Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons... and God Gives You A Piece of Wood

I was reading in Exodus one day when I came across a strange verse that, in my Bible, was at the very end of a page. It read: “So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood” (Ex. 15:25a NLT). I couldn’t help being struck by how odd it was that God’s response to Moses’ cry for help was, of all things, a piece of wood.

Have you ever had an experience like this in your own spiritual life? You pour your heart out to the Lord and receive from Him what feels like the most perplexing answer you can imagine… or nothing at all, it seems? Well, you’re not alone.

Moses was in charge of leading God’s people, Israel, from their bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. This trip was neither quick nor direct. It was a 40-year-long trek that led through wilderness, desert, famine and drought. In fact, at the point in Israel’s journey recorded in Exodus 15, they have been without water for 3 days. That’s about as long as a human being can survive without fresh water!

Not a moment too soon, the people come upon a body of water, which, ironically, turns out to be unfit for drinking. They complain to Moses about their misfortune and name the place “Marah,” meaning bitter, because that’s how the water tastes… and, no doubt, how they feel. So Moses petitions the Lord for help in what is nothing short of a cry for salvation. He’s not looking for a pat on the back or an encouraging word, he’s asking for a miracle.

When the Lord shows Moses the piece of wood, nothing in the verse indicates He explains to Moses what to do with it. As I see it, Moses has a number of options. He could:

a.) Wave it… shaking his fists at the Lord (anger) and cursing His leadership (rebellion).
b.) Sit on it… giving up (hopelessness) and feeling sorry for himself (self-pity).
c.) Stand on it… rousing the people to self-reliance (pride) & God-less determination (stubbornness).

Each of those options would only have led the people to their impending death from prolonged dehydration. Alternatively, Moses could:

d.) Use it… believing that the same God who rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt also has a plan for their survival (hope) and a reason for leading him to that piece of wood (trust).

How often do we choose options a, b, or c, instead of d in our own lives, giving into attitudes of the flesh instead of walking in a spirit of faith? Don’t we frequently doubt that the God who rescued us also has a plan for our survival? It is the disease of mankind to believe God either cannot or will not take care of him, the inevitable reaction to which is idolatry, reliance on something other than God.

Did you know the most commonly used material for making idols in ancient times was wood? I did a quick search and found that the use of wood is pretty prominent throughout Scripture:

- Noah built his ark out of wood
- Sacrifices to God were made on altars of wood
- The Ark that held God’s covenant with Israel was made out of wood
- The Jewish tabernacle was built by skilled craftsmen from wood
- The Law of the Lord given to Moses was kept in a sacred box of wood
- Solomon’s Temple to the Lord was made w/ the finest imported wood
- Jesus’ work as a carpenter involved making things out of wood
- Jesus gave up His life for mankind’s salvation on a cross of wood

Without God, man uses creation to make idols; God uses it to make miracles.

So, what did Moses do with that wood? The second half of Exodus 15:25 says: “Moses threw [the wood] into the water, and this made the water good to drink.” Notice the verse doesn’t say the wood made the water “better.” It made it “good.” All of God’s works are good.

You might be wondering how Moses knew to throw the wood into the water. I submit that he didn’t. But he did know that God doesn’t make mistakes, and he plugged God’s answer (albeit a perplexing one) into his and the people’s problem. The result was a life-giving blessing for all. Moses made the connection between his need and God’s response.

When we encounter bitter waters in our own lives, we often ask God to remove them or provide us with a different watering hole. We want Him to either rescue us from our situation or change our circumstances. When He doesn’t do things the way we hoped and prayed he would, we may feel slighted or, worse, abandoned by Him.

But God is more interested in changing hearts than He is in changing circumstances. He wants us to walk with Him into our bitter waters, and watch how His presence makes them sweet. God’s ways are higher than our ways and they teach us to trust, to be people characterized by faith in Him and His faithfulness toward us. The Bible tells us that God’s plans are for our prosperity and not our harm; that His intention is to give us a future filled with hope; and that He listens to us as we pray to Him (Jeremiah 29:11-12).

Moses had complete confidence in the Lord’s commitment to him and to Israel, and his spirit was tuned in to God’s Spirit. When the time came, he knew what to do with God’s answer.


After this experience at Marah, God tells his people in verse 26: "If you listen carefully to the voice of 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" (NIV).

It is imperative, if we are to experience the full blessing and protection of God, for us to be tuned in to His Spirit. We are to be listeners for God. We are to know His Word, for He IS His Word and His Word gives light to our paths (Psalm 109:105). When you don’t know what to do, go to God’s Word and do what it says. Listen for the Spirit’s leading. Wait patiently and trust Him.  When the time comes, you will know what to do and where to go, and the blessing of the Lord will be with you in all your circumstances.


Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.- Psalm 40:4-5

© Stephanie Yax: 2011