Thursday, April 21, 2011

Numbers 21 - A Snake on a Pole

LINK: Numbers 21


As the Israelites marched to the Promised Land, they experienced opposition from the Canaanites, Amorites, and Bashanites, and God gave them victories; but these victories were certainly soured by the Israelites constant complaining!

In order to go around Edom (21:4), Moses went along the route to the Red Sea, but the people grew impatient and spoke against God and Moses by complaining about the water and food. Bad idea. God sent poisonous snakes that bit the people, and they began to die until the people admitted their sin and asked Moses to pray. So, Moses prayed, and the Lord told Moses to make a snake and put it up on a pole so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and live. The desert of Sinai has a variety of snakes. A bite by a poisonous snake often meant a slow death with intense suffering.

The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

There is a fuller and deeper meaning to the bronze snake. In John 3:14-15, Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life." Jesus explained that just as the Israelites, by faith, looked at the pole for healing from physical sickness and death, we can be saved from the spiritual death that is a result of sin's poison by looking to Jesus' death on the cross and believing, by faith, that Jesus is the way to eternal life.


The whole wilderness wanderings story and the numerous incidents of complaining cause me to evaluate areas of my life where I might be whining and/or complaining. As a follower of my husband and the leaders over me at my church, am I a weight to my leaders with my griping and complaining or am a I a wing, making their job as leaders easier?

I have been in situations where everything that came out of certain people's mouths were complaints and criticisms. As a leader, it was not fun! I feel Moses' pain.

As a parent, I want to teach my kids to be supportive followers. We have had this motto in our household since they could first understand words: "Weavers are not Whiners."

We have basically had zero tolerance for whining and complaining with our kids. It does not mean that they cannot appeal and question decisions and call us on things they see in our lives, but we have tried to teach them to do it in a respectful way that honors and glorifies God. We have seen this modeled by Moses in Numbers 11:10-15. We want to teach our kids to be good followers.

Israel did not have a good heart attitude in their constant questioning of and complaining about Moses' (and ultimately God's) leadership.

According to the Life Application Bible, Psalm 78 gives several reasons for the Israelites' complaining:
  1. Their spirits were not faithful to God (78:8)
  2. They refused to obey God's law (78:10)
  3. They forgot the miracles God had done for them (78:11)
This was the 7th and final complaint by the Israelites in the book of Numbers. The other incidents of complaining were 11:1, 11:4, 14:1-4, 16:3, 16:41, 20:2, 3; and 21:5. Whew! I'm glad that's over!


How are you doing in the whining and complaining department these days? How are you doing in the areas where you are following? Are you a wing or a weight to your leaders?

Meditate on a review of Israel's history from the slavery in Egypt to David's reign in Psalm 78. This was told over and over again to each generation so that they would not forget God and his faithfulness. Have you forgotten God's faithfulness?

Do you have a journal of God's faithfulness in your life? This is one of the top five reasons I have kept a journal for over 30 years. It is a written record of how God has "brought me safe thus far" and been faithful through thick and thin.

Next time you doubt or want to complain about what God has not done in your life, recall what he has done by writing it down. Then, end with a time of grateful thanksgiving!


Lord, help us to follow You with our whole heart knowing that You are a faithful God who we can follow without complaint, knowing that You have our best interest at heart. 

Thank You that we can look up to Jesus as our suffering servant who paid the penalty for our sin so that we might be whole and healed from the poison of our sin. We pray this in His name. Amen.

Here is a Michael Card song called "Lift up the Suffering Symbol" regarding the bronze snake:

They grew tired of bread form heaven
And of Moses and of God
They longed to live the life of slavery once again
So they muttered and they grumbled
And they whimpered and they whined;
With each faithless word,
sank deeper into sin

He took the pen of pain once more
To write upon their hearts
The lesson they had been so slow to learn
But writing in the sand, the fiery serpents came to call
With a holy message and a bite that burned

Lift up the suffering symbol
And place it high upon a pole
Tell the children to look up and be made whole

So Moses made a metal snake,
And nailed it to a pole
Sent out the saving word so they would know
That the symbol of their suffering was now the focus of their faith
and with a faithful glance, the healing power would flow

In time the brazen serpent became an idol in the land
And they left the living God to worship clay
When they forgot their suffering
Soon true faith had disappeared
So some idolize a brazen cross today


Tell the children to look up and be made whole

P.S. Isn't it funny that we ended up talking about snakes two days in a row?
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