God Heals

Scripture: Exodus 15:19-27

Title: God Heals


  • Introduction
  • God heals the waters, naturally
  • God heals the people, conditionally
  • Conclusion


Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 15, page 75, near the beginning of your pew Bibles

  • This morning we continue our series on Moses
  • Last week we heard how God & Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea
  • This was a journey from triumphalism, through terror, to trust
  • Today Moses & God lead the people from victory, through bitter disappointment to healing & refreshment

From Exodus 15, verse 19, we read…

[Read Exodus 15:19-27]


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

In this Scripture God heals through Moses

  • God heals the bitter waters, naturally
  • And God heals the people, conditionally


God heals the waters, naturally:

If we were to make a movie of the Exodus (and people have of course) then the end of chapter 14 would be the perfect place to finish

  • The Israelites (who are the underdogs) have just passed through the Red Sea to safety
  • God (the hero) has won the day and the bad guy (Pharaoh) has been defeated
  • Now the Israelites can ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after
  • The audience can leave the theatre with Miriam’s song of victory ringing in their ears and reality can be avoided for another day

But what if the movie kept going?

  • What if we went past the climax of the story and into ordinary life beyond the happy ending?

This is what happens in Exodus 15

  • After the victory over the Egyptians at the Red Sea, Moses leads the people off into the desert
  • And after three days of walking into the sunset the people are thirsty

You can imagine their disappointment when they do eventually find some water, only to discover it was too bitter to drink

  • This is life after the end credits

Terence Fretheim observes…

  • “It is not enough for the people of God to sing, they must also listen to their God and follow the divine leading” [1]

The people were understandably happy to be delivered from the Egyptians and it was right that they responded to God with songs of praise

  • But the best way to give thanks to God is by listening to what he says and following His lead

Jesus told a parable (in Matthew 21) of a man who had two sons

  • He went to the elder one and said…
  • ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today’
  • And the elder son replied…
  • ‘Na. Don’t want to’, but later he changed his mind and went
  • Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing
  • The younger son said, ‘Yea sure Dad, be happy to’, but he did not go

The first son says the wrong thing but then he does the right thing

  • The other son says the right thing but he does the wrong thing

It is not enough for the people of God to sing the right words, they must also listen to God and follow His leading

I said last week that passing through the Red Sea was a kind of baptism for Israel

  • Baptism is a new beginning
  • It is not the end of all your problems – it is the end of an old way of life and the start of a new way of life

Shortly after Jesus was baptised the Spirit of God led Him into the wilderness to be tested by Satan

  • It was similar for Israel
  • After their baptism in the Red Sea, God led the people into the wilderness to test them
  • The people needed to learn not just to say the right thing but also to do the right thing
  • Because it is in listening to God and obeying Him that we are healed (spiritually)

Verse 24 of Exodus 15 tells us the people said the wrong thing – they complained to Moses, asking, ‘what are we going to drink?’

Moses models the example of the right thing to do in a situation like this

  • Moses prays earnestly
  • This means both calling on God and listening for His response
  • As Moses listened the Lord showed him a piece of wood (a tree) which Moses threw into the water – to make it drinkable

This is interesting

  • The fact there is a tree here which can be used to heal the bitter waters shows us that God had prepared a solution a long time in advance
  • God is not taken by surprise, even if we are
  • God goes ahead of His people not to remove all obstacles but rather to provide the remedy for the problem

God could have arranged for the tree to fall into the water before the people came to Marah – that way the water would be ok to drink when they arrived

  • But God didn’t do it like that
  • He waited to be asked before helping
  • It’s not that God can’t do anything unless we pray
  • It’s more that we need to be reminded not to take God for granted
  • If things always go our way, or come too easily for us, we will begin to think we did it ourselves and we won’t learn to rely on God

It’s also interesting that God resolved the difficulty with something in nature

  • God doesn’t wave a magic wand or snap His fingers to fix the problem
  • He doesn’t do anything miraculous here
  • God simply uses what’s at hand naturally, in creation, to help His people
  • The point seems to be, if you have a problem, don’t just look up, look around – the solution might be right in front of you

