Don’t Drink Bitter Water
October 14th, 1984 @ 10:50 AM
DON’T DRINK BITTER WATER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-14-84 10:50 a.m.
I love to hear you sing the Word of God. It is a joy for us here in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the great multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Don’t Drink Bitter Water. It is a message based on a story in the last part of the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus; Exodus, chapter 15, beginning at verse 22 [Exodus 15:22].
So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the Wilderness of Shur in Sinai; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water—
by that time they would have been most thirsty; three days without any water—
And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of the place was called Marah, bitter.
And the people murmured… saying, What shall we drink?
And Moses cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet… And the Lord said—
closing the story—
For I am the Lord that healeth thee—
this is a new name for our Lord—
I am Jehovah-rophe, the Lord that healeth thee.
This last week I was asked to take a part in an international convocation of surgeons and physicians here in the city of Dallas. They inducted into that international honor society about two hundred scientists and surgeons and physicians all over the globe. And in my prayer I confessed to the Lord, a great truth: the surgeon can operate, and the doctor can diagnose, and the pharmacist can fill a prescription, but only God can heal. “My name is Jehovah Ropheka—I am the Lord that healeth thee” [Exodus 15:26]. And He alone heals. And it is beautifully illustrated in this unusual story. “They came to bitter water” [Exodus 15:23].
Now that is a providence that all of us need to remember in our lives. It was while Israel was following in the way and leadership and path of the Lord that they came to this bitter water. Not all of the sicknesses, and sorrows, and sadnesses of life are punitive punishments from God; sometimes, these tragedies that overwhelm us and these sorrows that break our hearts, sometimes they are that we might glorify God in our lives, in our souls, in our physical frames.
You have a pointed illustration of that twice in the New Testament. As the disciples went by, they saw a man blind from his birth. And they turned to the Savior, and said, “Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” [John 9:1-2]. Why certainly somebody had sinned and this is a punishment, he is blind! And the Lord replied, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents that he was born blind: but that the glory of God might be manifested in him” [John 9: 3]. Or again, a poignant illustration: when Paul pled before the Lord because of the thorn in the flesh, a disease, a malady, a weakness in his physical frame, when he pled with the Lord to remove it [2 Corinthians 12:7-8], the Lord refused saying, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. Not every providence that breaks our hearts is punitive, a punishment; sometimes it is for the glory of God [Genesis 50:20].
So the Lord showed Moses a tree, and when he followed the instructions of the Lord and placed the tree—he cut down the tree and placed it in the waters, the waters were sweet. It was life-giving, when the tree was cast into the bitter waters [Exodus 15:25]. Our Lord was crucified on a tree, on a wooden beam cross [Matthew 27:32-50; John 19:17-34]. And when the cross of Christ comes into our lives we are healed, we are helped, we are blessed; it is the cross of our Lord. It is Jesus who makes the difference in the providences in our lives.
Now there are many circumstances in our lives that are cruel and crushing. If you live very long, you will know the experience of heartache, and sorrow, and disappointment, and hurt. But it is God who can help us, and it is God who can heal us [Exodus 15:26], and it is God Ropheka who will do it. When we receive from the Lord the providences of life that crush us and make our lives a stewardship of them, God does something, He always does.
I was reading about a rich, rich, woman; her name is Mary Phillips. She lives in one of the great cities of America and she is the richest person in the city. Her husband divorced her and she was left with four children, evicted from her apartment and placed out on the street. She had no money and no where to turn; except in her desperation, she turned to God. And in those days this is what she wrote:
With God’s help and with God’s blessing, I will rise again. I am forty years old, divorced, and broke. My four children and I have just been evicted from our apartment. I thought the world had come to an end for me. I have never been so depressed, so lonely, so frightened. I am the sole support of my four children and myself, but I’m not going to cry anymore. God will help me. I’ll set a good example for my children; I’m going to take them to church. I’m going to teach them about God, I will be the best mother in the world. I will be somebody, some day. There will be obstacles, there will be setbacks, there will be detours, but I refuse to let them destroy me. I am going to make it with God’s help. I’ll win the battle, I’ll win the war. I will turn this loss into a cornerstone of my life, and I will rebuild again. I will succeed. I will keep going. I won’t look back. My children are depending on me, and with God’s help I will rise again.
