Text: Exodus 15 By Ron Dunn
Open your Bibles to the Old Testament, to the book of Exodus, chapter 15, and I want to begin reading with verse 22 and read through the end of the chapter, verse 27. You know the context. They have just had a marvelous deliverance from Egypt, and they have just come through the Red Sea episode. In the first twenty-one verses you have the song of Moses and the Children of Israel as they praise the Lord for all He has done. Then in verse 22, we pick up and read:
So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statue and an ordinance, and there he proved them. And said, if thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee. And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees; and they encamped there by the waters.
Mention has already been made this week of the alarming statistics among Southern Baptists that each year 1,000 of our ministers leave the ministry. I read a report of a preliminary study a few weeks ago as to the causes of this defection from the ministry among our ranks. One of the primary contributing factors, especially among younger ministers, was discouragement and disillusionment. I believe that one of the most effective weapons that the devil has ever forged against a believer is the weapon of discouragement.
Jack and I were in a Northwest city a few weeks ago in a conference where several churches had come together to sponsor it. As we talked to pastor after pastor this is what we heard: Our greatest problem here is discouragement. Our pastors are discouraged; our people are discouraged. We need somehow to be lifted out of this mire of discouragement. This week here in New Orleans I have talked to several, and I’ve had more than one pastor mention to me, “You know the greatest thing I have to fight here in my particular location in the city is discouragement.” We are in the minority where we are, and it is so easy to get discouraged.
This is not something that simply afflicts preachers, music directors, and other staff workers; it is something that afflicts every Christian. I believe that my greatest battle with the enemy is at the point of discouragement. My greatest times of weakness have come through discouragement. My greatest times of unbelief, panic, and fretfulness have come through discouragement. When the devil seeks to try to thwart the purpose and work of God in the lives of believers, I think his number one weapon is the weapon of discouragement and disillusionment.
We sometimes have an inadequate view of the Christian life. We don’t know what to expect, and when something happens that knocks us off balance, it destroys our spiritual equilibrium, and we find ourselves plunged into despair and discouragement.
This week has been a time of victory for a great many folks, not only those of you who have come in response to the invitation and gone to the prayer room, but others as well.. God has ministered to your life. I guess you might say that we are sort of on a spiritual high tonight. God has met us, and God has blessed, and many of us have had some difficulties resolved, and problems solved, and some sins forgiven. Many of us come to this place tonight with a new commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if we don’t know what to expect next week after this conference is over, we will find ourselves the helpless victims of discouragement.
As I read through the Israelites’ experience as Moses takes them through the wilderness, I find there a classic record of discouragement. If there was ever a man that had a right to be discouraged, it was Moses. I get a lot of comfort from Moses. I’ve never pastored that large a congregation, and anytime I had anyone murmuring and complaining, and I began to feel sorry for myself, I thought about Moses who had upwards of three million people griping at him all at once. You know, that encourages me. Moses was a man who lived on the edge of discouragement and disillusionment. These stories are rich in their instruction because the Bible makes it very clear that the things that happened to them have happened to us as examples, and they are meant for our instruction and edification.
I want to talk to you tonight about defending against discouragement. As I’ve already intimated, I think that one defense against discouragement is knowing what is going to happen. If you know there is going to be a jolt, you can brace yourself for it. You can learn to roll with the punches. Most Christians find themselves wallowing in self pitying discouragement because they didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t know the route that God would take them in accomplishing his purpose, and leading them to the land of promise and fullness. I want us to look at this strange little incident as Moses brings the people to the waters of Marah, and see their reactions–and see God’s reactions. We are going to learn how to defend against discouragement.
Moses was a man who had completely committed his life to God. The Bible makes it clear that he had given up the riches of Pharaoh; he had given up the palace; he had given up everything for the reproaches of Christ, to suffer for Christ. here was a man who had had a tremendous spiritual experience, and had started out with the glow of victory on his face. And yet, he met one difficulty after another and was always living at the point of discouragement. There are three great spiritual principles of life:
1. If you are going to defend against discouragement, you must understand that the greatest successes of life are often followed by failure.
