—and He can only deal with it if we cooperate.
What We Need to See
On the shore of the bitter pool, Moses prayed. He cried out to the Lord, recognizing that there was no other source of help but the Lord. When Moses took that course—praying rather than grumbling, and responding in faith rather than unbelief—God responded with a new revelation of Himself.
What was God’s purpose in bringing Israel to the bitter pool? He had something for them to learn. How did He teach them? He placed them in a situation where the revelation He had for them would be appropriate. Then, He responded with a revelation of Himself.
First of all, He revealed Himself as the source of their healing—through the tree.
“So he [Moses] cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:25)
Second, and more important still, God revealed Himself to them as the Lord, their Healer. “For I am the LORD who heals you” (verse 26). This revelation was God’s ultimate objective in their experience at the bitter pool.
A Hard Principle
I will take a moment now to share a principle that is summed up very succinctly in a statement I once heard someone make. Honestly, I didn’t like the principle when I heard it for the first time. It prompted the thought, "This doesn’t suggest that life is going to be the way I’d like it to be". Here is the statement: “Man’s disappointments are God’s appointments.”
As we observed earlier in this series, disappointment is a life experience we all face—and it can be very bitter. It comes when your hopes are high, you are moving forward, and everything seems to be going right. At that very moment, everything falls apart. It crumbles—and you are left with nothing but disappointed hopes. That is a bitter pool.
But here is what I want you to grasp: God led you to that bitter pool. He has something good for you at the bitter pool—if you will respond the right way.
Only at the Bitter Pool
All of this has something to do with human nature. When everything is going well and life is easy, most of us tend to be somewhat superficial. We are content with the status quo—going to church, saying our prayers, and leading respectable lives.
But God has something far greater and deeper for us. One way or another, He gets us to the bitter pool. Then, in the depths of agony and disappointment, we cry out as Moses did. When we cry out to God, we get a much fuller revelation of Him. It only comes on the shores of the bitter pool.
If you have faced a bitter pool in the past, or if you are now facing a bitter pool, please bear this in mind: “Man’s disappointments are God’s appointments.”
When the Israelites encountered the bitter pool, there were only two potential responses:
- The people grumbled, which was the response of unbelief.
- Moses prayed, which was the response of faith.
Which will be your choice? The next time you come to that bitter pool, which response will be yours?
Let’s conclude this letter by asking the Lord to help us when those difficult moments come our way:
Dear Lord, I may not always understand the events You allow to happen in my life. I confess that it is my tendency to grumble when I hit difficulties and disappointments instead of turning to You and crying out like Moses did. Please forgive me, Lord.
With my whole heart, I desire to respond the right way—the way Moses did—by turning to You in faith. I am asking You now for grace in those bitter pool moments that will come—to always remember how loving, how good, and how faithful You are. Please increase my faith. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Part 3: Life's Bitter Pool (Part 3)