By Titus Chu
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
– Exodus 15:22
Once we have left Egypt by being saved, and crossed the Red Sea by being baptized, we find ourselves in the wilderness of Shur. This is a dangerous place for a new believer to be, yet it is a necessary stage in our development.
The word “Shur” means walls. There were no physical walls here. It was just a part of the desert. But there were real walls nevertheless. One wall was the Red Sea they had just crossed. It forever kept them from returning to Egypt.
The Wall Behind Us
It may be that some of them in their haste to leave Egypt forgot to bring something with them that they now missed. They may have wanted to go back for it, but the Red Sea walled them off. They may have dreamed of it when they slept, but they would never again be able to enjoy it as before. They may have longed for it while staring across the water, but they could not go back. Egypt was gone forever.
Many new Christians try to go back to their old life before Christ and do the things they once enjoyed in the world. There is no physical wall to stop them. Yet when they try to go back, they cannot. They try to indulge in old habits, but they no longer taste the same. Their old friends try to encourage them, but they just cannot enjoy things as before. There is a wall.
The Wall Before Us
Others of the children of Israel wanted to go on further and follow the Lord to explore their new life of freedom. But there was another wall—lack of water. How could they move forward without water? They wanted to trust the Lord but did not know how. They had seen His hand move in their miraculous salvation from Egypt, and seen Him drown the army of Pharaoh in the same Red Sea that they had just safely crossed, but to trust Him for daily water in the dry wilderness that lay ahead seemed an insurmountable wall.
Like them, young Christians cannot go back to the world, but neither do they know how to move forward. They want to love the Lord but cannot. They want to serve Him but cannot. They want to enjoy the church meetings like they see others do but cannot. They want to study the Bible but do not understand it. They want to pray but fall asleep. They want to preach the gospel but are afraid. They want to attend church conferences but find them boring. They ask, “Where is the supply of water? I want to grow but do not know how!”
To follow the Lord is not easy. We truly believe we want to answer His call, but then He asks something hard of us. He may tell us to give up our promising career, our future plans, and to sacrifice everything for His sake. He calls us to be His alone as His bond slave. We don’t know how to answer. We want to tell Him yes, but we have no strength. At such times we discover there is a wall.
The Need for Care
Shur is a most dangerous place for young believers. They cannot go back, neither can they move forward. They are surrounded by high walls. In some ways, their life is harder than that of an unbeliever, and many die spiritually. This is where there is the greatest need for care from the older more experienced ones in the church. These older ones should do their best to be with the young ones and spend time with them. If possible, several families could come together to help them. The young ones need older ones to be their friends and help them to know spiritual things. They need help to sing hymns, read the Bible, and to touch the Lord. Then they can pass through this stage.
When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 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.
— Exodus 15:23-25
The children of Israel moved on to Marah where the Lord was faithful to give them water, but when they drank it, the water tasted bitter. It wasn’t poisonous or polluted. The Lord would never give His people something that harms them. It was just that the taste was not right. It did not taste like the sweet water they were used to in Egypt. To their taste, it was bitter, and this made it hard to drink.
Taste is interesting. What seems good to one is unbearable to another. Some like hot, spicy food while others like everything sweet. Some use a lot of salt, while others like their food bland. We can see people’s taste in how they decorate their homes, what kind of music they listen to, the style of clothes they wear, and what kind of car they drive. While our own taste seems sweet to us, someone else may like things that we think are bitter. Unfortunately taste in things like style of music have at times caused strife and even division in the church. God has put us with all kinds of people in His church and we must learn to honor one another in such things.
God allows us our taste. He would never say that beside Him we shouldn’t like anything else. He would never tell us that we should only love and enjoy Him to the exclusion of everything else. If He did, we would not be able to live a human life. God lets us enjoy many, many things, but the taste must go along with God. He loves man and He loves His church. He would never let us indulge in something that brings harm to either.
God is very generous with many things. I like to collect vases. Sometimes when I travel, a particular vase catches my eye because it is according to my taste. I then buy it and bring it home to add to my collection. Those who have come to my home have seen them on display. I have at times been reluctant to make a particular purchase because of the cost, but never has God told me no. But if my taste led me to something sinful, He would have a lot to say.
Why then does the water at Marah taste bitter? It is because our taste has problems. We only have a taste for sweet Egyptian water and do not like the water God wants to give us. We have a sugar addiction that causes His water to taste bitter. We like our kind of music, but the hymns taste bitter. We like to read novels, but the Bible tastes bitter. We like to take vacations, but the church conferences taste bitter. We like to spend our evenings watching television, but to visit the saints tastes bitter. We like to give our lives to a company that will some day lay us off, but serving the Lord full time tastes very bitter.
Sometimes brothers tell me how much they appreciate my service and what a blessing I am to them and to their church. But then they tell their children to get a career in which they can make a lot of money. If they appreciate my life and service so much, why don’t they tell them to be like me? Why don’t they encourage their children to abandon themselves to the Lord and follow Him? Developing a taste for what the Lord likes is a hard trial for everyone. We have what we like and God has what He likes. However God wants to give us the heavenly water according to His taste. Water, provision, and satisfaction are all available, but we must take it according to what God wants.
Don’t say the water is bitter. The water may not be bitter at all, it is just that we are used to sugar. God told Moses to take a piece of wood, a tree, and to throw it into the water. This tree represents the cross of Christ, and we are to throw it into the water so it can cure us of our sugar addiction. We have to experience the Lord’s work on the cross. We must tell the Lord that we want to develop our taste to match His. If we find some parts of the Bible boring, we can start with the action parts and let out taste grow from there. If we are afraid to preach the gospel, we can go with a more experienced one and just listen. Our taste for the gospel will start to grow. We will begin to love the things that satisfy our Lord. This is taste. Through the application of the cross, we begin to stand one with Christ, and the things that we once thought were bitter become our satisfaction and enjoyment.