And she did, with God’s help. It is a remarkable thing when we receive as from God the providences of life as a stewardship, a possession that the Lord hath given to us. And we return praise and honor and glory to Him. I don’t know of a more astonishing turn to an event in all of my reading, than the story of Jacob in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis [Genesis 28]. He was fleeing from the murderous wrath of his brother who swore to kill him [Genesis 27:41]. And of course, a young man forced from home—on his way to a far, far away, up there at the head of the Mesopotamian Valley [Genesis 28:5, 7, 10-11]—and on the way, he saw a ladder in a dream at night, leaning against heaven [Genesis 28:12]. And Jacob vowed a vow when he awoke saying:
If God will be with me, if God will keep me, if God will give me bread to eat, if God will bring me back again some day to my father’s house:
this stone, on which I have laid my head, will be a pillar
Called Bethel, the house of God. And of all that Thou shalt give me, O, Lord, I will surely give a tenth unto Thee.
Isn’t that a remarkable turn? “I accept as from Thee, the providences of life, and dear Lord, as a stewardship of all that You give me, the providence, any possession, I will sacredly dedicate one-tenth of it unto Thee” [Genesis 28:22], bringing God into his life.
In this last recession—wasn’t that about 1974? In this last recession, there was a man converted here, saved. He was broke, he had nothing. And he came to the pastor saying, “I am destitute, broke.” And the pastor said to him, “What can you do?” And the man honestly replied, “Nothing. I’m uneducated. I’m untrained. I can’t do anything. All I have ever done,” he said, “I have worked in a filling station washing some cars. That’s all I’ve ever done.” So they got down together, the pastor and that man, and prayed. And while the prayer was being offered before God something came into the mind of the pastor and when they stood up he said, “Look, you’re going to be the finest super-duper hand-washed for executive cars in this world.” And the pastor bought him a pair of khaki coveralls, took ten dollars and got a copying of a little brochure that said, “My name is Jim Kelly. I wash executive cars, I hand wash them and make them bright and shiny,” and sent him down to the tallest building here in the city of Dallas.
He rode to town on his bicycle and drove the executive car out to his house, his shanty, and washed it in the driveway and then drove it back—delivered it back; got another executive car, drove it out to the little place, washed it, shined it in the driveway, took it back to town. In no time at all, he had more cars than he could wash, and he hired high school boys to help him. And as time went on, he had more cars then he and the high school boys could wash. And he found a washing place, a car wash that had gone out of business; he bought it. And today, he has more money than he knows what to do with. God does something. When we bring God into our lives and when we bring God into our providences, when we bring God into our destitution—or into our need, or into our hunger, or into our illness or sorrows—when God is brought in, it’s another world, it’s a new day. Something happens.
One of the most remarkable things in this earth to me is how this thing turns in the Word of God. What God does, it is the Lord that makes the difference; it is His presence in it. Here in this fourteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, we are told that Abram, who later became Abraham—Abraham was met by Melchizedek, the king of Salem. He was called the priest of the Most High God [Genesis 14:18]. And he blessed Abram and he said, “Blessed be Abram of the Most High God” [Genesis 14:19]. And Abram gave him tithes of all [Genesis 14:20]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? “This, Lord, my life, my strength, and my stewardship, Lord bless,” and God blessed Abram. He always does. He never fails. I may fail, we may fail, God doesn’t fail.
