Healing The Bitter Waters
"Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?' And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet." - Exodus 15.22-25aHere we see a scene that comes directly after the Red Sea crossing. The congregation of Israel has just been delivered miraculously from the hand of the Egyptians, and now that they are in the wilderness where there is no water to drink. They have been delivered from slavery into another type of misery, they have nothing to drink. In a cruel irony, there is water, but it is bitter. Moses, their deliverer, throws a log (or tree) into the waters and they become sweet. The Lord provides.
On the cross Jesus was given a bitter drink, but he did not grumble against his Father. As his side was pierced, water and blood flowed unmixed out from his side. The cross of Christ is where the bitter water was made sweet. Christ's cross was the tree that was thrown into the waters at Marah, the tree that made the water sweet: the living water. When the Samaritan woman asked Christ where he would get living water, the answer was on the cross: the tree that turned the bitter waters into sweet waters.
Becoming The Curse
"And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance." - Deuteronomy 21.22-23Here we have Moses, the law giver, re-establishing the law with the second generation of Israel as they are about to enter the land. Moses gives the people further instruction on how to keep the land pure of defilement. We see this law quite literally fulfilled at the crucifixion of Christ. He is a man who is killed by hanging on a tree, and he was removed and buried before the day was over.
Paul picks up on this passage in Galatians and makes it very clear, Christ was the one who became a curse for us by dying on the cross. Christ became a curse in order to remove the curse of sin as far as it may be found. On the cross, Christ removed the curse on creation because of Adam's sin in the garden. On the cross, Christ removed the curse of the sin of Israel as they continually broke his laws. On the cross, Christ removed the curse of the sin of the Jews and Romans who murdered him who had done no wrong and brought a curse upon themselves. On the cross, Christ removed the curse of our sins as we continue to struggle and fail against our old man.
The law offers us these two stories for a reason. As redemptive history continued to be unfolded, ultimately to be consummated in the God-man Jesus Christ, we could see more clearly about the revelation of God given in ages past. Looking back at the law in light of Christ, these two texts stand out as tutors to teach us about Christ and his work on the cross. In the garden, we were introduced to two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (or tree of judgement). We see these two trees in the law as well. At Marah we are introduced to the tree of the water of life. Right before the nation crossed over into the promised land, we are introduced to the tree of the judgment of God in a curse. In the garden we have a tale of two trees, and in the law we have a similar tale of two trees. The relationship of the sacraments and the cross is a place for more study, but one thing can be clear: the tale of the two trees climaxes at the cross of Christ.