Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Exodus 15

Exodus 15: the song of Moses and Miriam; the waters of Marah and Elim

Synopsis

In the last section, I theorized—tongue planted firmly in cheek—that the rest of Israelite history would be a bed of roses. That’s not quite what happened.

This chapter starts out pretty good. Verses 1–18 are a song, sung by Moses and the people, which praises God for saving them from the Egyptians, and then verses 19–21 are another song, sung by Miriam (Aaron’s sister—which would either make her Moses’ sister, or his half-sister) and all of the women sing another song to the LORD.

The end of the chapter, however, gives a bit of a warning signal, in my mind—a signifier of things to come:

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. 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?”

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 sweet.

(verses 22–25a)


According to the NIV footnotes, “Marah” means “bitter”.

After this, the LORD brought them to Elim, where there were springs and palm trees.

Thoughts

I don’t know from poetry, so I never really have much to say about the songs and poems in the Bible. Sometimes they touch my heart, and sometimes they don’t—probably depending on my mood, more than the quality of the poems/songs—but I am never able to articulate why. So I don’t have much to say about verses 1–21.

It always used to boggle my mind, when reading the account of the bitter water at Marah, that the Israelites would have the nerve to grumble at God. Let’s recap:
  • God has just sent incredible plagues against the Egyptians, and done it in such a way that there can be no doubt it was done by Him
  • He then proceeded to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, and, somehow, managed to cause the Egyptians to be favourable to the Israelites
  • He then parted the Red Sea, to let them through, and closed it back again upon the Egyptian army
  • And, let’s not forget, He is constantly traveling in front of them, as a pillar of cloud or a pillar of fire
And yet, when they go a few days without water, they still have the nerve to grumble about it. I say this used to boggle my mind, but it doesn’t anymore, because I’m getting better at putting myself in their shoes. First of all, it’s very easy to read the account in Exodus, and see it all as one big story, and condemn the Israelites, but in their defense, three days without water really is a long time! (I’m guessing they probably had a supply of water with them, but after three days it was probably getting close to running out.) And, again, how many times have I suffered from things that were much less serious, and still given in to grumbling?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the trick, when reading about the Israelites in the Old Testament, is to try and learn from their mistakes, without falling into judgement.
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