Charles Haddon Spurgeon




            ON THURSDAY EVENING, APRIL 4TH, 1889.


“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 Marsh, 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 be cried unto the LORD;

and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the

waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a

statute 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.” — Exodus 15:22-26.


AFTER I had fallen down at Mentone, and was grievously ill, a brother in

Christ called upon me, and said, “My dear friend, you have now come to

Marah.” I replied, “Yes, and the waters are bitter.” Hethen said, “But

Marah is better than Elim, for in Elim the Israelites only drank of the water

and ate of the fruit of the palm trees, and that was soon over; but at Marah

we read that God ‘made for them a statute and an ordinance,’ and that was

never over. That statute and ordinance stood fast, and will stand fast for

Israel as long as they are a nation. There is much more benefit to be reaped

from Marah than from Elim.” I thanked my friend for that good word. I

had found it true aforetime; I have found it true since then; and you and I,

if we are indeed the people of God, will find it true to the end, that Marah,

though it be bitter, is also better; and albeit that we do not like it, yet in the

end there shall be no bitterness in it, but an unutterable sweetness which

shall be ours through time and eternity.


We have a long record about Marah, have we not? I have read you four

verses concerning Marah. How many verses have we about Elim? Only

one. Does Marah deserve to be talked about four times as much as Elim?

Perhaps it does; perhaps there is four times as much fruit to be obtained

from the bitter waters of Marah than from the twelve springs of water, and

threescore and ten palm trees at Elim. Who knows? This I know, however,

that we are very apt to talk more about our bitters than about our sweets;

and that is a serious fault. It were well if we had fewer murmuring words

for our sorrows, and more songs of thanksgiving for our blessings. Yet

Holy Writ seems here to speak after the manner of men, and to lot us have

the four verses for the trial, and the one verse for the delight. Still, as it

speaks also after the manner of God, I gather that Marah is, after all, more

noteworthy than Elim; and truly, there does come to God’s people

something better out of their troubles than out of their joys.


Certainly one thing is clear, Israel had no miracle at Elim. Wells and palm

trees they had; but they had no miracle there, no miraculous change of the

bitter into the sweet; and they had no statute, and no ordinance, and no

promise, and no new revelation of God, and no now name for Jehovah

there. All that belonged to Marah, “for there he made them a statute and an

ordinance,” and there he promised, if they were faithful and obedient, that

he would put none of the diseases of Egypt upon them, and there he

revealed himself as Jehovah Rophi, “the Lord that healeth thee.” Oh, yes,

there are many virtues and many blessings in the bitter waters of Marah!

Often have we found it true that “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

I hope that nobody here thinks that these Israelites experienced a small

trial. We are not accustomed to travelling in the desert; but those who are,

tell us that thirst in the wilderness is something awful to endure. For all that

great host to go three days without water, must have been a very trying

experience. You would not like to try that even in this country; but what

must it be to go three days in the wilderness, beneath a burning sky,

without a drop of water to drink? Then came the bitter disappointment at

Marah. Probably the people knew that there were water-springs ahead, so

they hurried up to the place to drink; but when they stooped to taste the

waters, they found that they were bitter. They could not drink of them; and

there they stood, in their desperation, with the long thirst parching their

throats, and bitter disappointment adding to their agony; and they

murmured against Moses, saying,” What shall we drink?” I say not this to

excuse them, but lest you should think that they had only a small trial to



Remember, also, that this was a now form of trial. They never lacked for

water in Egypt; there were plenty of rivers and canals there, and they could

drink as much as they chose. This was an experience to which they were

quite unaccustomed, and I should not wonder if they were greatly

surprised at it, for they knew that they were the people of God. They had

just seen the Lord divide the Red Sea, and drown their enemies; and now

has he brought them out of Egypt to lot them perish of thirst in the

wilderness? They fancied that they were going to have one long triumphant

march right into the promised land, or to be always dandled upon the lap of

Providence, and indulged in every way, like spoilt children. They must have

stood aghast at finding that, when the earth yielded water to slake their

thirst, it was such water as they could not drink.


Well, now, this kind of surprise happens to many who have set out on the

way to heaven. God has been very gracious to them; their sins are washed

away, and they think that the great joy which they have lately experienced

will never be taken away from them, and will never be even diminished.