Now you will miss the impact of this little story if you ignore its context. They had just passed through the Red Sea. They had seen the Red Sea come together and drown the Egyptian army that was pursuing them. And the people stood on the shore and watched as the waves washed the dead bodies of their Egyptian taskmasters up on the shore. I can imagine that they walked around looking at the bodies and said, “Ah, I recognize him. Yes sir, he was the one who whipped me. He was the one who made me make bricks the hard way. I recognize him. He’s dead; I’ve been liberated from that old Egyptian taskmaster. And as they surveyed the scene, and all those dead Egyptians, they felt that liberation surge through their soul and Moses began to sing, and Israel began to sing. I wish we had time tonight to just read those first 21 verses of Chapter 15. It is absolutely amazing. Listen to just one or two of the things they say. In verses 11-13:
“Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto they holy habitation.”
Look at verses 17 and 18: “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O LORD, which thy hands have established. The LORD shall reign forever and ever.”
Boy, if you had walked in on that service, heard that singing and shouting and praising, you would have thought here are people who have arrived. They have it made. All their trials are behind them. With faith like that, with confidence like that, nothing can stop them. And in three days they are wallowing in failure! Three days later they find themselves in a place of bitter waters, and they immediately forget everything they had previously said. “I thought the Lord was going to reign forever and ever. I thought there was no god like your God. I thought he was going to lead you into the land and establish you an inheritance, and here you are now murmuring, grumbling and griping to Moses because you are afraid you are going to die of thirst.” One of the greatest spiritual principles of life is this: the greatest successes of life are often followed by failure, and if you don’t realize that, you are going to be plunged into despondency and discouragement.
I think about Elijah on Mt. Carmel. Has ever a man experienced a greater victory than when he sees the heads of those 450 prophets of Baal roll like crushed eggs down the hillside, and the heavens open and God baptizes the earth in water. Elijah standing on Mt. Carmel—what a great success! And yet, a short time later you find him running from Jezebel and whining under a juniper tree like a whipped pup, wishing God would kill him.
I think about the Israelites as they entered into Canaan, going to Jericho, marching around the city once a day for seven days, and then on the seventh day seven times. Victory was so easy. All they had to do was just to have a little pre-celebration parade and do a little shouting and blow a few trumpets and the walls came tumbling down. Then in the next chapter, we find Ai where they flee before the people.
I think about Simon Peter and the night that Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am?” Everybody gives their opinion, and then Simon Peter opens his mouth and something right comes out. He is as surprised as everybody else. He says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” You have been the recipient of divine revelation. What a momen! What success! Simon has been singled out by God to receive a revelation that none of the other disciples had really accurately and fully received.
And what so often happens is that when you have one great spiritual experience, you get to thinking that makes you an expert in all things spiritual. And the very next moment, Jesus is saying to the same man, “Get thee behind me, Satan, you don’t understand the things of God at all.” Success followed by failure.
What happens when this occurs? When I left the pastorate a year ago to get into this work, I thought I was doing what God wanted me to do. I had been at that church for nine years, and God had blessed in a marvelous way. I’ve never had a pastorate in which I loved the people so much, and felt they loved me. We were as one, and there was sweetness and harmony, people being saved, the church growing—and God just manifested himself. And yet for the previous two or three years I had felt God gradually easing me out of that position into this kind of ministry. And so I just naturally knew that if a man is willing to give up that kind of situation, that kind of pastorate, and do God’s will, that everything was going to be roses. So I left that church, and the first two or three months were the worst I’ve ever had in my life. The first church I went to after that meeting was the deadest church I’d ever been in in all my life. And the next church was just as dead. And the next church was dead. And the next one was just as dead. I began to think, “Well, I wonder where I missed God?” Perhaps I miscalculated. Perhaps I misread the will of God. I must have sinned somewhere along the way, or else I wouldn’t be experiencing this.
