“Moshe led Israel onward from the Sea of Suf. They went out into the Shur Desert; but after traveling three days in the desert, they had found no water. They arrived at Marah but couldn’t drink the water there, because it was bitter. This is why they called it Marah [bitterness].”-Exodus 15:22-23
Why did the Israelites call certain places by certain names?
Well, it was actually pretty simple.
Most of the time, many of the places they stopped by along their journey either had no name or even if the place did have a name, the Israelites weren’t aware of it.
So they gave certain areas names during their stay there or names were retroactively applied to the places when the Scriptures were later compiled.
For example, a long time ago, before Los Angeles was called Los Angeles, it used to be called the “Land of 10,000 smokes”.
And now it sometimes goes by the nickname “City of Angels”.
We have a good example of this in the last chapter when we’re told that the first place the Israelites stopped at after leaving Egypt was Succoth.
It’s not like Moses said “Okay everybody we’re heading to Succoth now!“
The name “Succoth” was given AFTER they arrived in the area.
The same goes for the Shur Desert.
Incidentally, in spite of the often used phrase “The Wilderness Narrative”, what the Bible calls wilderness actually means desert.
In Hebrew “SUCCOTH” means tents to probably refer to the makeshift “tabernacles” the Israelites slept in when they camped in that area.
“SHUR” is thought to mean “wall” but I’m not exactly how that is related to the desert.
The point I want to make is that there is that for the most part, the how and why behind the naming of places and events in the Bible was not some elaborate affair.
What became “official” place names were originally words simply used to express how the people were feeling or to describe what happened at the time.
The bitter water incident we encounter here in Exodus Chapter 15 is another perfect example.
We’re given the information that the water there was undrinkable because it was bitter.
So they named the place “MARA” which is the Hebrew word for “bitter”.
But notice verse 23 says they came to MARA.
This name “MARA” was obviously retroactively applied to the area because the Israelites certainly wouldn’t intentionally go to an area where they knew the water was bitter.
Kind of like I highly doubt anybody would ever go to a restaurant called “Stinkin’ Rotten Burgers”.
Finally, remember that we’re talking about 3 million people here who are on the verge of starving from thirst.
So let’s throw away these ridiculous images of a cute little desert maiden prancing around with a little goatskin bucket feeding people water.
More than 10 million gallons of water per day would have been necessary to keep everybody alive.
The takeaway here is pretty inspiring.
No matter what the situation, God is able to and will abundantly supply all our needs.