Have you ever followed the Lord into risky, frightening territory, and as you did so seen Him do some massive, only-God-could-do-that, miracles? Maybe it was a change of career, or a move to a new place, or to do something entirely outside your comfort zone (like public speaking!). He opened opportunities for you as if they were paper-wrapped presents waiting for his eager hands rather than the mountain-moving challenge that they really were. Then as your trembling faith traipsed after this mighty One and you witnessed these marvels, your hope ballooned into an exuberant song for all to hear.
Well, the Israelites had that experience when they were dramatically ushered away from their slave owner, Pharoah. Emaciated, oppressed, with all the scars of being slaves for generations, they marched out in darkness under the blackest, most haunting of wails – parents discovering their dead children. The wail alone would have haunted me for the rest of my life, but more immediate to them was the very accurate fear of pursuit. And pursuit came in thunderous rage.
They had followed the Lord with what hopeful faith they could under blood-stained lintels, through blackest wailing alleys, into a frigid and scorching desert on flimsy sandals with an earthly devil in pursuit. They were definitely outside their comfort zone, with their hope uneasy like a lump in the throat before the wave of tears. Then they saw the Red Sea. An obstacle as solid as a rock. The lumps in their throats cracked and their hope tore away from them.
How bitter they were! They wailed and railed against the Lord, “How could you do this to us? We followed you only to die here!” Bitterness flowed in torrents, flooded by their fear.
The Lord’s response is so calmly abrupt, it almost makes me laugh. “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” (Ex. 15:15) He gives Moses the details, but really they just had to stop panicking, listen, and go. God was not making a mockery of them, rather, he was making good on his call: to be an example of his saving glory! (Ex. 15:4)
When He calls you out into risky territory, it is always to show His power and love.
They celebrated and worshiped and then God led them whooping into the wilderness of Shur – a funny little coincidence for us English speakers – for we often (and rightly) move ahead after these incredible experiences of God’s salvation with sure hearts.
But for three days they wandered without water. At this point humans often die. As their bodies shut down, their sure hope was evaporating with every breath. Their brains were befuddled by lack of water and by God’s strange leading. Having been slaves, they probably brought their feelings of worthlessness with them. And after seeing God’s might, they might have thought, “Who are we to be worthy of saving?”
Then, water! God has provided again! However, their joy evaporates instantly. What was provision is poison. A bitter trickle. A mockery. Here is your lifesaving water, but, ha, you can’t drink it. This time the grumble is not a torrent of terror, but a whisper of weakness: “What are we to drink?” Their last hope drains away. Finality settles in: Here I will die. I followed as far as I could, but it is finished.
There was another time that someone said “It is finished.” When He said it, the world went black.
But what was finished? The mocking voice was finished. Its bitter power annulled by the sweet love of the cross. Because he who said “It is finished”, ended the rule of mockery and bitterness. Jesus endured the mockery, the shame, the scorn, the pain, the darkness right to the bitter end. And as he did so, the rule of mockery and bitterness ended.
Bitterness does not have the last word. Because infinite love bent into this bitter world and blessed it, there is sweet in the rescuing and the rising.
The Israelites discovered this in their sure wilderness. Moses cried out for mercy and God steeped a stick of hope in the stream of bitterness. His powerful love drives out all bitterness, and with it all fear. “Perfect love drives out all fear.” (1 John. 4:18)
Let his life steep in yours and you will find any streams of bitterness in your life being turned to sweet.
Kimberley Mulder is a contemplative at heart who deeply enjoys the company of Jesus in the day-to-day of caring for her family of 5 (plus a dog and a cat), teaching English to immigrants, growing her garden, and writing. Currently, her walk with Jesus is taking her more deeply into writing as she leads a spiritual formation group at her church, and shares on her blog Living a Mary Life in a Martha World. She treasures the truth that God’s Word does not go back to him without accomplishing the purpose for which he sent it, and that that Word is embodied in our lives. (Isaiah 55:11)