I think the first thing that happens when we find ourselves in bitter waters is we begin to say, “I wonder where I got off track; I wonder where I missed God. Surely this is not the will of God.” But, it is. The interesting thing about this was that Marah was on the map that God was leading them by. God led them right to that place. The Bible says that Moses led them, but if you read on, you’ll find that God was leading them through Moses.
I want you to understand tonight, that when you arrive at a situation–it may be your next pastorate–it may be your next Sunday School position, or it may be the next day that you arrive at the place of bitter waters. This does not mean you are out of the will of God; it probably means that you are right smack dab in the middle of God’s will. Do you know why? Because he uses this failure to prove us. It says that He proved them there. I thought they had been proved at the Red Sea. They had just had a marvelous demonstration of the omnipotence of God at the Red Sea, but folks I want you to understand tonight that you do not grow and learn to trust God at Red Sea sensational miracles.
God doesn’t test his people and prove his people in miraculous happenings like the Red Sea. He tests them and proves them when they are up against the daily routine of life. And what so often happens is that if we have a marvelous, cataclysmic, ecstatic experience, walking about three feet off the ground, we think we are equipped for anything that comes along. But miracles never produce faith. And you can have one Red Sea experience after another, but that’s not the training ground for living for Jesus Christ. The training ground is when you wonder where your next drink of water is coming from.. That’s the testing. And God led them to the bitter waters to see if they had learned anything at the Red Sea. Sure enough, they hadn’t learned much. And God is going to test you. If this week you have had a great experience, I don’t mean to assume a pessimistic attitude, but if you have a great experience with the Lord this week, get ready. He is going to test you—at the point of that experience. And sometimes, often, the greatest successes of your life will be followed by failure.
He led them there not only to prove them, but it says He also leads us to these places to purify us. He made a statue, and an ordinance, and a commandment. He said, “All right, I don’t want you to get the idea that you are spiritually superior to the Egyptians, The same plagues, the same diseases I put on the Egyptians I will put on you unless you come to the place where you hearken to my Word, where you obey my Word, and where you do everything I tell you to do.” The experience of failure was to purify those people of their spiritual satisfaction and superiority and to reveal to them the murmuring and distrust and disbelief that was in their hearts.
I find that there are times when it is easy to praise the Lord, easy to trust God, and then I find God leading me to some bitter waters, and it is not so easy to praise Him, to trust Him. God is purifying me, but He is doing something else. He is also preparing me. If you read over in the next chapter, you will find they come to another situation in which they don’t have any food, and they are worrying now about hunger. Every time God leads you through one of these experiences, it is in order that he might prepare you for more intense struggles, for greater battles, and equip you for winning greater victories. The first thing to remember is this: the greatest successes of life are often followed by failure.
2. The greatest services of life are often followed by forgetfulness.
It is so hard to believe this. Here was Moses who led them out of Egypt under the mighty hand of God; who when they were stuck at the Red Sea, obeyed God; and it was Moses, the man of God, who raised his hand and wielded the rod of God and parted the waters and delivered the people. You would think they would remember that, but the very moment they get into a tight situation, what do they do? They forget! And they began to accuse Moses, and blame Moses, and murmur against Moses. The greatest services of life are often followed by forgetfulness.
Now, friend, I want to tell you something. You need to get to ready to be unappreciated. There is nothing that will discourage you anymore than being unappreciated, and having people forget. There is something about human nature that can, in a moment, forget a record of faithful service. Some years ago I had a very dear pastor friend. He had taken this church when it was just a little, struggling church. When they were barely able to pay him a decent salary, he stayed there. And was faithful.. There were times when I would say, why don’t you take a day off. He said, no, there is so much to do. He labored so. I would visit him, and he would be pouring over the Word of God, trying to feed the people the Word of God. He was up at five o’clock nearly every morning studying the Word—a faithful preacher of the Word. He was there seven or eight years. One week he went to a revival meeting, and one cantankerous, carnal Christian member of that church told somebody that he believed the pastor is involved in the tongues movement. He wasn’t. I knew him. When he came home, the church was ready to run him off without a hearing. I could not understand it. Here is a man who for eight years had given faithful, dedicated service, and in one moment they forgot about it. It is amazing to me how a man’s ministry can be wiped out because one carnal, backslidden person says something and people believe it.
