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The Waters of Marah.
ISRAEL was not more loath to come to the Red Sea than to part from it. How soon can God turn the horror of any evil into pleasure! One shore resounded with shrieks of fear; the other with timbrels, and dances, and songs of deliverance. Every main affliction is our Red Sea, which, while it threats to swallow, preserves us. At last our songs shall be louder than our cries. The Israelitish dames, when they saw their danger, thought they might have left their timbrels behind them. How unprofitable a burden seemed those instruments of music! Yet now they live to renew that forgotten minstrelsy and dancing, which their bondage had so long discontinued! and well might those feet dance upon the shore, which had walked through the sea. The land of Goshen was not so bountiful to them as these waters: that afforded them a servile life; this gave them at once freedom, victory, riches, bestowing upon them the remainder of that wealth which the Egyptians had but lent. It was a pleasure to see the floating carcasses of their adversaries; and every day offers them new booties it is no marvel then if their hearts were tied to these banks. If we find but a little pleasure in our life, we are ready to doat upon it. Every small contentment glues our affections to that we like; and if here our imperfect delights hold us so fast that we would not be loosed, how forcible shall those infinite joys be above, when our souls are once possessed of them!
Yet, if the place had pleased them more, it is no marvel they were willing to follow Moses; that they durst follow him in the wilderness, whom they followed through the sea. It is a great confirmation to any people, when they have seen the hand of God with their guide. O Saviour, which hast undertaken to carry me from the spiritual Egypt to the land of promise, how faithful, how powerful have I found thee! how fearlessly should I trust thee! how cheerfully should I follow
thee through contempt, poverty, death itself. Master, if it be thou, bid us come unto thee."
Immediately before, they had complained of too much water; now they go three days without. Thus God meant to punish their infidelity, with the defect of that whose abundance made them to distrust. Before, they saw all water, no land; now, all dry and dusty land, and no water. Extremities are the best trials of men; as in bodies, those that can bear sudden changes of heats and cold without complaint, are the strongest. So much as an evil touches upon the mean, so much help it yields towards patience. Every degree of sorrow is a preparation of the next: but when we pass to extremes without the mean, we want the benefit of recollection, and must trust to our present strength. To come from all things to nothing, is not a descent, but a downfal; and it is a rare strength and constancy, not to be maimed at least. These headlong evils, as they are the sorest, so they must be most provided for; as, on the contrary, a sudden advancement, from a low condition to the height of honour, is most hard to manage. No man can marvel how that tyrant blinded his captives, when he hears that he brought them immediately out of a dark dungeon, into rooms that were made bright and glorious. We are not worthy to know for what we are reserved. No evil can amaze us if we can overcome sudden extremities.
The long deferring of a good, though tedious, yet makes it the better when it comes. Well did the Israelites hope, that the waters, which were so long in finding, would be precious when they were found: yet behold they are crossed, not only in their desires, but in their hopes; for, after three days' travel, the first fountains they find are bitter waters. If these wells had not run pure gall, they could not have so much complained. Long thirst will make bitter waters sweet. Yet such were these springs, that the Israelites did not so much like their moisture as abhor their relish. I see the first handsel that God gives them, in their voyage to the land of promise, thirst and bitterness. Satan gives us pleasant entrances into his ways, and reserves the bitterness for the end. God inures us to our worst at first, and sweetens our conclusion with pleasure.
The same God that would not lead Israel through the Philistines' land, lest they should shrink at the sight of war, now leads them through the wilderness, and fears not to try their
patience with bitter potions. If he had not loved them, the Egyptian furnace, or sword, had prevented their thirst, or that sea whereof their enemies drunk dead; and yet see how he diets them! Never any have had so bitter draughts upon earth, as those he loves best. The palate is an ill judge of the favours of God. O my Saviour, thou didst drink a more bitter cup from the hands of thy Father, than that which thou refusedst of the Jews, or than that which I can drink from thee!
Before, they could not drink if they would; now, they might and would not. God can give us blessings with such a tang, that the fruition shall not much differ from the want. So many a one hath riches, not grace to use them; many have children, but such as they prefer barrenness. They had said before, Oh that we had any water! Now, Oh that we had good water! It is good so to desire blessings from God, that we may be the better for enjoying them; so to crave water, that it may not be sauced with bitterness.
