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Bitter Turned Better

A Lent Reflection for Monday, March 11 by Rev. Rosalyn Bates

Lectionary reading for 3/11/24: Psalm 107:1-16; Exodus 15:22-27; Hebrews 3:1-6

Selected passage for reflection: Exodus 15:22-27 


Exodus 15:22-27 NLT

22 Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. 23 When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).

24 Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. 25 So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink.

It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

27 After leaving Marah, the Israelites traveled on to the oasis of Elim, where they found twelve springs and seventy palm trees. They camped there beside the water.


Have you ever achieved a long-awaited victory and quickly thereafter faced a loss or impasse? We feel the thrilling satisfaction of reaching a goal after years of struggle. A challenge that once consumed us has converted into a trophy, a symbol of triumph. This is the place where we want to remain. We are okay with the learning curve ending right here. We want the taste of victory—sweet victory—to linger on our lips. 

However, new battles and challenges lie ahead. Depending on the outlook about the reality of these uncertainties, either excitement motivates or dread paralyzes us. Because of the frustrations, inconveniences, and questions that accompany progress, “trust the process” is easy for us to say, but not easy for us to do. 

The Israelites had experienced arguably their most historic victory as a people at the crossing of the Red Sea. There, they saw God part water to clear their path and create walls so that they could walk forward on dry ground. God then used that same water to drown their oppressors. Miriam the Prophetess had led the nation in a praise break like no other to celebrate this miraculous demonstration of God as Divine Warrior. This triumph over the Egyptian army secured the people’s faith in God and in God’s servant, Moses. But Moses led the people away from that place to the middle of nowhere, a no-water wilderness. The people faced death in this desert. The salty oasis at Marah disappointed them. The taste of victory was replaced with the taste of bitterness here. 

What is easy to miss about Marah is that God standardizes this place of bitterness and uses it as a testing ground. God uses Marah to test the people’s faithfulness. The test involves listening to God’s voice and obeying God’s instructions. The process is not an exemption from the trial. It rather confirms the promise of God’s preservation during the trial. 

We tend to believe that our trials are methods for testing God’s faithfulness to us. Verse 25 suggests the opposite—that the trials are testing our faithfulness to God. God is fully aware that we need healing from old wounds so that our history does not determine our destiny. God responds and is revealed to us as Healer. Like the Israelites, God does not leave us moaning and mourning at Marah. We move forward from places like Marah to the pure, abundant and refreshing waters of Elim, having been preserved through God’s promise, transformed by our trials, and reminded of God’s revelation.


Consider the places where you have been and where you are now. Note how God is revealed to you in those places. Offer thanks and praise for God’s presence with you.  


Prayer: Lord, I trust You in triumph and in trials. My faith is anchored in You, wherever and however You lead me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

About the Author

Rosalyn Bates is a licensed clinical professional counselor, an ordained Staff Pastor, and founder of Rosgarden Productions, LLC. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University, a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton College, and a Master of Divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary. 

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