Exodus 15:25
And he cried to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(25) The Lord shewed him a tree.—There are trees which have the power of sweetening bitter water; but none of them is at present found in the Sinaitic peninsula, and the Arabs are not now acquainted with any means of rendering the bitter waters of Howarah and the neighbouring springs palatable. Perhaps in ancient times there were forms of vegetable life in the peninsula which do not now exist there. Moses would scarcely have been “shown a tree” unless the tree had some virtue of its own; but, on the other hand, the tree alone is scarcely to be credited with the entire effect. As in so many other instances, God seems to have made use of nature, as far as nature could go, and then to have superadded His own omnipotent energy in order to produce the required effect. (Compare our blessed Lord’s method in working His miracles.)

He made for them a statute and an ordinance.- God took advantage of the occasion to draw a lesson from it. He promised that, as He had healed the waters, so, if the Israelites would henceforth faithfully keep His commandments, He would “heal” them (Exodus 15:26), keeping them free from all the diseases of Egypt, and from the far greater evil involved in their own corrupted nature and infirmity.

Exodus 15:25. He cried unto the Lord — Moses did what they ought to have done. He made request unto the Lord for help in this distress. It is the greatest relief of the cares of magistrates and ministers, when those under their charge make them uneasy, that they may have recourse to God by prayer. He is the guide of the church’s guides; and to the chief Shepherd the under shepherds must, on all occasions, apply themselves. The Lord showed him a tree — What tree this was is quite uncertain. And although some have been of opinion that it had a peculiar virtue in it to render the bitter waters sweet, because it is said, God showed him the tree, yet since they were made sweet immediately upon casting the tree into them, and that to such a degree as to correct the taste of them for many hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention the numerous flocks and herds, it seems perfectly evident that this effect must have been miraculous, and that the tree was only a sign, and not the means of the cure, any more than the brazen serpent in another case. May not this tree be considered as an emblem of the cross of Christ, and of the blessings purchased thereby, which, when we receive them in faith, sweeten our bitterest trials with the peace and love of God, peace of conscience, and lively, joyful hopes of everlasting blessedness? There he made them a statute and an ordinance — God, having now eased them of the hard and iron yoke of the Egyptians, puts his sweet and easy yoke upon them, and having undertaken to be their king, protector, and leader, he claims their subjection to himself, and to his laws and statutes. It seems, however, that all he now did was to give them some general intimations of his will, previous to the promulgation of his law. According to the tradition of the Jews, the statute and ordinance now given was, that they should observe the sabbath, and do justice. There he proved or tried them — That is, he both tried their faith by the difficulty now mentioned, namely, their want of water, and their future obedience by this general command, afterward branched out into divers particulars.15:22-27 In the wilderness of Shur the Israelites had no water. At Marah they had water, but it was bitter; so that they could not drink it. God can make bitter to us that from which we promise ourselves most, and often does so in the wilderness of this world, that our wants, and disappointments in the creature, may drive us to the Creator, in whose favour alone true comfort is to be had. In this distress the people fretted, and quarrelled with Moses. Hypocrites may show high affections, and appear earnest in religious exercises, but in the time of temptation they fall away. Even true believers, in seasons of sharp trial, will be tempted to fret, distrust, and murmur. But in every trial we should cast our care upon the Lord, and pour out our hearts before him. We shall then find that a submissive will, a peaceful conscience, and the comforts of the Holy Ghost, will render the bitterest trial tolerable, yea, pleasant. Moses did what the people had neglected to do; he cried unto the Lord. And God provided graciously for them. He directed Moses to a tree which he cast into the waters, when, at once, they were made sweet. Some make this tree typical of the cross of Christ, which sweetens the bitter waters of affliction to all the faithful, and enables them to rejoice in tribulation. But a rebellious Israelite shall fare no better than a rebellious Egyptian. The threatening is implied only, the promise is expressed. God is the great Physician. If we are kept well, it is he that keeps us; if we are made well, it is he that recovers us. He is our life and the length of our days. Let us not forget that we are kept from destruction, and delivered from our enemies, to be the Lord's servants. At Elim they had good water, and enough of it. Though God may, for a time, order his people to encamp by the bitter waters of Marah, that shall not always be their lot. Let us not faint at tribulations.A tree ... - The statement points to a natural agency, but the result was manifestly supernatural.

