The journey had been one of triumph. No longer slaves, they could now look back to the day when they had stood by the Red Sea and had seen the armies of Egypt destroyed. On Passover night they had left Egypt anticipating that they would sacrifice to the Lord in three days, for so Moses had said (Ex 8.27). But the three days have gone. Instead of sacrifice they found no water. Then, finding water, they saw that it was bitter. What did this mean? What was this awaiting them? It was bitterness in obedience. They had followed the pathway as directed by the Lord and the result was disappointment. How many believers have faced up to such an experience? They have sought to be faithful to the Master and can look back to days of spiritual triumph, but now they have met circumstances difficult to understand and the question, "Why?", springs readily to their lips.
As Naomi returns from Moab, having lost her husband and her two sons, she exclaims, "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me" (Ruth 1.20). She describes tragic events in terms of taste. What is bitter gives no satisfaction to the tongue, and so the days in Moab, which promised so much, had been disappointing and grievous years, when hopes were dashed and joy was absent. Naomi knew this to be bitterness in failure. The journey from Bethlehem, like that of all backsliders, had brought only sorrow. It is likely that her husband had taken her there, if not against her wishes, certainly without her full support. There had been no need to go, for no matter how difficult their circumstances, they had a kinsman, a mighty man of wealth to whom they could turn for help. But years of suffering were to pass before that pathway was taken. Looking back she realized how much had been lost. They had been "full", although they failed to appreciate Gods goodness, but now they were empty. How many are feeling today as Naomi felt? Bitterness has entered their lives and they know in their hearts that the cause lies within themselves. Can there be any recovery?
Job has endured blow after blow, and we are not surprised to read in Job 10.1 that he speaks about the bitterness of soul which he feels. The sobs and sighs that marked his days were not the result of sinful living. He is wrestling with God to find an answer to it all, but there never is revealed to him the meeting that took place when the sons of God presented themselves before the Lord. Little wonder then that we see this as bitterness in sorrow. This good man is weary of life. Circumstances have over-whelmed him and briefly he falters. It would be better if he had not been born (v.18). Who would condemn him for how he feels? He cannot understand why, and, confounded and confused, he can see no reason for his distress. Are there not many today who feel like Job? Sorrow, trials, and difficulties have overwhelmed them and there seems to be no strength left to go on.
Thus, in differing circumstances, the bitter experiences of life leave their mark. But is there no silver lining to these clouds? Let us take heart. Did the children of Israel not find that the bitter waters became sweet? Did Naomi and Ruth not find Boaz, and enjoy fruitfulness with him? Did Job not know what it was to have new joy with blessings which followed the clouds? From each dark day there came lessons which otherwise would never have been known. At Marah the power of the tree was seen. To know Boaz was a prize beyond measure. To learn submission to the will of God, no matter how dark the day, is a choice lesson which few would claim to have learned. So, learning the power of the Cross in our daily lives, enjoying a closer relationship with our Lord, and learning to have faith to trust Him in all, is fruit from bitterness. In all the circumstances of life He is working to teach us more of Himself and more of His ways. Even although, as in the case of Job, He may not reveal the reason for what He brings into our lives, we know that all His ways with us are ultimately for our blessing.