Wood and Water
Scripture Reading: Exodus 15:22-27
22 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. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
25 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.
There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water. They came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there by the water.
Our reading in Exodus today comes after the amazing story of how God brought his people through the Red Sea and then defeated their enemies by having them swallowed by the sea (Exodus 14:1-15:21).
The Israelites were now delivered from slavery in Egypt, and God was leading them through a dry desert. The first water they discovered wasn’t drinkable until God used a piece of wood, thrown in by Moses, to take away the bitterness.
Then eventually they came to Elim, which means “large trees”—a place of 70 palm trees growing by 12 springs of water. These palms and springs represented the fullness of God’s blessing for all his people after a long, hard journey. In the Bible, the numbers 7 and 10 often signify fullness and completion, and we can see that 70 = 7 x 10. Further, the number 12 represents all of God’s people, because Israel was made up of 12 tribes, all descended from the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel).
Elim was therefore a place indicating the reliability of God’s promises. In the water that refreshed and sustained them, the people could literally taste the sweetness of God’s promised care. And in the cooling shade of the palm trees the people found rest and soothing protection from the harsh, desert sun. All of this pointed ahead to abundant blessings still to come in the great unfolding story of God’s faithfulness.
Lord God, you are our deliverer and provider, our strength and song. You are our God, and we praise and exalt you. In your name we pray. Amen.