He made ... - The Lord then set before them the fundamental principle of implicit trust, to be shown by obedience. The healing of the water was a symbol of deliverance from physical and spiritual evils.

25. the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet—Some travellers have pronounced this to be the Elvah of the Arabs—a shrub in form and flower resembling our hawthorn; others, the berries of the Ghurkhud—a bush found growing around all brackish fountains. But neither of these shrubs are known by the natives to possess such natural virtues. It is far more likely that God miraculously endowed some tree with the property of purifying the bitter water—a tree employed as the medium, but the sweetening was not dependent upon the nature or quality of the tree, but the power of God (compare Joh 9:6). And hence the "statute and ordinance" that followed, which would have been singularly inopportune if no miracle had been wrought.

and there he proved them—God now brought the Israelites into circumstances which would put their faith and obedience to the test (compare Ge 22:1).

The waters were made sweet, not so much by any virtue in that tree, as by the power of God, who used this rather as a sign to the Israelites, than as an instrument to himself in this work.

There he made for them a statute: God, or Moses in God’s name, and by his order, constituted and published to them a statute. Which seems to be understood not of any, particular statute or law, as that concerning the sabbath, or their duty to their parents, or the like; for the specifying of their duties is reserved to another time and place; but of a general law or rule formerly given, and now solemnly renewed by Moses at God’s command, like that given to Abraham their father, Genesis 17:1, Walk before me, and be perfect. God having thus far performed his part of that covenant made with Abraham and his seed, to bring them out of Egypt towards Canaan, tells them that he expects and requires of them their observance of the condition of that covenant, and gives them this indefinite and universal law or precept, that they should obey and fulfil all the commands which God had already laid upon them or their parents, and which he should hereafter reveal to them. This sense may be gathered out of the following verse, wherein he explains what he meant by this

statute, even all God’s statutes or commandments, which if they would keep, he engageth himself to preserve and deliver them. So it is only a change of the number, the singular, statute, being put for the plural, statutes, which is a figure very frequently used both in Scripture and in other authors. God having now eased them of the hard and iron yoke of the Egyptians, puts his sweet and easy yoke upon them; and having undertaken to be their King, and Protector, and Captain, he claims their subjection to himself, and to his laws or statutes.

He proved them, or, tried them, i.e. the Israelites. There he tried both their faith by the difficulty now mentioned, viz. their want of water, and their future obedience by this general command, which he is about to branch forth into divers particulars. And he cried unto the Lord,.... Or prayed, as all the Targums, that God would appear for them, and relieve them in their distress, or, humanly speaking, they must all perish: happy it is to have a God to go to in time of trouble, whose hand is not shortened that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy that he cannot hear! Moses knew the power of God, and trusted in his faithfulness to make good the promises to him, and the people, that he would bring them to the land he had swore to give them:

and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet; what this tree was is not known; if it was in its own nature sweet, as the author of Ecclesiasticus seems to intimate, when he says, in chapter 38:5 "was not the water made sweet with the wood, that its virtue might be known?" Yet a single tree could never of itself sweeten a flow of water, and such a quantity as was sufficient for so large a number of men and cattle; and therefore, be it what it will, it must be owing to a miraculous operation that the waters were made sweet by it: but the Hebrew writers say the tree was bitter itself, and therefore the miracle was the greater: Gorionides (l) says it was wormwood; and both the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem call it the bitter tree, Ardiphne, which Cohen de Lara (m) makes to be the same which botanists call Rhododaphne or rose laurel, and which, he says, bears flowers like lilies, which are exceeding bitter, and are poison to cattle; and so says Baal Aruch (n); and much the same has Elias Levita (o): and this agrees well enough with the mystical and spiritual application that may be made of this; whether these bitter waters are considered as an emblem of the bitter curses of the law, for that bitter thing sin, which makes work for bitter repentance; and for which the law writes bitter things against the sinner, which, if not prevented, would issue in the bitterness of death; so that a sensible sinner can have nothing to do with it, nor can it yield him any peace or comfort: but Christ, the tree of life, being made under the law, and immersed in sufferings, the penalty of it, and made a curse, the law is fulfilled, the curse and wrath of God removed, the sinner can look upon it with pleasure and obey it with delight: or whether these may be thought to represent the afflictions of God's people, comparable to water for their multitude, and for their overflowing and overwhelming nature, and to bitter ones, being grievous to the flesh; especially when God hides his face and they are thought to be in wrath: but these are sweetened through the presence of Christ, the shedding abroad of his love in the heart, the gracious promises he makes and applies, and especially through his bitter sufferings and death, and the fruits and effects thereof, which support, refresh, and cheer, see Hebrews 12:2,

