Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. ) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Then Moses cried out to the Lord , and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink. – Exodus 15:22-25 NIV
I find this verse very intriguing as a scientist who studies water and water treatment. “Bitter” water is a common occurrence in desert environments. Typically this is a result of salts in the water such as potassium chloride. As rocks weather they release elements that accumulate in the water. What is being described here is the treatment of water using biologic materials (a piece of wood). Activated charcoal is one of the most common water treatment methods used in everything from Brita filters to municipal water treatment plants. The use of other biologic materials is an area of active research right now to solve intractable water problems like arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh. For example, the seed of the Moringa Tree has been used to remove arsenic from groundwater (link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10295-005-0042-7#page-1),
The Israelites needed water and God provided it, but it was not what they expected or wanted, and they began to grumble. It was not too long ago that they were singing songs of praise to the Lord. This verse reminds me of the cyclic nature of our walk with God. Even the most faithful and Godly person goes through desert times where we are thirsty and God seems to be providing only bitter water for us to drink. I have done my share of “grumbling” during the desert times in my life.
God provided a means for the Israelites to safely drink the water (one of the first instances of water treatment in the bible). The last time we heard about water treatment was when Jacob was using it to genetically modify his sheep.
I am confident God will provide us what we need during the “bitter” times of our life. We just have to be confident in God’s provision and boldly drink the water he provides.
Prayer: God give me the faith to trust your provision for my life, especially during the “bitter” times of my life.