In Exodus 15:22–26 what is the meaning or the reason behind the “tree” being cast into the “bitter” waters in order to make them “sweet”?
Just about everything that God did with Israel from the time He sent Moses back into Egypt to announce the arrival of the time of their deliverance, until He brought them to Mount Sinai, was designed to educate them in their need for God’s “Jehovah-ness” and grace.
In connection with this, once God brought them out of Egypt through the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea He began to intensify their education in the issues pertaining to His “Jehovah-ness” and grace. And the five ‘trials’ that they encountered from the Red Sea to Sinai, (from Exodus 15:22 to Exodus 19), were specifically used by God to give them this increased education.
Now in connection with this, the first ‘trial’ of Exodus 15:22–26 naturally involves the most fundamental ‘lesson’ for their education, which is why it is the one at which God “made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them,” as the latter part of verse 25 states and as verse 26 goes on to describe. And since it is the first and most fundamental ‘lesson,’ it addresses the most fundamental thing that God wanted them to realize and learn about Him and His “Jehovah-ness.”
Wherefore as the account relates, after journeying “three days in the wilderness of Shur” the people of Israel “found no water.” And then when they “came to Marah” they found water, but “they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter.”
Hence they were now in a very needful, if not desperate situation, with respect to their physical lives. But, once again, since God Himself was the one who had led them into this situation, He therefore purposely planned for them to be in this situation and designed it for their continuing education in the issue of His “Jehovah-ness” and grace.
Very simply put, this particular “no water” situation together with the “bitter” or poisonous waters situation confronted Israel with the fundamental fact that their “life” with God in all of its forms was completely dependent upon the issue of God’s “Jehovah-ness” and grace. Just as it was with their physical life in this “no water” and “bitter” waters situation, they by nature also possessed ‘no water of life’ with God. And any attempt to look for it in what the world has to offer, or any attempt to generate life with God on their own by their own works, would only result in them finding ‘bitter/poisonous’ waters that would kill and not give life.
Wherefore their only hope of having “life” with God in any and all of its forms was totally dependent upon God graciously giving them “life.” And this is what they needed to ‘come to grips with,’ realize, and learn the truth of first and foremost as God worked to educate them in their fundamental need for His “Jehovah-ness” and grace.
Wherefore in connection with this, (and when as verse 24 says “the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”), the LORD, (specifically going by His name “Jehovah”), manifested His “Jehovah-ness” to them in a way that was designed to get them to begin to think of Him as their only Life-giver. This He did when as verse 25 says, “and the LORD shewed (Moses) a tree.” For this “tree” was living in the midst of these ‘bitter/poisonous waters,’ and when according to the LORD’s instruction it was “cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet.”
So it was then that God manifested to them that He by nature is a ‘tree with life’ and is a ‘tree of life,’ and that in so being He alone by His own work is able to remedy their natural ‘no water of life’ and ‘bitter’/poisonous waters situation, and thereby give them ‘life with Him’ in all of its forms.
And indeed this is the first and foremost issue that Israel needed to realize, learn, and acknowledge, as God began to pointedly educate them in His “Jehovah-ness” and grace. They needed to learn that the most fundamental issue of all — i.e. having life with God — was not something they possessed by nature, nor could they come to possess it by their works, and neither could the world give it to them. Instead God Himself was the only source of ‘that life,’ (just like a ‘tree with life’ and a ‘tree of life’), and they could only have it by means of His “Jehovah-ness” and as a gift of His grace.
– K.R. Blades