Friend, you are going to be unappreciated many times in your Christian life. Regardless of how faithful you are, there are going to be periods when all of your services are followed by forgetfulness. What do you do in a situation like that? Let me offer two or three suggestions:
1) Don’t take it personally. If you will check over in chapter 16, you’ll find that God says in verse 8, “And Moses said, This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we (Moses and Aaron)? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD.
And it is to the eternal credit of Moses that he never took those murmurings personally. You are going to be in deep trouble if you take things personally. You need to remember the Word of the LORD to his servant: they have not rejected you, they have rejected me. I am an ambassador for Christ and God beseeches us in Christ’s stead. I stand in Christ’s place. I am his representative. When people reject me, I must not take it personally. It will make you bitter and resentful. You’ll start whining in self pity. Don’t take it personally.
2) Don’t take it out on the people. I want you to know that Moses exercised great self-control. You never find him turning against the people and saying, this is your fault, and you don’t appreciate me.. He never took it out on the people. What do you do?
3) You take it to the Lord. He cried unto the Lord. And there are two kinds of people in this building tonight. There are those who complain, and there are those who cry to the Lord.
And the Bible says that when he cried to the Lord the Lord showed him a tree and told him to throw it in the waters. And when he threw it into the waters, those bitter waters were made sweet. I want you to notice that the tree was there all the while, but Moses didn’t recognize it. God had to show it to him. In the midst of your worst time, in the midst of your most bitter experiences, if you will, instead of complaining and griping and taking it personally, cry to the Lord, He will show you something that will make it sweet. And he will move into your life in an unexplainable, mysterious way and show you how to make that experience sweet.
The thing that really struck me though is not so much that they forgot Moses, but that they forgot God. You read back through that hymn, and in the first verses of chapter 50, and they talked about God’s power to deliver. Yet, now they are whining and worrying about a loss of water and bitter water. The greatest services of life are often followed by forgetfulness.
One last word…
3. The greatest shortages of life are always followed by fullness.
Look at verse 27: And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm trees; and they encamped there by the waters. The greatest shortages of life are always followed by fullness. I want you to notice that the Bible says they kept going, and they came to Elim. You are going to meet obstacles and opposition. The devil is going to wage spiritual war against you, and threaten you with disillusionment and discouragement. But in the midst of that just keep going—trust God, obey God. Regardless of how dismal it looks, obey God. You say, what if I don’t feel like obeying God. Obey God! What if I don’t feel like praying? Pray! What if I don’t feel like studying the Word? Study the Word! Just keep on obeying God, keeping his statutes, doing everything God says. Just keep on following. Keep on moving. For right over the hill, there’s Elim.
When a man or a woman keeps on moving, and keeps on trusting God in the midst of bitterness, he will always bring you to Elim where there were twelve wells (one for every tribe) and seventy palm trees (that’s one for every elder). Listen, a while back they didn’t have any water all except the bitter. Now, each tribe has its own Artesian spring bubbling up out of the ground. Every elder has his own palm tree. All they needed was water, but God gave them shade. The Lord always gives you more than you expect. They didn’t need the shade, but God said, I’m going to throw in something extra. I have found the Lord always gives me more than I am expecting—always gives me more than I am looking for.
The thief on the cross said, Lord, one day when you come into your Kingdom way off yonder in the future, please remember me. Jesus gave him more than he expected. He said, today shalt thou be with me in paradise. He always gives you more.
One of my favorite verses is Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. The thing that I like most about it is this: Jesus said, when I come in, first of all, I’ll sit at your table, and eat what you have. Then he says, I want you to sit at my table and let me feed you for awhile. I’ll sup with you, and then you sup with me. I’ll come in as guest, and I’ll become the host, and I’ll feed you for awhile. God always gives us more than we can give him. They came to Elim, where there were twelve waters.