God’s healing of the bitter waters at Marah is perhaps an acted out parable of the healing God intended for Israel

  • Years of oppression and brutality at the hands of the Egyptians was bound to leave its mark
  • God wanted to remove the bitterness caused by this hurt

Okay then, God heals the bitter waters, naturally

  • And, God heals the people, conditionally

God heals the people, conditionally:

The last part of verse 25 tells us that, there (at Marah) the Lord gave them laws to live by

  • We tend to have this idea that God only gave the Law in one place – at Sinai – but God gives the law in a variety of places
  • Which means, “Israel will need to be attentive to the will of God in every life situation, knowing that the body of law given at Sinai may not speak directly to the issue at hand.” [2]

Jesus seemed to understand this

  • He realised that you can’t legislate for every possibility in life
  • You can’t anticipate rules to cover every situation that might arise
  • But you can be attentive to the will of God
  • Because Jesus was listening to God all the time, He was able to see behind the letter of the law to find its spirit – that is, to understand what God’s will was in that particular circumstance
  • The Pharisees, on the other hand, were not listening to God (they were listening to themselves) and so they often missed the point

Now it’s all very well for me to say, ‘we need to listen to God’, but hearing Him clearly is often difficult in practice

  • How do we know if we’ve heard God accurately?
  • Well, one clue is that God reveals His will (or gives His law) to heal people

Yes, healing can come in miraculous ways – like when Jesus restored sight to the blind or when He enabled the lame to walk

  • And healing can come in natural ways too – like when God directed Moses to throw a certain tree into the bitter waters at Marah
  • But God’s healing is also something we participate in through our obedience to the Lord – by the changes we make to our lifestyle
  • The people had to learn God’s laws – His way of living – a new lifestyle, in order to be healed of bad habits – in order for their soul to be restored

When I was younger – a teenager – I injured my back

  • It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t walk, but it was pretty painful all the same
  • We were new to the Christian faith at that stage
  • My mum asked one of her friends to pray for me and when she did I fell into a deep sleep
  • When I woke up the woman who had prayed for me was gone and my back was healed
  • I had no more pain and I had freedom of movement – it was wonderful
  • A small miracle – But miracles are for beginners

Years later, when I became a pastor, I did a sermon series on Job and during that time, while I was sitting down to plan the series, the pain in my lower back returned – the timing was interesting

  • On this occasion God did not heal me miraculously like He did when I was young
  • This time God showed me through physiotherapists how to change my posture and do exercises to heal & strengthen my back
  • It was like God was teaching me to take better care of myself
  • Now, if I revert to those old habits of not holding myself in the right position, the pain returns
  • But as long as I keep good posture and avoid using my back like a crane it’s fine

In verse 26 God says to Israel…

  • “If you will obey me completely by doing what I consider right and by keeping my commands, I will not punish you with any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the Lord, the one who heals you.”


God gives His law (He reveals is will) to heal us

What we notice here, in verse 26, is that this is a conditional statement by God

  • If you obey me I won’t punish you’
  • This does not mean that all sickness is a punishment from God
  • In the context of Exodus 15, God is talking about Himself as a healer,
  • And so we should take this statement positively, as a promise of good things

But even if we take it positively, the promise is still conditional

  • God is not saying, ‘You will enjoy good health no matter what’
  • God is saying, ‘You will enjoy good health if you obey me’
  • It’s like with the physiotherapist, ‘your back will get better if you do the exercises’

Now some of us might struggle with the idea that God’s promise of good health & healing (in this context) is conditional on Israel’s obedience

  • It seems to contradict a belief held by many people today that God’s love is unconditional

To say that “God’s love is unconditional.” (full stop), is misleading

  • It gives some people the impression that they have licence to do whatever they want and get away with it
  • Some use it to claim diplomatic immunity from God’s judgement – like a get out of jail free card

Well, that kind of thinking presumes too much

The Bible does talk about God’s steadfast love & faithfulness

  • It talks about Him being slow to anger and rich in love
  • The Lord is gracious and gives freely to all
  • He causes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike [3]