there he made a statute and an ordinance: not that he gave them at this time any particular law or precept, whether moral or ceremonial, such as the laws of keeping the sabbath and honouring of parents, which the Targum of Jonathan mentions (p); and to which Jarchi adds that concerning the red heifer: but he gave them a general instruction and order concerning their future behaviour; that if they hearkened to his commandments, and yielded obedience to them, it would be well with them, if not they must expect to be chastised and afflicted by him, as is observed in the following verse, to which this refers:

and there he proved them; the people of Israel; by these waters being first bitter and then sweetened, whereby he gave them a proof and specimen how it would be with them hereafter; that if they behaved ill they must expect the bitter waters of affliction, but, if otherwise, pleasant and good things: or, "there he proved him" (q); Moses, his obedience and faith, by ordering him to cast in the tree he showed him; but the former sense seems best to agree with what follows.

(l) Heb. Hist l. 6. c. 38. p. 742. (m) Ir. David, p. 21. (n) Fol. 51. 3.((o) In Methurgeman, fol. 9. 2.((p) So T. Bab. Sanhedrin. fol. 56. 2. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 5. p. 17. (q) "tentavit eum", Pagninus, Montanus, Drusius, V. L. Tigurine version; "prebavit eum", Vatablus; "tentavit ipsum", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.

And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there {n} he proved them,

(n) That is, God, or Moses in God's name.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
25. cried unto Jehovah] Cf. Exodus 14:15, Exodus 17:4.

a tree] ‘That there might be a bush or tree, whose leaves, fruit, bark or wood were able to sweeten bitter water is not impossible (see on such means adopted by the Tamils and Peruvians, Rosenm. Alt. u. neues Morgenland, ii. 28 f.); from the Bedawin of the present time travellers have not been able to hear of such a tree (Rob. i. 67 f., Ebers, Gosen, 116 f.): according to de Lesseps (as quoted by Ebers, pp. 117, 531), however, a kind of barberry growing in the wilderness is so used’ (Di.). Comp. Sir 38:5. Josephus’ account of the incident (Ant. iii. 1, 2) is curious: see on this and other traditions, or interpretations, E. A. Abbott, Indices to Diatessarica (1907), pp. xi–lxiii.

There set he them, &c.] Cf. Joshua 24:25 (the same words). ‘Statute and ordinance,’ as often (in the plur.) in Dt. (Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 4:5; Deuteronomy 4:8; Deuteronomy 4:14, &c. [in these passages rendered ‘judgement’; see on Exodus 21:1]). What ‘statute and ordinance’ is meant, is not stated: apparently some duty, by the observance or non-observance of which, Israel’s loyalty could be ‘proved’ (cf. on Exodus 17:2). The notice seems imperfectly connected with what precedes; and the second clause reads as if it were originally intended as an explanation of the name Massah (‘Proving’), differing from the one given in Exodus 17:7.Verses 25, 26. - The Lord shewed him a tree. - Several trees or plants belonging to different parts of the world, are said to possess the quality of rendering bitter water sweet and agreeable; as the nellimaram of Coromandel, the sassafras of Florida, the yerva Caniani of Peru, and the perru nelli (Phylanthus emblica) of India. But none of them is found in the Sinaitic. peninsula. Burckhardt suggested (Travels in Syria. p. 474) that the berries of the ghurkud (Peganum retusum), a low thorny shrub which grows abundantly round the Ain Howarah, may have been used by Moses to sweeten the drink; but there are three objections to this.