Have you ever noticed how many times the people of God are running out of necessities? In John, chapter 6, they were having an outdoor meeting, and didn’t have any food. People began to pass out from hunger. One little boy had a little lunch that his mother had evidently packed for him that day. The disciples began to moan and groan and wonder what in the world they were going to do. Jesus distributed that bread and those fishes after he had blessed them. When they finished, they took up how many baskets? Twelve baskets full. That’s one for each disciple; even Judas had his own basket full of bread. For awhile, they had nothing. They were at the point of pain from hunger, but they obeyed the Lord Jesus. They obeyed as ridiculous as it may have seemed. They obeyed and ended up each one with his own basket of bread.
I’ve tried to imagine what Moses must have felt like when God told him to throw that tree in the water. That seemed like a foolish thing to do. The water was already bad enough without throwing a tree in it. I can imagine the Israelites saying, now, look at Moses. Here we are dying of thirst and he’s over there throwing trees in the water!
The ways of God are past finding out. I stand absolutely amazed tonight at the pathway that God leads us. I have to tell you that when I started out giving my life to the Lord, and to preach, and try to do his will, I never in my wildest nightmares imagined some of the bitter waters he was going to lead me through. And there have been many times, folks, when I have been discouraged and despondent. There have been two periods in my life when I have tried my best to leave the ministry. I tried to quit. I have never doubted my call to preach. There have been times in my younger life when I wondered if I was saved and doubted my salvation. I’ve never doubted that God called me to preach. I’d take second best in life. But God locked me in, shut every door. Folks, I have no choice but to preach. I can’t do anything else. It is preach or starve. Do you know why? Because when I started out, I didn’t know what to expect. I somehow thought that surrendering to God and being filled with the Spirit was a vaccination that God gave me that made me immune to problems, difficulties and troubles. And that if I just stayed faithful, and clean and pure, everything would be rosy.
God would lead me to bitter waters. There he would prove me. I would fail the test. Do you know what happened? They failed the test. In chapter 16, he leads them to a place where there is no food, and they fail the test again. And forty years in the wilderness is simply God giving those folks the examination over and over again until they passed it.
I thank God tonight that he never abandons his purpose. He can never be frustrated in his will. God has a plan for my life, and he is not going to abandon it. He will keep on giving me the examination until I pass. You never flunk out. He just keeps giving you the test over and over again. Listen, I want to pass the test the first time and save myself a lot of trouble.
I want you to see the cycle. There was success followed by failure. There was service followed by forgetfulness. There was shortage followed by fullness. All right, everything is all right again. They’ve come to Elim, and they camp there. Plenty of water—each tribe has it’s own well; each elder has his own palm tree to sit under. But, friends, they didn’t stay at Elim. And you never stay at Elim. They moved on, and in chapter 16, it says that once again they murmured against the LORD. Success followed by failure because they came to a place where they had no food, no bread. Service was followed by forgetfulness. They murmured against the Lord again. And shortages followed by fullness because God fed them abundantly. That’s the cycle. If you’ll read the history of Israel you’ll find that’s the cycle again and again and again. Because God is leading us in order to teach us to trust him.
And all those days and months, even years, I spent discouraged and disillusioned and despondent, I wish I had just known that I was in the way and God was leading. There are some of you who dread going home tonight because things aren’t right at home. You may feel the presence of the Lord here, and the moment you step over the threshold, it will all dissipate and die on you. You dread not having a service like this to come to tomorrow night because you don’t know if you can make it without it. That’s why you are so discouraged. Listen, God leads you that way in order that he might teach you to trust him. The greatest testing of faith, friends, comes in just the daily needs of life. God is not going to mold you, and make you, and finish you into that finished product this week. And if you think that he is, or you think that he has, oh, friend, you are in for one big shock. The devil is going to defeat you with the weapon of discouragement. This is not the test this week. This is not the proving this week. Tomorrow is the test. Next week is the test—when God leads you to the waters of Marah, and they are so bitter you can’t stand it. That’s the test. That will be your golden opportunity to demonstrate that what God did last week in that conference was real in your life.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006