They reckon upon a long day without a cloud. God has favored them so

much that they cannot imagine that they shall have any trial or any

bitterness. It is not so, beloved; a Christian man is seldom long at ease, no

sooner does he start out on pilgrimage to heaven than he meets with a

difficulty, and as he goes on he finds out that the way to heaven is not a

rolled pathway, it is up hill and down dale, through the mire and through

the slough, over mount and through the sea. It is by their trials and

afflictions that the people of God are proved to be his children. They

cannot escape the rod, whoever may; yet this experience does at first come

as a very great surprise to them, so I want to talk tonight to some who

have been lately brought to rejoice in the Lord’s pardoning mercy, but are

now staggered because they have come to an encampment in the

wilderness where their thirsty mouths are filled with bitterness.

I begin my discourse by saying that this experience was a great gain to

Israel. Marah, with all its trials, was no loss to them. They made a decided

advance in three things through having to endure this trial; they were

gainers, first, by examination; next, by experience; and, thirdly, by



I. First, Israel’s trial at Marah was a gain to them by EXAMINATION. It was

to that end that they were brought there, that they might be examined by

the Lord: “There he proved them.”


Speaking of Israel at Marah, let me say, first, that they were in a new

position. They were no longer slaves, they were not in Egyptian territory,

the Red Sea rolled between them and their former lives, and their former

masters; but it is evident from their conduct that they were not altogether a

new people. They had brought a great deal of evil out of Egypt with them.

When you heard them sing, you said, “It is strange that those poor slaves

can sing such a jubilant song. Those women, so accustomed to carry heavy

burdens of earth, how merrily they dance! How joyfully they strike the

timbrels! Israel has certainly become a new race. What a grand choir they

make! What singing is theirs! Who would have dreamt that those who

cried by reason of their taskmasters would ever sing like that?” Yes, but

when they were tried and tested, it was found that the old stuff was in them

still; they murmured just as they had often done before when, in the land of

Egypt, they had blamed Moses because their burdens were increased. We,

too, have entered quite a new state. Some of you, perhaps, have lately

become new creatures in Christ Jesus. Between you and your old sins there

rolls a deep, impassable sea; you will never go back to them again. Ah, but

do not begin to flatter yourselves that you have left behind you all your old

selves! There remaineth still, even in the regenerate, the old lusts of the

flesh. They have had their heads broken, but they still live; they have been

crucified, their hands and feet are fastened to the wood, crucified with

Christ; but they live for all that; and they struggle on the cross, and you

must not marvel, if, when you are tried and proved, you find that you are

like these Israelites at Marah.


Notice, next, that the trial to which Israel was subjected was the Lord’s

own test, which is searching and accurate: “He proved them.” We sit

down, and practice self-examination, which is a very proper thing. Beware,

I pray you, of a faith that will not stand self-examination. If you dare not

look into your own heart, it must be because there is something rotten

there. The tradesman who is afraid to inspect his books, or examine his

stock, is going to the bad, rest assured of that. We are bound to examine

ourselves very carefully; but, after all, our examinations are very

superficial, very partial, and we are very apt to make a mistake. In the case

of Israel, the Lord proved them by that thirst in the wilderness, and that

great agony on finding that the water they looked for was undrinkable. “He

proved them.” The Lord maybe bringing some of you into deep waters,

and great trials, because he is proving you. When the fan is in his hand,

then does he throughly purge his floor. When he sits as a refiner of silver,

believe me, it is no child’s play to be in the crucible. The Lord took Israel

to those waters on purpose to prove them. Have you never prayed,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts”?

The Lord may answer you in a way of which you little dream; he may

conduct you to some waters of Marah that he may test you and prove you.

Well, now, under the test, see what happened to Israel. Their faith in God

evaporated. That question, “What shall we drink?” has not a trace of faith

in it. I hear it shouted, in different tones, by men, and women, and children,

and it all comes to the same thing, “We hoped to quench our thirst here,

but we cannot drink this water; and now what shall we drink?” As if God

could not, having dried up the sea, turn the earth into a fountain of water!

He that made them a path through the midst of the deep waters could make

a path for waters to come to them. There was no trace of faith in the

murmurers at Marah. They seemed full of faith at the Red Sea, did they

not? Many dancers, but no doubters; many singers, but no unbelievers; yet

the whole company had not more than a pennyworth of faith amongst

them. Moses was the only one who truly believed God; but as for the faith

of the rest of them, it was mere gilt; veneer of faith covering a solid mass

of unbelief.


Not only did their faith fail, but their love to God was very feeble. Did you

not hear them three days ago? Why, you can almost hear the strain of their

jubilant song, “He is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my

father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Oh, how they love Jehovah, do they

not? They were in the love of their espousals; they went after him into the

wilderness. But now the cry is, “What shall we drink?” and they murmured

against Moses. Theirs was a cupboard love, like yours and mine often is.

