Exodus 15: Lessons from the Jews’ Swing from Joy at the Red Sea to Bitterness at Marah

Introduction: Exodus Chapter 15 is a chapter that has it all: worship, prophesy, hope, salvation, rebellion, judgment, and blessings. Yet, on a broader scale, this chapter is about how believers can be double minded in their faith. The chapter begins with the Jews singing a song of praise to God. The chapter concludes with the Jews complaining about their provision in the wilderness. God recorded these stories of bipolar faith for our instruction: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor. 10:11). Christians can also be dual minded in their walk with God. At one moment, they can sing songs of praise. The next moment, they can be bitter at God. From this story, God reveals to all believers seven important lessons to keep your walk joyful and thankful.

First, from Moses’ song of praise, God reveals that your walk with Him should be filled with gratitude. Moses expressed gratitude because God alone (without any help from the Jews) delivered them from bondage. Likewise, Jesus alone has delivered you from bondage. Second, from Moses’ song, God reveals that He will be a shield from your enemies when you take refuge in Him. Third, also from Moses’ song, God reveals that He will guide those who have faith in Him. Fourth, from both Moses’ song and the writings of Paul, God reveals that He baptized the Jews as they passed through the waters on their way to the Promised Land. Faith in Christ will also allow you to be baptized with the Holy Spirit on your way to the Promised Land. Fifth, at the waters of Marah, the Jews experienced the bitter waters that believers will find in the world. But faith in God (exercised through Moses’ wooden plank) allowed the waters to become sweet. Likewise, faith in Christ (through His work at the wooden cross) can make the bitter waters in your life a sweet delight. Sixth, God promised blessings on the Jews when their faith led to a life of obedience. This included the blessing of good health. Likewise, when your faith in Christ leads to obedience, God can also bless you with good health. Finally, after the bitter waters of Marah, God brought the Jews to a place with twelve wells of fresh water. This symbolized the fact that God will provide life to all His people. Jesus also promises life to every believer. Moreover, He promises abundant life. This includes both your material and spiritual needs.

1. Sing Songs of Praise to Christ for Your Unearned Salvation. Ex. 15:1-2.

  • Christ is the rock, strength, and source of your salvation. Immediately after God saved the Jews from Pharaoh’s army, the Jews sang a song of praise for their unearned salvation: “Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and said, ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will extol Him.’” (Ex. 15:1-2). This was the oldest song in the Bible. It also foreshadowed one of the last songs in the Bible. In the book of Revelation, seven angels revealed that Moses in fact unknowingly sang a song of praise to Jesus for His deliverance: “And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!’” (Rev. 15:1-3). Jesus is the “horn of our salvation” (Luke 1:69). It was His hand that parted the Red Sea to save the Jews. It is also by Him that all can find a path to salvation in the eternal Promised Land.

Moses led a song of praise to God for saving His people1

  • Praise Jesus for your strength and for your salvation. When God first introduces something in Scripture, He provides a clue for how to interpret that thing when it appears later in Scripture. From this first song of the Bible, God provides a template for worshiping Him. He wants you to praise Jesus in song as your rock, your strength, and the source of your salvation: “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,” (2 Sam. 22:47). “My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my savior, You save me from violence.” (2 Sam. 22:3). “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” (Dt. 32:4). “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Ps. 18:2, 31, 46; 19:14). Worship helps to clear your mind to receive God’s Word. Thus, you should never skip the worship that precedes the message at Church. Through Jesus’ model prayer for us (the Lord’s prayer), He also invites believers to begin by praising God’s holy name (Matt. 6:9). In worship and in prayer, are you giving God praise for all your unearned gifts?

  • True worship gives Christ all the credit for your salvation. The Jews knew that they did absolutely nothing to stop the Egyptians. They knew that God was one hundred percent responsible for their deliverance. Thus, Moses’ song gave full credit to God in His song. Likewise, Christ is one hundred percent responsible for your salvation. You are saved by your faith alone. If you were saved by your works, Christ died needlessly (Gal. 2:21).

2. Take Refuge in Christ and He Will be a Shield Against Your Enemies. Ex. 15:3-12.

  • Let Christ fight your battles for you. Also as part of Moses’ song, God instructs that He can protect you from your enemies when you take refuge in Him: “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; and the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deeps cover them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. And in the greatness of Your excellence You overthrow those who rise up against You; You send forth Your burning anger, and it consumes them as chaff. At the blast of Your nostrils the waters were piled up, the flowing waters stood up like a heap; the deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand will destroy them.’ 10 You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. 11 Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders? 12 You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them.” (Ex. 15:3-12). God promises to be a shield to all who take refuge in Him: “As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” (2 Sam. 22:31). “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5). As part of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites you to pray daily for God’s protection (Matt. 6:13).

