People in pain complain. In Exodus 15, 16, and 17, the Israelites faced three challenges: disappointment, nostalgia, and doubt. Their response was always the same: complain, complain, complain. Can we do any better?
Today let’s look at Exodus chapter 15. The chapter begins well as the Israelites escape the army of Egypt. The song of Moses celebrates. “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.” Miriam and all the women of Israel took tambourines and danced and sang too.
It was a joyful occasion, but how quickly we forget! Three days later, dragging through the Desert of Shur, they can’t find any water. Their lips are chapped. Their throats are parched. The dust stirred up by thousands of feet must have caked everything. “What kind of leader is this Moses fellow? I thought he knew this desert! I thought he knew where the watering holes were!” We can hear their complaints, but then they discover water!
The Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix, like deserts everywhere, have hidden watering holes. They are amazing. Unless you are extremely lucky, you would never find them. Legends abound of pioneers dying of thirst just yards away from these pools. Can you imagine the joy when the Israelites came to Marah and found that pool of cool water hidden in the rocks? What promise! Salvation at last! Can you taste it? Spit it out! The water of promise is bitter. It burns your throat and sours your belly. It’s undrinkable! Disappointment and despair descend on the thirsty travelers. Their hope evaporated.
We are disappointed by our unfulfilled expectations. How often has that happened to you? The sales brochure promises the vacation of a lifetime. The picture on the back of the cereal box promises pleasures untold if you’ll only mail in enough box tops. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as much fun as you dreamed it would be. (Sin, too, has an awful aftertaste!)
The same thing can happen to Christians. We rise from the waters of the new birth, only to discover the same world awaits us. The blessed Bride of Christ, the church on earth, is full of blemishes. Preachers, those holy men of God, all too often are just men with holes in them too. Elders don’t keep their word. Christians aren’t perfect. So how do we deal with disappointment?
We can look for happiness elsewhere. “Next year, we’re vacationing in …,” “You aren’t the man I thought you were.” “I’m done with hypocrites!” (My wise grandmother reminded me, “If you’re letting a hypocrite stand between you and God, he’s closer to God than you are.”)
We can pretend it’s not that bad. “At least the spiders will eat the bedbugs.” (True story. We checked into the motel down the road.)
We can quit dreaming, or we can give up.
We can get angry and take out our frustrations on someone else: “So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:24)
Or we can turn to the Lord and wait for his salvation. “The Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet” (Exodus 15:25).
It turned out the watering hole called Marah was just a stop on the way to paradise. “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water” (Exodus 15:27).

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