They loved God very much for what they got out of him; and if he would

not give them water to drink, what cared they for him? If he would divide

the Red Sea for them, then he should be their God, and they would prepare

him a habitation; but if he let them suffer the pangs of thirst, there should

be no blessings for him on their lips. Ah, me! how like ourselves were these

people! When we test ourselves, we say, “Lord, thou knowest all things,

thou knowest that I love thee.” And I hope that that is correct; but when

the Lord proves us, and we are very sharply tested, we are apt to say,

“Nobody was ever tried as we are, nobody ever had the peculiar difficulties

that surround us;” and then we begin murmuring. When we are thinking of

how much we love God, it might be more profitable to consider how very

little we really love him after all.


And see, brethren, these people were ready to break away from their God.

They murmured against Moses, because Moses was visible in their midst;

but the real murmuring was against God himself. They might ask, as long

as they liked, “What shall we drink?” but they could not get a drop of

water by repeating that question a thousand times. Would they go back to

Egypt? How would they cross the sea? What would Pharaoh and the

Egyptians think of them if they did go back? Could they force their way

forward through that terrible wilderness? There they stood, entirely

dependent upon God, and yet with scarcely a particle of faith in him, and

their love all shrivelled up, and all that within three clays. O Israel, it is

early days to be falling out with your new Husband! They had just been

married to the Lord by a new covenant, and baptized in the cloud and in

the sea; yet within three days they are ready to fling it all up, and to say, as

they did in their hearts, “Would to God that we had remained in the land of

Egypt!” Oh, what poor, faithless, treacherous, deceitful creatures we are!

It is only grace that makes us anything worth having. It is a wonder of

mercy that the Lord puts up with us.


This, then, was Israel’s examination. “Well,” say you, “did they gain much

by that?” Oh, yes! It is always a gain to a man to know the truth about

himself. A captain must find his longitude and latitude, that he may know

whereabouts his vessel is upon the sea; and this, I believe, is one of the

things God would have his people do. The Lord does not wish his children

to live in a fool’s paradise, and to fancy that they are rich, and increased in

goods, and have need of nothing, when they are naked, and poor, and

blind, and miserable. He sends us our Marahs, just to blow away our

shams, and got rid of our pretences, that we may build our house on the

rock, that what is built may be founded on real granite, and may endure

even to the end.


So much for the examination of the children of Israel at Marah.


II. But now, beloved friends, these people gained much by EXPERIENCE.

Experience cannot be the property of the beginner; he must acquire it. Now

what did the children of Israel experience?


First, they learned that the wilderness was the same to them as it was to

other people. It is well that young converts should know that this world is

an evil world even to the man who is saved by grace. You are new; but the

world is not. You love holiness; but the world neither loves you, nor loves

holiness. You are in a wilderness; you are in the enemy’s country; you have

not yet come into your rest. If you have not learnt this fact yet, you will

have to learn it.


They were to learn, next, that they were wholly dependent upon God.

When they stood at the brink of the Red Sea, they saw that they were so,

and that only God could lead them through the sea; but after that, they

were just as dependent. They could not live longer without water, they

must perish of thirst unless God supplied them. It is a blessed lesson for us

to learn that we are entirely dependent upon God for all things, but

especially for spiritual things. You will not pray unless he gives you the

Spirit of supplication. You will have no tenderness of heart unless he

works repentance in you. You will have no more faith unless faith be

constantly bestowed by God. We are just like these gaslights; a candle may

depend upon its own resources, but this light cannot. Only cut the

connection between it and the reservoir of gas, and straightway out it must

go. We depend upon God every instant as much as we did at first; and all

our old experience, all that we have learned, and known, and taught, will

stand us in no stead whatever unless we continue perpetually to receive

from God. That was the lesson Israel had to learn.


They also learned that God and God alone would provide. They might

have to go very short of supplies at times, and they might have a long

thirst, but the Lord would not let one of them die of thirst. There is no

record that even the tiniest babe in the camp, or even a sheep or goat in

that mighty throng, perished for lack of water. God did provide. He does

not promise that there shall always be a dinner ready when the dinner-bell

rings. You have not such an appetite as you would afterwards have if you

waited another hour; and sometimes the Lord may keep you waiting for his

supplies that you may enjoy them all the better when they do come. He

never is before his time, but he never is behind his time, though he may be

behind your time. God will provide. That day, Israel began to understand

that word of their father Abraham when he said to Isaac, as you remember,

My son, God will provide.” Now it began to come home to the children of

the tribes, that God would surely provide; and he did provide for them this

great necessary gift of water when they were in the wilderness. That is

something to learn. Some of you people of God here have learnt that

lesson, for you have been in great straits, and you have been fed by the

constant provision of God.