Now, these fond Israelites, instead of praying, murmur; instead of praying to God, murmur against Moses. "What hath the righteous done?" He made not either the wilderness dry, or the waters bitter; yea, if his conduct were the matter, what one foot went he before them without God? The pillar led them, and not he; yet Moses is murmured at. It is the hard condition of authority, that when the multitude fare well, they applaud themselves; when ill, they repine against their governors. Who can hope to be free, if Moses escape not? Never any prince so merited of a people. He thrust himself upon the pikes of Pharaoh's tyranny-he brought them from a bondage worse than death-his rod divided the sea, and shared life to them, death to their pursuers. Who would not have thought these men so obliged to Moses, that no death could have opened their mouths, or raised their hands against him? Yet now, the first occasion of want makes them rebel. No benefit can stop the mouth of impatience. If our turn be not served for the present, former favours are either forgotten or contemned. No marvel if we deal so with men, when God receives this measure from us. One year of famine, one summer of pestilence, one moon of unseasonable weather, makes us overlook all the blessings of God; and more to mutiny at the sense of our evil, than to praise him for our varieties of good: whereas,
favours well bestowed leave us both mindful and confident, and will not suffer us either to forget or distrust. O God, I have made an ill use of thy mercies, if I have not learnt to be content with thy corrections.
Moses was in the same want of water with them, in the same distaste of bitterness; and yet they say to Moses, What shall we drink? If they had seen him furnished with full vessels of sweet water, and themselves put over to this unsavoury liquor, envy might have given some colour to this mutiny; but now their leader's common misery might have freed him from their murmurs. They held it one piece of the late Egyptian tyranny, that a task was required of them (which the imposers knew they could not perform) to make brick when they had no straw; yet they say to Moses, What shall we drink? Themselves are grown exactors, and are ready to menace more than stripes, if they have not their ends without means. Moses took not upon him their provision, but their deliverance; and yet, as if he had been the common victualler of the camp, they ask, What shall we drink? When want meets with impatient minds, it transports them to fury; every thing disquiets, and nothing satisfies them.
What course doth Moses now take? That which they should have done, and did not. They cried not more fervently to him, than he to God. If he were their leader, God was his. That which they unjustly required of him, he justly requires of God that could do it. He knew whence to look for redress of all complaints: this was not his charge, but his Maker's, which was able to maintain his own act. I see and acknowledge the harbour that we must put into in all our ill weather. It is to thee, O God, that we must pour out our hearts, who only canst make our bitter waters sweet.
Might not that rod, which took away the liquid nature from the waters, and made them solid, have also taken away the bitter quality from these waters, and made them sweet, since to flow is natural unto the water, to be bitter is but accidental? Moses durst not employ his rod without a precept; he knew the power came froin the commandment. We may not presume on likelihoods, but depend upon warrants therefore Moses doth not lift up his rod to the waters, but his hand and voice to God.
The hand of faith never knocked at heaven in vain.
sooner hath Moses shewed his grievance, than God shews him the remedy; yet an unlikely one, that it might be miraculous. He that made the waters, could have given them any savour. How easy is it for him that made the matter to alter the quality! It is not more hard to take away than to give. Who doubts but the same hand that created them, might have immediately changed them? Yet that almighty power will do it by means. A piece of wood must sweeten the waters. What relation hath wood to water! or that which hath no savour, to the redress of bitterness? Yet here is no more possibility of failing, than proportion to the sucAll things are subject to the command of their Maker. He that made all of nothing, can make every thing of any thing. There is so much power in every creature as he will please to give. It is the praise of Omnipotency to work by improbabilities; Elisha with salt, Moses with wood, shall sweeten the bitter waters. Let no man despise the means, when he knows the author.
God taught his people by actions, as well as words. This entrance shewed them their whole journey, wherein they should taste of much bitterness; but at last, through the mercy of God, sweetened with comfort. Or did it not represent themselves rather in the journey, in the fountains of whose hearts were the bitter waters of manifold corruptions? yet their unsavoury souls are sweetened by the graces of his Spirit. O blessed Saviour, the wood of thy cross, that is, the application of thy sufferings, is enough to sweeten a whole sea of bitterness! I care not how unpleasant a potion I find in this wilderness, if the power and benefit of thy precious death may season it to my soul.
THE thirst of Israel is well quenched; for, besides the change of the waters of Marah, their station is changed to Elim, where were twelve fountains for their twelve tribes. And now they complain as much of hunger.
Contentation is a rare blessing; because it arises either from a fruition of all comforts, or a not desiring of some which we have not. Now, we are never so bare as not to