The Pit of Despair
Bitter Water Made Sweet
Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” He 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.
There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”
Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.
This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again, I will not be lenient— since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.
Sometimes I get in too much hurry and don’t know what to do or where I’m really going. God sometimes sets ups roadblocks to slow me down and get me back on track. Most of the time, these come in the form of shattered expectations or inconvenient delays.
I cannot imagine what the Hebrew people felt, wandering in the wilderness, following a God they barely knew and a prophet who spent more time among foreigners than themselves. Three days without water would color anyone’s perspective more towards despair. Then, if that were not enough, when they finally got to water, it was too rancid to drink. That was when God asked them for faith. Not day one. Not day two. No even the beginning of day three. It was at the moment that their hopes were crushed by the undrinkable water, when they were truly ready to leave, that God finally showed up. He did not come with gifts or peace offerings either. He came asking for their faith.
That was the moment, when they said yes to God in the midst of their despair, that God redeemed the situation and made a way where there had been no way. I think it is odd that we so often apply this idea that things have to get worse before they get better very naturally to the lives of individuals, but we are more hesitant to attribute the same concept to groups like churches, towns, states, and nations. It’s not a rule, it is just a shared experience we have with humanity in the scripture and throughout time.
Somewhere in the development of the Hebrew law it was decided that one witness was not enough to condemn a person for anything. Two or three separate persons were required to determine the truth of a matter. We typically consider these witnesses to be used in criminal proceedings, but what if God uses the same concept in determining matters of our faith? What if God uses multiple tests of faith to help show us the truth of our allegiance and love for Him?
My own experience, as well as that of Paul, Joseph, and Jesus, bear out that God often brings us to our pit of despair before coming in with deliverance. The Hebrews in Egypt had 9 false starts before they made it out to worship God in the wilderness. Sometimes the closer we are to despair, the closer we are to God’s redemption.
Where have you experienced despair in your life?
How have you met God in those pits of despair?