God’s virtue is not interested in reward

  • God loves us because of who He is – not because of what we do
  • God doesn’t stop loving us when we sin – His love for us remains steadfast and true
  • He doesn’t switch His love off and on, like a light
  • His love stays on permanently

But that doesn’t mean we have a licence to do whatever we want

  • The Bible also talks about God punishing those who do wrong
  • Over the last few weeks we’ve heard how God has punished the Egyptians for oppressing the Israelites

You see, love is not licence

  • Love seeks the well-being of the other person
  • And it’s not always in the other person’s interests to give them everything they want
  • Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to impose certain restrictions and certain conditions

A recovering alcoholic needs very firm restrictions & conditions

  • You can’t say to an alcoholic, ‘You’re allowed a drink on special occasions’
  • You have to say, ‘You can never have a drink of alcohol again. And if you blow your wages on booze, I’m not going to come to your rescue
  • I’m not going to buy you groceries because that would just be enabling you to destroy yourself’

Other times imposing conditions is not appropriate and grace is what is needed

So for example, babies need a lot of grace – they don’t need a lot of conditions

  • Babies are completely dependent on their parents to take care of them
  • It’s no good saying to a new born baby…
  • ‘Look you’re going to have to start pulling your weight around here. If you don’t take your turn with the household chores there’s no breast milk for you.’

The goal with babies is to teach them basic trust and we do that by providing a consistent person in their lives – someone who loves them and takes care of them without thought of reward or reimbursement

Of course, as the child develops, they reach a point where they need some conditions placed on them – otherwise they won’t grow up psychologically

  • And so it’s appropriate to say to your 12 year old…
  • ‘If you want pocket money this week then you need to help with the vacuuming or putting the dishes away or mowing the lawns’

Sometimes we experience God’s love unconditionally, as pure grace, no strings attached – but not always

  • There are other times when we experience God’s love with conditions

God’s healing of my back when I was young – that was unconditional, no strings attached, pure grace

  • But God’s healing of my back in mid-life is conditional on the choices I make about how I use my back
  • I don’t think God has stopped loving me because my healing is conditional
  • He’s just loving me in a different way now – by teaching me to take better care of myself

God’s promise to Abraham, to make him the father of a great nation was unconditional

  • Israel did nothing to earn God’s favour
  • Their selection as God’s special people was pure grace
  • As was their deliverance from slavery in Egypt

But God’s healing of their soul, by giving the law, was conditional on the choices they made – whether to listen to God and obey Him, or not

God’s grace – His giving things to us unconditionally, for free – makes it possible for us to live by faith – to trust Him

  • It should also make us think twice about imposing unreasonable conditions on other people

But as well as grace, we also need God’s restrictions & conditions

  • His conditions help us to grow up – they teach us responsibility
  • And His restrictions show us our limits – they give us firm and healthy boundaries, which make it possible for others to trust us
  • If God didn’t impose certain restrictions & conditions on us we would become spoiled and develop an ugly attitude of entitlement
  • Which would make living with other people pretty difficult

Whether we experience God’s unconditional grace or His restrictions & conditions, it is still love – He always has our well-being at heart


Verse 27 tells us how the people next came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees; there they camped by the water.

Twelve and seventy – these are numbers representing perfection, completeness

  • God and Moses led the people to a place of rest
  • God does not test us beyond what we can endure
  • Yes there are challenges along the way but there are oasis’ too
  • God wants us to enjoy these pleasant places and be refreshed by them for the journey ahead

God heals the bitter waters, naturally (with what is at hand in creation)

  • God heals the people, conditionally (with His law)
  • And God heals through rest

Let us pray…

Our Father in heaven

  • You are our home,
  • We belong to You

Hallowed be Your name

  • Your integrity is perfect,
  • Your reputation is sacred

Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven

  • You alone have the wisdom to heal our world
  • We want You in charge

Give us this day our daily bread

  • Nourish and strengthen us for what each day holds
  • You know our needs

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us

  • Release us from bitterness, resentment and hate
  • Set us free to love our neighbour

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

  • Help us God not just to say the right thing
  • But also to do the right thing. Amen.

[1] Terence Fretheim, Exodus, page 176

[2] Terence Fretheim, Exodus, page 179

[3] Matthew 5:45