From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Remember yesterday’s reading from John 3? Yeah, well this is the story that Jesus was referring to in his midnight discussion with Nicodemus. This is the story of the lifting up in the desert. This is the story of looking up to be saved. This is the story of salvation coming in surprising ways. This is the story that defies expectations and experience. This is the story that freaks me out.
So the people are whining again. What else is new? And don’t you just love the quote we’re given from that whine? “For there is NO food and no water, and we detest this MISERABLE FOOD.” So . . . which is it? No food or miserable food? Hmmm. . . sounds like some kids I’ve raised. V – e – r – y familiar kinda whine, don’t you think?
But here’s what freaks me out — God sent a bunch of snakes to nip their way through those whiners. Yee-ouch!! I do not like the idea of God sending snakes to anybody. Nope, I do not. ESPECIALLY not poisonous snakes.
But here’s the point of that visitation, I think: it shook those people right out of their whining, big time! You gotta wonder if these people didn’t connect some dots that aren’t actually there — just like I do sometimes. Something dreadful happens and they see the error of their ways. And then they make the leap to thinking that their behavior caused that bad thing to happen, and then they make a further leap to say that God caused that bad thing to happen because of their bad behavior. Hmmmm. . . I’m not so sure about that. But . . .
That’s how the story has come down to us, and God has allowed it to come down in this way. So clearly, there is something for us to learn from it, exactly as it is told to us. Here’s one thing it tells me: it’s a good idea to be aware of God’s active presence in our lives, come hell or high water. For good or for ill, God doesn’t pack up and leave us. God cares enough to get our attention and then to set us on the path of healing. And here’s another thing — we have to stop and look at our behavior, say we’re sorry for it, and then ask for restoration, healing and a re-start.
Okay, maybe I’m not quite so freaked out about it all.
Lord God of snakes and people, teach me through your word, even through the parts that shock and puzzle me. Help me to search for lessons/answers/help/understanding. And help me to balance the questionable stuff against all the unbelievably beautiful and life-giving stuff and somehow, learn from all of it. Thank you.