Full of joy and praise after their miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea, the Israelites march on – straight into the desert. As they trudge through the hot thirsty wilderness, their enthusiasm steadily evaporates. Eventually they reach an oasis, but their hopes are raised only to be immediately dashed again: the water is undrinkable. The bitterness of the water draws out the bitterness in their hearts, and in no time they are finding fault with both Moses and God.
Moses is the one who prays for a solution to the problem, and God provides one: the wood of a local tree, when added to the water, absorbs the pungent mineral salts and makes it palatable. The people are able to drink and then continue on their way. Only 7 miles further on (another day’s journey) is the large oasis of Elim, where they find not only ample space to camp, but also shade and abundant water.
The life of the redeemed is no ‘primrose path’ – it is very often a life of suffering, frustration and disappointment. And this can hit us at a very early stage; many believers find the days and weeks following their baptism especially tough going. It is tempting to wonder if we have gone wrong somewhere, or to think that God has let us down. Yet it is God’s will for us, as it was for the Israelites, to take the difficult path, because “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:3)
We need to undergo spiritual discipline, but the times of testing are usually brief. Through them we learn that God is able to meet us and help us in any situation. He can transform our bitterness and pain, and give us refreshment even in the most unlikely places. And He will also give us times of blessing, a foretaste of our ultimate destination.