Exodus 15:22-27

The Waters of Marah and Elim

22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.[a]) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?"

25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, "If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you."

27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.


The people have been through this incredible time of deliverance from Egypt and Pharaohs oppression by passing through the sea on dry land. We read that "... when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant." (Exodus 14:31). Just one chapter later and the people are grumbling and lacking trust (24).

They are facing a completely new way of life. They are free, but free to do what? They have become nomads in an arid land. They look back at Egypt and wish they were still slaves. They may have worked seven days a week, but at least food and water was provided. Slaves never make decisions, they are ordered and obedient. This newly liberated people now must make decisions for themselves.

Despite their great spiritual and physical liberation from Egypt, their new situation renders them incompetent. Fortunately, there is exactly one person among them who has first hand experience of life in the desert: Moses.


The Exodus story moves from Egypt, across the Red Sea into the Desert and finally across the River Jordan into the promised land .

Egypt > Red Sea > Desert > River Jordan > Promised Land

The people are being separated from their past, and brought into a time (40 years) of transition, before being re-incorporated into the present.

When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) (23).

The desert is a liminal experience. The people find themselves to be incompetent and ill equipped for their new circumstances. They can't find water. When they do eventually find water they discover that it is bitter.

The desert is a place of confusion, where our emotions are often behind our experience. We grieve what was familiar, even if that was a form of slavery.

The good thing about the desert is that they come to Elim. Elim is a foretaste of the land of milk and honey. It is a glimpse of what is to come.

Are you in a time of transition? Have you found yourself in a new situation where you don't know how to flourish or survive?

Are you aware of feeling incompetent? Stretched beyond your capacity?

Have you experienced 'Marah' moments? Times of bitterness, wishing you could go back to the familiar.

What are your 'Elim' moments? That foretaste of what is to come.

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