Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Philo – Moses Sweetens the Bitter Waters of Marah

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The Bitter Waters of Marah – Exodus 15:23-27 (KJV)

[23] And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.
[24] And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?
[25] 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 he proved them,
[26] And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.
[27] And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.

Philo, On Meeting for Instruction (De Congressu)

XXIX. (163) It is for this reason that the law, as it appears to men, was given in a place which is called Bitterness; for to do wrong is pleasant, but to act justly is laborious. And this is the most unerring law; for the sacred history says, “And after they had gone out from the passions of Egypt they came to Marah: and they were not able to drink of the water at Marah, for it was bitter. On this account the name of that place was called Bitterness. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And Moses cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed him a stick, and he cast it into the water, and the water was made sweet. And then he gave him justification and judgment, (164) and then he tempted him.” For the invisible trial and proofs of the soul are in labouring and in enduring bitterness; for then it is hard to know which way it will incline; for many men are very speedily fatigued and fall away, thinking labour a terrible adversary, and they let their hands fall out of weakness, like tired wrestlers, determining to return to Egypt to the indulgence of their passions.

(165) But others, with much endurance and great vigour, supporting the fearful and terrible events of the wilderness pass through the contest of life, keeping their life safe from overthrow and from destruction, and rising up in vigorous contest against the necessities of nature, such as hunger, thirst, cold, and heat, which are in the habit of reducing other persons to slavery, and subduing them with great exuberance of strength. (166) And the cause of this is not merely labour, but also the sweetness with which it is combined; for the scripture says, “And the water was made sweet.” But sweet and pleasant labour is called by another name, fondness for labour [philoponia]; for that which is sweet in labour is the love of, and desire for, and admiration of, and friendship for, what is honourable. (167) Let no one, therefore, reject such affliction as this, and let no one think that the table of festivity and cheerfulness is called the bread of affliction for injury rather than for advantage; for the soul which is rightly admonished is supported by the doctrines of instruction.

Source: Yonge, Charles Duke.  The Works of Philo. Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. David M. Scholer, editor. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993. ISBN:0943575931. (pp. 318-19)


Written by John Uebersax

March 25, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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