  • God’s blessing of protection comes from faith that leads to obedience. God later revealed what it means to take refuge in Him. If your faith leads to obedience, God will be an enemy to your enemies: “But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” (Ex. 23:22). Protection from your enemies is also one of the blessings that God promises to those who are obedient: “But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7-8; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). With God’s help, Jonathon killed 20 enemy soldiers (1 Sam. 14:14). Also with God’s help, David killed Goliath (1 Sam. 17:50-58). God also used Gideon’s army of only 300 soldiers to kill 120,000 enemy Midianites (Judges 7:16-22; 8:10). If you need God’s protection, are you being obedient?

  • God will destroy His enemies in the end times. In addition to being a shield, God will also one day be the sword to those who wage war against His kingdom. During the end times, the devil will deceive the people to give false worship to him using the exact same words that Moses ascribed to God in Exodus 15:11: “[T]hey worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”’ (Rev. 13:4). Just as He did with pharaoh, God will then judge His enemies: “Before the LORD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness.” (Ps. 96:13). “Before the LORD, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” (Ps. 98:9). “Those who contend with the LORD will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens, the LORD will judge the ends of the earth; and He will give strength to His king, and will exalt the horn of His anointed.” (1 Sam. 2:10; Acts 17:31). “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.” (Rev. 19:11). “[F]or our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:2; Dt. 4:24). Are you warning those who live in rebellion against God what fate awaits them?

3. Faith and Obedience to Christ Brings God’s Guidance. Ex. 15:13-18.

  • God will also be a light to your path. Also within Moses’ song of praise, God revealed that He will bless His people by guiding them through the wilderness and causing their enemies to fear them: “13 In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You have redeemed; in Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation. 14 The peoples have heard, they tremble; anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; the leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. 16 Terror and dread fall upon them; by the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; until Your people pass over, O Lord, until the people pass over whom You have purchased. 17 You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, the place, O Lord, which You have made for Your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established. 18 The Lord shall reign forever and ever.” (Ex. 15:13-18). While in the desert, God guided the Jews by a visible pillar of light during both the day and the night (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). He also sent an angel before them (Ex. 23:23). He further promised: “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.” (Ex. 29:45-46). He also promised to never leave or forsake the Jews (Dt. 31:6).

  • God’s Word is today a light unto your path. God has also left you with a light to guide your path. It is made clear through the Holy Spirit when you read God’s Word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life.” (Prov. 6:23). “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Ps. 119:130). “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” (2 Pet. 1:19). Are you reading the Word regularly for God to make your path clear?

4. Faith in Christ Will Baptize You With the Holy Spirit. Ex. 15:19-21.

  • Faith in Christ will also bring the blessing of being sealed with the Holy Spirit. Moses’ song also praised God for bringing the Jews safely through the sea: “19 For the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, and the Lord brought back the waters of the sea on them, but the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea.” (Ex. 15:19). God later revealed that He baptized the Jews when He brought them through the sea: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). To be saved, all believers must be baptized by the Holy Spirit.

  • God has promised that His Holy Spirit will never leave you nor forsake you. Through Ezekiel, God promised to put His Spirit in His people (Ez. 36:27-28; 37:27). Jesus promised that the “helper” – the Holy Spirit – would “teach you all things” and remind you of Jesus’ teachings (Jo. 14:26). The Holy Spirit now dwells in every believer (2 Cor. 6:16-17). He will never leave nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5; Dt. 31:6). Yet, the blessing of God’s guidance requires both prayer and reading the Word (Jam. 1:5; Ps. 119:105). Are you praying and reading the Word on a regular basis so that the Holy Spirit can guide you?

  • The prophecy of Christ’s victory over the antiChrist. After Moses’ song, Miriam also sang about a “horse and his rider” who would be thrown into the sea. While Moses had sung about the horse rider named Pharaoh (Ex. 15:1), the Bible makes clear that Miriam sang about a future horse and rider because God called her a “prophetess”: “20 Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing. 21 Miriam answered them, ‘Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.”’ (Ex. 15:20-21). God later repeated this prophesy about a deposed “horse and rider” through the prophet Jeremiah: “With you I shatter the horse and his rider, and with you I shatter the chariot and its rider,” (Jer. 51:21). In the book of Revelation, John revealed that this future horse and rider is the antiChrist: “I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (Rev. 6:2). In the end times, God’s wrath against the antiChrist will be revealed, and God will judge him.

Miriam sang, danced and praised God2

Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1893) Miriam (1872)3

  • Dancing can also be a part of worship. Miriam’s song also involved dancing (Ex. 15:20). As stated above, the first time God introduces something is Scripture, He provides a template for us. Here, God reveals that dancing can also be a part of your worship. God gave us the rhythm to dance to worship Him. In heaven, our songs of praise will be accompanied by dancing. Unfortunately, Satan has corrupted most forms of dance. The Church must play a role in reintroducing dance as a form of worship. Do you have enough joy for God to dance?

  • Women can play an important role in God’s Church. Miriam’s prophecy shows that women have important roles in His Church. Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was also a prophetess (Judges 4:4). Likewise, Deborah, the wife of Shallum and a contemporary of Jeremiah, was also a prophetess (Ki. 22:14). The prophet Isaiah’s wife was also a prophetess (Is. 8:3). Likewise, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, was a prophetess (Luke 2:36). The message is that every person has an important role to play in God’s Church.