And when I bring before God, I have ten cents, I have ten cents; nine of them are for me and my life and my work, and one of them is for God. There are millions of people in this world that won’t make as much as ten cents an hour, millions of them. When I bring before God my nine cents for me and my tenth cent, my tithe for God, and I kneel down before the Lord and I ask God to bless these nine cents for me, and I asked God to bless this one penny for Him, God does something. God blesses it. God helps. Whether I’m rich or whether I’m poor makes no difference either way. It has nothing to do with it. It’s God presence and blessing that make the difference. There are millions of people that will make ten dollars a day, millions of them, “Here are nine of these dollars for me. There are nine of them for me, and there’s one of them for God, and I kneel down before the Lord and I ask God to bless the nine here for me, my work, my life, food, health, strength, the presence of God, I ask that for me.” Then I ask, “God bless this for Thee and Thy work in the earth,” and God does something. He does something. There are worlds and worlds of people that will make a hundred dollars in a week and some of them in a day. “Here are ninety dollars for me. Here is ninety dollars for me, and here is ten dollars for God.” And I kneel down before the Lord and I ask God, “Lord, bless this ninety dollars for me, in my life and work, in witness and testimony, bless this for me, and then Lord, bless this ten dollars for You, and Thy kingdom in the earth, bless it Lord.” And God does something, when God is brought into the life and into the providence, God does something. He always does. I may fail, but He never fails. And then Lord aboundingly blesses us, and I give the whole thing to God.
You’re not to give that back to me, as you tried at 8:15, Charles, that’s to the Lord, you going to do that? You’re going to turn it in, that’s God’s—the whole thing God blesses. I never mentioned it at the 8:15 service, but I turned it over in my mind, and I thought I’d just say it at this hour; God does something. God does something when our hearts are open to heaven, and we look to Him and received as from His gracious hands as a stewardship, all the providences and blessings of our life.
But what happened was this: the mission committee of our church—we have twenty-two chapels, one of them moved my heart this morning, listening to that wonderful girl over there in Louisiana every week, write a letter back to our Silent Friend’s Chapel and enclosed her tithes or whatever it was. Well, anyway, the mission committee came to me and said, “Pastor we need three hundred fifty thousand dollars for our West Dallas Mexican chapel,” Calvary Mission, we call it. Calvary Chapel, “We need three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” They’re growing, they’re blessed over there, and they have to have an educational building where they can teach the Word of God. “Now, pastor, we want three hundred fifty thousand dollars.” Now where in the earth am I going to give them three hundred fifty thousand dollars? Well, I called one of the deacons in the church who’s vitally interested in that ministry. And I called a shrewd businessman here in this church, those two men. And I said to them, “I want you to go to such and such place in North Dallas, and I want you to buy a piece of property there. And I want you to ask God to bless you and make three hundred fifty-thousand dollars on the transaction and give it to our chapel that we can build this educational building in West Dallas.”
Well those two men, in the encouragement of God, they did it! They went up here and they bought the property and they have just sold it. They’re giving three hundred eighty-five thousand dollars to the chapel and the chapel is now being built. It’s being built right this minute. But this week, this very week, they are getting four million dollars for them! Two million dollars for one of them and two million dollars for the other one, and they never thought to make a dime out of it personally. It’s amazing what God does! It’s overwhelming. If you want to be overwhelmed by the providences of life, just give God a chance, maybe empty something out of your own life that there might be room for God to come into your heart and soul and life. He never fails. God never fails. It’s a remarkable thing. A little is much in the sight of God; the mathematics of our Lord is astonishing to me. I don’t understand it and I don’t think anybody can figure it out, it’s God mathematics.
For example, He will say in Leviticus, “Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight” [Leviticus 26:8]. What kind of mathematics is that; five chasing a hundred, but a hundred of you chasing ten thousand? That’s God’s mathematics; you’ll find that all through the Word of the Lord. Listen here in Isaiah, “A little one,”qaton, little, in the sense of being unimportant, “a little one shall become a thousand, and a small one,”tsa`ir, small in the sense of being insignificant, “and a little one, a small one, shall become a great nation” [Isaiah 60:22]. That’s God’s mathematics! I don’t understand it; it’s not our kind of mathematics. God takes what we bring before Him, and He multiplies it; and He multiplies it. When it’s given into His hands He multiplies it; like that little boy’s lunch of five little pieces of bread, five biscuits and two little sardines, two little fish. And the Lord multiplied it and multiplied it and multiplied it and fed over five thousand with it—that’s God! [John 6:5-13]. That’s God mathematics, and He does that with us. It’s astonishing how the Lord blesses; it’s overwhelming. I think that the Lord says to us, “My honor, and My integrity, and My character are at stake in this word.” “Shall the Lord say it,” as the prophet asked, “and shall He not do it?” [Numbers 23:19].
