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… Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.
I’m sure someone somewhere has come up with (or discovered or fabricated) an explanation for why the wood turned the water from bitter to sweet. If you know please leave a note or link in the comments.
The thing that surprised me about this text is the abundance present at the beginning of the Exodus journey. Normally I think of the complaining about the water or not having the good food that was in Egypt. It says here that “they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.” That’s a lot of springs and palm trees for the mind numbing desert trek I usually imagine. This make their complaining seem even more ridiculous and grumpy.
On a parallel to our modern world I would just like to point out that the bitter water may have been somehow contaminated. Tons of people in the world don’t have access to sources of safe drinking water. Just google it if you want to know exact numbers. Not only that, but the level of water tables around the world are dropping at scary rates. These freed Hebrew slaves were well aware of where their water came from. They knew the difference between bitter and sweet water and it was probably life and death.
We, on the other hand, don’t know where our water comes from except that more and more of it comes in plastic containers. Don’t get me started. Food also takes water to grow. Unfortunately most of the food we eat is produced using ungodly amounts of water. All this has to come from somewhere. We live on an organism called Earth and if we bleed her dry she will become dehydrated and start puking or spike a fever or who knows.
Back to the text for one final moment. How did they know it was bitter? Was there a sign? Did someone have to be the sacrificial lamb and taste it? I don’t know. But I know there wasn’t the beneficent water company to test it for them… Although with our standards they might have deemed it safe.
Not much in the way of real exegesis here… Just an interesting digression on water. Visit Food and Water Watch to learn real facts.