5. Faith in Christ Will Make the Bitter Waters of Life Sweet. Ex. 15:22-25.

  • The Jews’ rebellion at Marah. Only three days after singing God’s praises, the Jews murmured and complained about the bitter waters of Marah: “22 Then Moses led 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. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Ex. 15:22-24). The Jews had just witnessed God’s several miracles that forced Pharaoh to free them from slavery (Ex. 7:6-11:10). They then witnessed the parting of the “Sea of Reeds” (Ex. 14:26-31). They also witnessed God leading them by a pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). But like most believers, the Jews were double minded in their faith. They praised God when He gave them what they wanted. Yet, they turned on Him when He fulfilled their needs but not their wants. A fair weathered Christian is also double minded and unstable in his or her ways: “being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Jam. 1:8). God “hates” those who are double minded: “I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law.” (Ps. 119:113). He warns that the double minded person should not expect to have his or her prayers answered (Jam. 1:7). To avoid being double minded, will you praise God in both good times and bad times? “In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18).

God’s people marched three days into the wilderness without water4

  • Christ can make the bitter waters of life sweet. In a foreshadow of Christ’s work on the cross, God told Moses to make the waters drinkable by throwing a tree into it: 25 Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet.” (Ex. 15:25(a)). Like the Jews at Marah, Christ warns that believers will experience tribulation in the world (Jo. 16:33). The reason for this is that the world is cursed (Gen. 3:17; Rom. 8:20-22). Yet, through Jesus, you can overcome this tribulation with the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). But this peace only exists when we are in fellowship with God. For it is “impossible” to please God when you lack faith (Heb. 11:6). If the Jews knew God’s love for them, they would not have complained. Nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God.” (Rom. 8:38). Knowing this, “perfect love casts out fear. . . ” (1 Jo. 4:18). The next time you fear in the wilderness about the bitter waters of life, pray for God to cast out your fear. Jesus will then give you joy of abundant life: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jo. 10:10(b)). If you thirst for God’s righteousness, you will never have a spiritual thirst: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6).

  • God will test you in the wilderness. God cannot tempt you (Ja. 1:13-14). But He revealed to Moses that He led the Jews to Marah to test their hearts: “There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.” (Ex. 15:25(b)). He tests you to show you where your heart is evil: “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, . . .” (Dt. 8:2; Jer. 17:10. 20:12; Ps. 11:5). God’s testing is done out of love (Heb. 12:6). When you are tested, you frequently find that your hearts is wicked, and you are in need of repentance: “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). One of the reasons that God instructed the Jews to wear a tassel was to remind them that their hearts were not inclined to keep the law, something God lamented (Dt. 5:29; Nu. 15:39). David, someone who committed adultery and a murder, invited God to search his heart to expose his sins (Ps. 139:23). His openness to learning from his sins is what made him a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22). When you fail one of God’s tests, your sin should not weigh you down. Instead, rejoice that God has given you the chance to learn and change from your prior mistakes: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (Jam. 1:2). Are you willing to let God show you your hidden sins?

The Jews murmured and complained about the bitter waters of Marah until God made the water sweet to drink5

  • God’s mercy and grace after the Jews’ second rebellion. The Jews’ complaints at Marah was their second rebellion in the wilderness. Their first rebellion happened as Pharaoh pursued them. When they stood at the water’s edge, they cried out to Moses: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Ex. 14:12). Even after the Jews’ second rebellion, God did not punish them: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). You have been spared the eternal consequences of your sins. Are you misusing God’s mercy and grace as license to sin? (Ro. 6:15; Gal. 5:13).

6. Faith and Obedience to Christ May also Bring Protection to Your Health. Ex. 15:26.

  • God offers blessings when your faith leads to obedience. After revealing that God tests His people in their faith, He revealed that He may bless those whose faith produces obedience in the face of trials in the wilderness. In this case, He promised the blessing of health and protection from diseases: “26 And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.” (Ex. 15:26). “But you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst.” (Ex. 23:25). “The LORD will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you.” (Dt. 7:15). Obedience without faith will not heal you. For it is by His stripes that we are healed: “And by His scourging we are healed.” (Is. 53:5(b)). Yet, a person who claims to have faith but has no obedience to God’s Word has a faith that is dead (Jam. 2:25). If you are in need of healing, does your walk include faithful obedience?

7. Faith in Christ Brings the Water of Life. Ex. 15:27.

  • God offers the waters of eternal life to all. Chapter 15 concludes with God bringing the Jews to a place called “Elim” where there were 12 fresh wells of water, one for each tribe: “27 Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.” (Ex. 15:27; Nu. 33:9). “Elim” is the plural of “El” or God. The triune God will provide for all believers. The 12 Jewish tribes are symbolized by the 12 springs. The 70 palm trees correspond to the 70 nations that name out of Noah (Gen. 10). Christ came so that all might enjoy the waters of abundant eternal life (Jo. 3:16; 10:10). Are you directing the spiritually thirty where to find the water of life?