If you had to choose between the desert and a lush oasis, which would you choose? If you had to choose between sickness and a clean bill of health, which would you choose? If you had to choose between a season of financial struggle and a season of financial margin, which would you choose? If you had to choose between something hard and something easy, which would you choose?
It seems like there’s an obvious answer to all these questions, but I want to make the argument that the answer isn’t as obvious as you might think.
Read Exodus 15:22-24. Marah was the desert. It was hot, and there wasn’t water anywhere to be found. In fact, these people went three days without water. Have you ever gone three days without water? It’s not a good idea. To make things worse, when they finally came upon some water, it was undrinkable. Can you imagine? They have been rationing their water, barely drinking any of it, even though they’re all dying of thirst. Off in the distance, they see a body of water, and in excitement, they guzzle down the remains of the water they had rationed. Thinking that they were going to be able to refill their containers, the reached the water only to find out that it was not drinkable. Imagine the panic!
That was Marah.
Now, read Exodus 15:27. Elim was lush! Elim had 12 flowing springs of refreshing (and drinkable) water. Not only that, Elim had shade (70 palm trees).
That was Elim.
Now, for the big question: Which one was better? Marah or Elim? If you had to choose between the desert (no drinkable water and, as a result, extreme thirst and dehydration) or twelve beautiful springs of water with shade, which would you choose? I think (if we’re being honest) we’d all say, Elim!
But, which one is truly better? I think there is a solid case to be made for Marah being significantly better than Elim. Read Exodus 15:25-26. Look at all that happened in Marah that did not happen in Elim. First, God performed an incredible miracle. Second, God spoke. Third, God revealed a new aspect of Himself to the people: “I am the LORD, your healer” (v. 26). None of these things happened in Elim. In short, it was in Marah that the people experienced God in such a powerful way, not Elim.
Why does this matter?
It matters because we often work so hard to build our lives in such a way that we won’t ever have to face a situation like Marah. And, in so doing, we build a protective wall around ourselves that keeps us from experiencing God.
Don’t miss this: the reason they ended up in Marah in the first place is because that’s where God led them (Exodus 13:21-22 & Numbers 9:15-23). We work so hard to build our lives in such a way that we won’t ever have to face a situation like Marah. But the reality is, the only way to protect ourselves from situations like Marah is to choose not to follow Jesus.
James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Sometimes the desert is exactly what we need.
So, which is better? A life where everything works and fits perfectly? Or a life where you face situations where God has to show up and do what only He can do? So, few of us really know God because so few of us have actually stepped out in faith to follow God. We’re so scared of Marah that once we find Elim, we do everything we can to stay there. Our goal shouldn’t be to stay in Elim. Our goal shouldn’t be to find Marah. Our goal should be to follow Jesus wherever He leads.
We can either live in fear of Marah, or we can look forward to Marah. The reality is, as God’s people, we should not fear Marah. We should look forward to it.
So, back to where we started—If you had to choose between the desert and a lush oasis, which would you choose? If you had to choose between sickness and a clean bill of health, which would you choose? If you had to choose between a season of financial struggle and a season of financial margin, which would you choose? If you had to choose between something hard and something easy, which would you choose?
Austin Wadlow and his wife, Lesley, and son, Judah, live in Iowa where he serves as the Teaching Pastor and Salt Company Director at Keystone Church in Ankeny, IA. They will be planting a Salt Network church in East Lansing, MI at Michigan State University in Fall 2019. You can connect with Austin via Twitter: @austinwadlow