Meditations in Exodus: 52. Transient Blessing – Elim
Ex 15:27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
What a contrast. One moment it seems they are in the desert that is dry and barren and for three days there was no sign of water and then when the water came, at a place that became called Marah, the water was polluted. And then we find those incredibly understated words, “Then they came to…” One minute polluted water, the next, abundance of water. What is going on?
Look at the provision here – first of all, twelve springs. Not just one, but twelve. At the previous place we believe it to have been a waddi, a place where water collected but here there are deep underground springs, twelve of them, which speaks of constant supply. Seeing the number twelve we immediately think of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of Jesus. There are lots of other twelves in the Bible but those two alone suggest completeness in God’s plans or God’s will, just the right number. There is an implied suggestion here, therefore, that this is the perfect supply of water for Israel, it is God’s perfect gift for them.
But then there are seventy palm trees. Palm trees provide fruit and shelter. The number seventy, some suggest, is brought about by seven which represents perfection (Seven days to a week), and ten representing completeness and God’s law (Ten Commandments), and so seventy thus represents perfect order and power of God. These trees thus further suggest for those with eyes to see, God’s perfect provision for His people.
Too much water results in drowning, too little water results in dehydration and even death. The right amount of water is essential for balanced, healthy life. These twelve springs suggest God’s perfect provision to enable life to continue. Water is vital for life. Spiritual water is vital for spiritual life. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (Jn 4:10) A little later in Jerusalem he declared, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (Jn 7:38,39)
Perhaps one of the greatest prophetic illustrations involving water was Ezekiel’s river flowing out of the temple and bringing life wherever it went. (see Ezek 47). Water and life are inextricably linked in Scripture, both materially and spiritually. But life isn’t only about the bare basics, the world we have been given provides for all our needs and so food, rest, protection are all elements of life, and these seventy palm trees provide just such things for weary desert travelers.
Before we try to summarise the meaning here, let’s note that these are springs of water and not wells or cisterns. Springs are a natural supply but wells and cisterns tend to be the result of hard human work. Well-digging was a vital part of life in those parts in those days – see Gen 26:15-33. Indeed these pictures were brought together in prophecy by Jeremiah: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) God is THE source of life, a ‘spring of living water’ and we try to produce substitutes at our own peril.
So what have we got here? An abundance of water after a dry time and a time of polluted water. It is as if the Lord says, you may go through dry times, and you may go through difficult times but I WILL bring you through to a place of great abundance of life, of fruitfulness and of rest. It is almost as if the Lord is picking up the spirits of His people after they have been through the dry time and the difficult time. There are such times but they always come to an end and when they do, so often they are followed by an abundance of goodness it seems.
But this ISN’T the Promised Land, it is merely a glimpse of it. Our verse above concludes with, “they camped there near the water” but it was to be a temporary camp, a transient or temporary resting place, a place to recharge the batteries we might say. But we are not to stay there, we need to move on because God will move on and merely because this present moment is full of blessing there is still somewhere to go. He has plans and purposes for us which are greater than that which we have at the present.
In a previous meditation I contrasted desert wanderings with entering the Land using the words trusting and receiving. As I watch and listen my conclusion is that many if not most churches in the UK, and those I have seen in the USA and heard of elsewhere in the ‘Western’ world have more of a Wilderness experience rather than a Promised Land experience. This is not to be condemnatory but simply to state facts. Churches that ‘organise’ their life rather than being led by the Spirit into their ‘life’ are still in the desert and although blessings come, they tend to be sporadic like a stop off at Elim.
There is a difference between ‘taking the land’ – which is about claiming ownership of it through battle – and walking through the land (desert) which is simply a passing through to get somewhere else. When we are simply ‘passing through’ experiences will be transitory and we have testimonies of God’s provision (we testify because they are unusual) but when we ‘take the land’ we enter into a continuous ongoing experience which is a combination of removing the enemy and receiving the fruit of the land. So, Elim is a blessing but it is only temporary. Israel have to get recharged and then move on. Let’s not settle in the desert.