Look at this! I can stand here and on the Word of God, I can say to you: if you will turn, if you will repent, if you will turn, look toward God, if you will turn and if you will receive the Lord Jesus in your heart, and if you will openly confess Him before men, you will be saved [Romans 10:9-10]. On the Word of the Lord, by the Word of the Lord, I promise you as though God were speaking, you turn, you accept the Savior, you confess Him openly and unashamedly and you’ will be saved [Romans 10:9-13]; you will be a new and a different man [2 Corinthians 5:17]. I say that to you by the Word of the Lord, who cannot lie, who will not lie or deceive us [Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2].
Now shall I not say the same thing by the Word of the Lord, by the Word of the Lord, His honor and His integrity and His character are on the line. God says, “Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” [Proverbs 3:9-10]. Or look again, in the famous verse in Malachi 3:10: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse… and prove Me herewith, saith the Lord, just try Me, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there is not room enough to receive it.” Your heart is not big enough and your life is not broad enough or high enough or deep enough to contain all of the blessings that I will pour out upon you. Or look again, from our Savior: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” [Luke 6:38]. Can I count on God’s Word? If I do that will God bless me? Will He? He said so. He promised it. God did that. And when I bring God into my life there is a new chapter, there’s a new day, there’s a new creation, there’s a new hope. Everything is new as He says, “Behold, I make all things new” [Revelation 21:5]. That’s God, that’s God.
One of the most remarkable things that I have read in the Bible is in the seventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews [Hebrews 7]. He says in verse 7, “Without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. Here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth” [Hebrews 7:7-8]. He starts off with a very apparent avowal. ”The less is blessed of the greater” [Hebrews 7:7]. We down here, are blessed by the great Lord God up there, and here—look over yonder, look over there—we receive tithes, we who are dying here receive tithes, but it is God ultimately who receives them up there in heaven. He blesses us. When we bring Him into our church, into our life, into all the providences that overwhelm us, God does something. Now on the basis of that, I have an avowal to make. When we do this, when we bring to God a faithful stewardship of what the Lord hath given to us, we have a right to ask of God and to expect from God an infinite and continuing blessing. We have a right to do it. God says, “If you will do this, prove Me now herewith,” saith the Lord, “if you will do this, I will open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing” [Malachi 3:10]. You don’t have heart or life big enough to receive it, full, pressed down, and running over; that’s God.
When I was a youth, I listened many times to Dr. Truett, the far-famed pastor of this wonderful church. He would say things and tell things that were overwhelming to me as a youth. This is one of them: you’ll find it recorded on Page 111 of the biography of George W. Truett, I listened to him as a youth, as he told it. Oh, it just moved my soul then and it does to this very day, recalling it. He said that every year he went out to West Texas and preached to the cattlemen. He said there were about twelve hundred of them in a cove out there, and he preached the gospel to them. And one of those big cattlemen was saved, wonderfully converted. And after a morning service the big man asked the pastor, Dr. Truett, if he’d walk with him out beyond the camp. So they locked arms and for about a mile and a quarter, Dr. Truett said, they walked together and not a word spoken between. “The big man had a burden on his heart,” Truett said, “had no idea what it was.” When they came to a ledge in the rock, they walked behind it and stopped, and the big man said to Dr. Truett, “I am a new Christian and I didn’t realize, I didn’t know, that all of these miles and miles and miles of ranch land are not mine, they belong to God. And all of these thousands and thousands of heads of cattle, they’re not mine, they belong to God. And I am just a steward; I’m just an administrator of God’s estate. “Now Dr. Truett,” the big cattleman said, “I want you to kneel down here and I’ll kneel by your side, and I want you to tell God for me that I give Him back all that I thought I possessed. And that I will be a good administrator and a good trustee of what God has given to me. Then when you are through telling God that, you wait, I have something to tell Him myself.” So Dr. Truett said they knelt down like little children and he told the Lord, “This big cattleman he says thus and thus and thus and thus and so, and he will be a good administrator and a good steward of what God has given him.” And after the preacher prayed the prayer, then he stopped, waiting for the cattleman to say what he said he wanted to talk to God about. The cattleman couldn’t talk, he just wept and wept before the Lord. Then when finally he could speak, the cattleman said, “Dear God, I have given You all of my lands, all of them. I’ve given You all of my cattle, all of them. Now Lord, may I not give to You our bad boy? He has broken the heart of his mother and me, and we can do nothing with him. Please God, won’t You take our bad boy?”