The Israelites were also to learn, in the next place, that God could make

their bitters into sweets, and he could do that in a very simple way. But he

could do it; and he could bring good out of evil, and satisfy them by that

which formerly nauseated them. Have you learned that lesson yet? Some of

you people of God, when you get bitter waters, want to throw them away.

Do not throw a drop of it away, for that is the water you have yet to drink.

Accept your afflictions. They are a part of your education. Accept your

afflictions. When Job could say, “The Lord gave,” it was easy to add, “and

blessed be the name of the Lord;” but he also added, “and the Lord hath

taken away.” That was the bitter water; but he drank it, and it was sweet to

his taste, and he blessed the name of the Lord for the taking as well as for

the giving. God means to bless some of you by the enemy’s curse. Though

you do not know it, you are to be lifted up by those who are trying to pull

you down. I noticed some of the papers writing unkindly of our dear

friend, John McNeill, and saying all manner of hard things of him; and I

rejoiced in my heart. I hoped that they would go ahead at that work. I

remember how they did it to me, all the bitterness they could invent, in

years gone by. Every form and fashion of abuse was heaped upon me, and

what a wonderful advertisement it was! What a kindness they were doing

me without intending it! Let them alone; and depend upon it, God will

make the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder of that wrath he

will restrain.


Next, notice, that God works by his own means. The Lord showed Moses

a tree, and when he cast that tree into the waters, they became sweet. I

think, if I had been there, I should have suggested that Moses should use

that rod of his. Did he not divide the Red Sea with it? Why not just put his

rod into the water, and stir it up, and make it sweet? Oh, yes, you know,

we are always for running to old methods! But God is a Sovereign, and he

will work as he pleases. There was a tree growing there, perhaps the wood

of it was bitter, certainly it had no efficacy for making bitter water sweet;

but God bade Moses cast that tree into the waters, and as soon as it was

done, the waters were made sweet. Now, you have just to believe that God

will help you. You do not know how he will do it, and perhaps he will not

help you in the old way. Do not despair because Moses does not bring out

his rod, for the Lord can relieve you without that. That dear friend who has

helped you so many years is gone. Well, but God has not gone, and he is

not dependent upon that one person, nor upon any other. Therefore leave

God as a King to do as he pleases, for his pleasure is the wisest, and lot his

pleasure be your pleasure.


Israel also learned by experience that God himself was to be looked to, and

nobody else. If there were waters beneath their feet, they were of no value

until God spoke sweetness into them; if Moses himself stood there, he

could do nothing but pray to the Lord. God himself must come, and by a

miracle must make the water fit to drink. Brethren, it is always a gain to us

in our experience when we get farther and farther away from every

dependence but the Lord. You may have friends forsaking you, and they

who used to praise you may now be speaking evil of you, and you may

come at last to feel that you have nothing but God to depend upon. Then is

the time that faith really comes into exercise. I could not help laughing

when I read the story of a good Christian lady, who spoke of our friend,

Mr. Hudson Taylor: “Why,” she said, “there is no Society to take care of

him! Poor man, he has nobody but God to depend upon!” You may well

smile. “Nobody but God to depend upon;” but that is everybody to depend

upon. Oh, if we could only be brought to that experience, Marah’s waters

would indeed be a heavenly tonic to us! The child of God who has learned

this truth experimentally can say, “My soul is weaned from all the nether

springs, but she drinks from the upper spring that flows from beneath the

throne of God, and she finds every drop to have a heavenly sweetness in



Thus Israel gained by experience as well as by examination.


III. Now comes the third point, Israel gained by EDUCATION. The Lord

was not going to lead a mob of slaves into Canaan, to go and behave like

slaves there. They had to be tutored. The wilderness was the Oxford and

Cambridge for God’s students. There they went to the University, and he

taught and trained them, and they took their degree before they entered

into the promised land. There is no University for a Christian like that of

sorrow and trial.


Now the Israelites were educated by Marah, first, in self-distrust. How

could they ever trust themselves again when, three days after singing that

jubilant song, they caught themselves murmuring against Moses? If they

had been intelligent, as they were not, they would each one have said to his

fellow, “Behold the boastfulness of our evil hearts.” What a terrible drop it

is from “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the

horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea,” to “What shall we drink?”

That is just how you and I come down when we are left to ourselves. Thus

Israel learnt self-distrust.