1. Moses is not said to have used the berries, but the entire plant;

2. The berries would not have been procurable in April, since they do not ripen till June; and

3. They would not have produced any such effect on the water as Burckhardt imagined. In fact there is no tree or shrub now growing in the Sinaitic peninsula, which would have any sensible effect on such water as that of Ain Howarah; and the Bedouins of the neighbourhood know of no means by which it can be made drinkable. Many of the Fathers believed that the "tree" had no natural effect, and was commanded to be thrown in merely to symbolise the purifying power of the Cross of Christ. But to moderns such a view appears to savour of mysticism. It is perhaps most probable that there was some tree or shrub in the vicinity of the bitter fountain in Moses' time which had a natural purifying and sweetening power, but that it has now become extinct. If this be the case, the miracle consisted in God's pointing out the tree to Moses, who had no previous knowledge of it. The waters were made sweet. Compare the miracle of Elisha (2 Kings 2:19-22). There he made for them a statute and an ordinance. See the next verse. God, it appears, after healing the water, and satisfying the physical thirst of his people, gave them an ordinance, which he connected by a promise with the miracle. If they would henceforth render strict obedience to all his commandments, then he would "heal" them as he had healed the water, would keep them free at once from physical and from moral evil, from the diseases of Egypt, and the diseases of their own hearts. And there he proved them. From the moment of their quitting Egypt to that of their entering Canaan, God was ever "proving" his people - trying them, that is - exercising their faith, and patience and obedience and power of self-denial, in order to fit them for the position which they were to occupy in Canaan. He had proved them at the Red Sea, when he let them be shut in between the water and the host of the Egyptians - he proved them now at Marah by a bitter disappointment - he proved them again at Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7); at Sinai (Exodus 20:20); at Taberah (Numbers 11:1-3); at Kibroth-hattaavah (ib, verse 34); at Kadesh (ib, 13:26-33), and elsewhere. For forty years he led them through the wilderness" to prove them, to know what was in their heart" (Deuteronomy 8.), to fit them for their glorious and conquering career in the land of promise All these diseases. See Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:27. Kalisch correctly observes that, though the Egyptians had the character in antiquity of being among the healthiest and most robust of nations (Herod. 2:77), yet a certain small number of diseases have always raged among them with extreme severity He understands the present passage of the plagues, which, however, are certainly nowhere else called "diseases." There is no reason why the word should not be taken literally, as all take it in the passages of Deuteronomy above cited. In the words "Pharaoh's horse, with his chariots and horsemen," Pharaoh, riding upon his horse as the leader of the army, is placed at the head of the enemies destroyed by Jehovah. In Exodus 15:20, Miriam is called "the prophetess," not ob poeticam et musicam facultatem (Ros.), but because of her prophetic gift, which may serve to explain her subsequent opposition to Moses (Numbers 11:1, Numbers 11:6); and "the sister of Aaron," though she was Moses' sister as well, and had been his deliverer in his infancy, not "because Aaron had his own independent spiritual standing by the side of Moses" (Baumg.), but to point out the position which she was afterwards to occupy in the congregation of Israel, namely, as ranking, not with Moses, but with Aaron, and like him subordinate to Moses, who had been placed at the head of Israel as the mediator of the Old Covenant, and as such was Aaron's god (Exodus 4:16, Kurtz). As prophetess and sister of Aaron she led the chorus of women, who replied to the male chorus with timbrels and dancing, and by taking up the first strophe of the song, and in this way took part in the festival; a custom that was kept up in after times in the celebration of victories (Judges 11:34; 1 Samuel 18:6-7; 1 Samuel 21:12; 1 Samuel 29:5), possibly in imitation of an Egyptian model (see my Archologie, 137, note 8).
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