The preacher said that night, while he was preaching to those twelve hundred cattlemen, there came into the center of the group, that boy. His father was seated toward the front and the boy walked round to his father and said to him, “Father, I cannot wait until this man has done his sermon. Father, I have decided for God, I’ve given my life to Christ.” That’s God! That’s the Lord. When you bring Him into your life, when you accept as from the Lord a stewardship of all of the providences that overwhelm us, God does something. He always does; He always will.
I think of the days of my life; I was talking this morning to a man about them. When I began, they said, “If you will work hard, we’ll try to pay you twenty dollars a month.” And I worked hard pastoring my first little church, and they tried to pay me twenty dollars a month. For years, for years, I never allowed myself more than ten cents for breakfast, more than twelve cents for lunch or more than eighteen cents for dinner, for years. I lived like that, and when I had my doctor’s degree and had my first full-time church, my salary was two hundred and fifty dollars a month. For years and years I lived like that, but God was in it. The Lord was in it, the Savior was in it, and God has blessed beyond any way that I could ever, ever, ever encompass in words of gratitude and thanksgiving to Him.
I thank God for you. I have the sweetest, dearest church in the world. There’s no congregation like this church. I thank God for it. And God has blessed me beyond any way that you could ever think for. God has done it. The Lord has done it. But whether it was when I was living on twenty dollars a month or whether it is today, I don’t see any difference. God is in it. He was in it and with me and blessed me when I was living on twenty dollars a month—two dollars of which I gave to Him—or whether I live today. In your prayers and encouragement and love, God does it. Oh, my sweet friend, open your heart heavenward and God-ward, and confess to Him, “Lord, whatever it is—of affluence or of necessity, of strength or of weakness—I accept it, Lord, as a stewardship under Thy gracious hands. And if it’s in weakness, may Thy strength be perfected in my weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. And if you’ll do that, you’ll have the most triumphant life you could ever know in this weary world; God will do it.
In this moment now, we’re going to sing us a song, and while we sing it, a family in the balcony around down one of these stairways, on the lower floor down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today, we have decided for God, and we’re coming.” A couple you, just one somebody you, “The Lord has spoken to me today and we’re coming.”
You know what I thought we would do? It just came into my heart, we’re going to remain seated, all of us will remain seated, no one would think of leaving during this all-significant, all-important moment of decision. We’ll be here just for a moment longer. And then, while [we] remain seated, just get up out of your seat where you are, and walk down that stairway, walk down this aisle. “Pastor, God has spoken to me, and I am coming.” May angels attend you in the way as you come. Now may we pray?
Our Lord, in this moment, may the decision be, “Yes, Lord, God, yes. I’ll open my heart heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward, and I’ll give God an opportunity to bless my life and make me a blessing. Give us a gracious harvest this moment, this hour, and as we sing this appeal, on the first note of its first stanza, may there be those who stand up coming, responding, answering, “Pastor, God has spoken to me, and here I am” [Romans 10:13]. Thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest. We expect it, we prayed for it, we believed God for it, and God never fails us. So do it again, Lord. Save the lost and add to Thy redeemed family, in Thy wonderful, wonderful name, amen.
Now David, let’s sing us a song while our people are praying and waiting. Just out of your seats stand, down one of these aisles come, and God bless you in the way while we sing.