Next, they learned, as I have told you before, daily dependence. They

learned that they must depend upon God even for a drop of water. That is

the dependence of a Christian man. He has nothing and he can do nothing

without his God. We have no bread, no water, no anything, except as God

shall give it to us. A blessed lesson was this for Israel. They were educated

well at Marah.


Next, they learned the power of prayer. Will you kindly fix your eyes upon

those two verses, twenty-four and twenty-five? “And the people murmured

against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord.”

Moses did not answer them; he did not upbraid them; he did not even begin

to argue with them; but he cried unto the Lord, and thus the people learned

the power of prayer. They might have gone on murmuring until now, if

they could have lived so long, and the waters of Marah would have been as

bitter as ever. But Moses cried unto the Lord; and that prayer did what all

the murmuring could not do. Were half the breath we vainly spend in going

round to our neighbors, asking their sympathy, spent in going direct to

God in prayer, we should sooner get out of our troubles. “Straightforward

makes the best runner,” and he that runs straight to God in every time of

adversity shall soon find relief.


Again, at Marah the Israelites began to learn their separateness from

Egypt. The Egyptians never drank these bitter waters; but the Egyptians

had foul diseases, and terrible plagues. Now, the Lord tens his people that

he will not put upon them any of the diseases of Egypt. God turned the

rivers of Egypt into blood, but here he turns the bitter waters into fresh

streams. His miracles were for Israel, and against Egypt; and they began to

perceive clearly that they had nothing to do with the Egyptians. They were

a separated people. It is a valuable piece of education for a young Christian

to find out that he does not belong to the world. The tendency is to think

that, though you are in the church, you can be in the world, too, and that

you belong, in a measure, to both. That will never do. The Lord means to

fetch his people right out of the world, and he will have them out; and if

any of you try to be like the mouse behind the wainscot, and only come out

and feed in the dark, I mean that you come to Christ for a little food when

nobody sees you, and then go and hide away with the world, there will be a

black cat after you before long. Some trouble or other will happen to you.

That game will never please God, and never profit you; therefore drop it, I

pray you, or else some bitter Marah will teach you that you are not of the



Israel had next to learn the position of obedience. Will you kindly notice

this? God did not say, “Do this, and I will bring you out of Egypt.” No; but

after he brought them out, he said, “Hearken to my commandments, and

keep my statutes.” Salvation comes first, and then obedience. Saved first,

brought through the Red Sea with the high hand of God’s gracious power,

and, after that, become his obedient people. Obedience follows after

redemption and deliverance. First the blood of sprinkling on the doorposts;

and after that, thou shalt give ear unto the voice of the Lord thy

God, and diligently hearken to him.


Israel also learned the nature of obedience. Obedience does not merely do

what it knows it should do, but it finds out what it ought to do. Oh, you

Christian people, do you make a practice of reading God’s Word to see

what he would have you do? I am afraid that there are some who make a

point of not seeing some of the duties which are not pleasing to them.

There are some who half shun portions of Scripture because they would

trouble their consciences. Let it not be so with any of us; but let us hearken

diligently to the voice of the Lord our God. If you are saved, the kind of

obedience that you are bound to render is that of a willing heart, which

cries like Saul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”


Then, Israel learned the promise made to obedience: “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 you there shall be no plagues. God may try you, yet it will

be not in anger, but in his dear covenant love. Everything shall be changed

for you. If sickness comes, it shall be overruled for your spiritual health.

When death comes, it shall only introduce you to eternal life. The Lord will

be very gracious to you. He that forgives our sins also heals all our

diseases. His name is Jehovah Rophi. What an education it is for us when

we feel that the God that healed the waters heals us, and heals everything

that has to do with us; changes the aspect of all things about us, takes the

sting out of the wasp, and turns it into a bee; takes away the venom from

the serpent, and gives us its wisdom, that we may be wise as serpents, and

harmless as doves! Oh, the wonderful cure-alls of God, the heavenly

catholicon of the cross, the universal remedy of a dying Savior! May our

experience educate us in the knowledge of that gracious healing!

The hour has struck, and I must therefore cease, only I must say that this is

the one lesson of to-night; dear people of God, trust your God. Trust your

God, not only when your mouth is full of honey, but when it is full of gall.

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him;” for he in whom you trust

will bless you.


But if you are not trusting him, then shall plagues, like those of Egypt,

come upon you. Darkness and all manner of evils shall waylay you, till, at

last, there shall be heard in your house a bitter cry, for the destroying angel

will overtake you, and plunge his avenging sword into your guilty hearts.

God save you from that terrible doom, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake!