“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2: 14)
Moses, being made of flesh just like those who grumbled at him, must have been just as thirsty and desperate as they, but rather than revert to or fall back into himself as an expression of giving up and losing faith in a God who had only three days prior to this crisis set them free with mighty deliverances, called out to Him for help instead. And God answered Moses by showing him a tree and instructing him to throw it into the waters; he does so, and the waters become “sweet,” or fit to drink and slake thirst (Exodus 15: 25).
By interpretation, these bitter waters represent our inner mainspring and its tributary-like expressions—our heart and its gushings or tendrils—which are at the core and behavior we exhibit, and which also proves who we are to the core (making manifest our true nature, our true disposition). The tree represents the cross of Christ, and is the remedy for our sin nature herein expressed by these Israelites as embittered hearts and distemperate dispositions. But throw the cross into their mainsprings and watch God miraculously sweeten their dispositions. And when our internal mainspring is sweetened by the cross of Christ it bleeds into every internal tributary and affects all of our sentiments, thinking, and ultimately all of our actions. Ultimately it is God’s method of saving us that He submerges Himself, that he baptizes Himself, in us; death and life now flowing from the same fountain and out through our veins together with an assurance that life will eventually swallow up death and remove its perpetual sting.
But this idea of judgment (the end of death) and mercy (the counter demand of life) running together—commingling in one stream—may seem counterintuitive and impossible to some, however, the blower that blows is controlled by the hand that heals and both the wind and the hand originate from God. Let us therefore dig a little deeper that we might draw forth the purest draughts of the triumphant concept of mercy rather than just digging down to superficiality and the oil-slick-like depth of judgment. A too shallow a well or heart from which a fountain springs—a too shallow a view of God’s word and revelation—will, no doubt, result in mixture of silt/flesh and water/spirit. A murky opaque flow of understanding has the one who tries to remove the stings of rebukes and offences of the cross before their poisons are denuded, diluted, and absorbed into life; eternal life emerges from natural death.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves as we have more to learn from these early Israelites. After they slaked their thirsts there in Marah, “they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters” (Exodus 15: 27). Elim (meaning to strengthen) was a place designated by God to refresh and reinvigorate His people, to empower them for further works of service, viz., to strengthen them on the way through more wildernesses—to reach a desired end—the Promised Land. It is noteworthy here that one of God’s ends is about covering the whole earth with His glory. Indeed, eventually “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). And the twelve (12) wells and seventy (70) date palms represent some significant things related to God covering the entire earth with His presence.
First, let us look at the number twelve (12). Twelve is the number most related to “rule” and is the fourth perfect number (4 meaning the world number and therefore representing the scene or stage upon which God will eventually come to cover or rule over). It is the product of 3 (the perfectly Divine and heavenly number) and 4 (the imperfect/insufficient human and earthly number). Three and four are both prominent in twelve, and as such lend to it their respective meanings; thus twelve comes to represent the fullness of their compound meaning: God coming into the world (which, of course, was completely realized when Christ came to earth). Said another way, 12 is the product of Divine Completeness (3) and His Creative Works (4) and thus is about God restoring order over His creative works.
Twelve is also the number of Israel, and it is found throughout much of those things which pertain to them specifically. Some examples are, the 12 tribes they were divided into, the 12 gates of their primary city Jerusalem, and under Jesus Christ, the 12 Apostles; much illumination can be obtained by studying out these relationships to the number twelve, but time and space will not allow for it today. But noteworthy is the fact that the Israelites were once meant to be representative of all mankind; they were to be like the leaven which is put into a peckmeasure of dough, an agency of influence and rule which was to permeate the whole staff of mankind. Covering the earth with His glory was to have been accomplished through the agency of Israel’s ministry; now it is left to the Christian which is the Israel of God today.
Now let us look at the number seventy (70). Seventy (70) is the product of 7 (perfect spiritual order) and 10 (testimony, law, and responsibility) and therefore suggests those who spiritually adhere to the demands of God’s law, as opposed to those who adhere to it in the flesh in some religious or pharisaical sort of white-knuckle-like-grasp way. It has a universality element that applies to everyone and suggests a threshold level of obedience to God. It is the New Covenant rule. Jesus, after He dealt more elaborately with His 12 disciples, deals sufficiently with 70 disciples by commissioning them to go before Him in order to pave the way—a preliminary ministry like John the Baptist had—for His entrance into peoples’ lives. Thus 70 represent the universal appeal and the initial stages of Christianity. In other words, evangelism and the minimum requirement of salvation—a baptism into Jesus Christ alone—seems to be what this number represents: the universal call of God to mankind everywhere insisting they repent and believe in the gospel.
Thus, 12 and 70, taken together, is the divine government universally applied, or The Lord accomplishing His overarching purpose of covering the earth with His wings like as a mother hen covers her chicks (loving rule). It is Thomas Bromley (1629-1691), in his writing “The JOURNEYS of the Children of Israel, as in their Names and Historical Passages, they Comprise the Great and Gradual Work of Regeneration,” retrieved from www.passtheword.org on 5/31/09 who said much on this matter; he said, and I quote:
“After God’s proving them at Marah, they came to Elim, viz. Powers, Strengths, God’s strong Angels. Marah was a Bitter, this a pleasant Station, a Place of reviving and strengthening. Isai. 40.31. They shall be assisted by the Angels: 'Tis said, Jacob went on his way and the Angels of God met him [Margin Note: Gen. 32.1.]. So we proceeding in the strait Way, in constant Self-denial, shall have protection from, and may have Perception of the holy Angels: For are they not all ministering Spirits, sent forth to Minister for them, who shall be Heirs of Salvation? Heb. 1.14. The chief of which, the Presidential Angels that govern the World under God, might be represented by the Seventy Palm-Trees, which was the number of the Sanhedrim, or Seventy Elders, and of the Seventy Disciples, which Christ sent forth by two and two before his Face [Margin Note: Luke 10.1.]. Both which Numbers might be pattern’d and calculated according to the Order of the Angelical Government: The Jews generally Believing, that things Beneath are representative of things Above, and that there are Seventy Angels attending the Throne of Glory, set and made Presidents over the Nations; as may be seen in Rabbi-Menachem, on Gen. 46. In this Place also were twelve Fountains of Water, signifying, Refreshments derived from the holy Ghost to the whole Church, represented by the twelve Tribes of Israel; as also the instrumental Conveyance of those Streams of Light, Life and Comfort, thro’ the twelve Apostles of our Lord and Saviour, whose pure Doctrine and Choice Examples do much assist the Christian Travellers, those holy Pilgrims, in their Journey towards the good Land; as these twelve Fountains did the Israelites in their way to Canaan.”