Continuing through Numbers, I came to the passage when the Israelites are complaining, and God sends the fiery serpents to bite them. This story is somewhat familiar to many of us- we saw pictures of it in our Sunday school classes with the bronze serpent draped over the cross, Moses standing next to it, and the people looking up to it with distressed looks on their faces. As I was studying this though, I was struck with how abruptly this story begins (and ends!) This entire story is only five verses long (See Numbers 21:4-9). Yet, so much challenging truth is crammed into this succinct passage.
Let me back up to the very beginning of the passage: In verses 1-3, we read the Canaanite king had taken some of the Israelites captive. The Israelites vow before God that if God gave the Canaanite people into the Israelites' hands, then the Israelites would devote the cities to destruction (meaning everything would be destroyed). So, God honors this vow and delivers the people of Israel, and the cities are destroyed. Then, we read in verse 4 that the people headed out to continue their journey in the wilderness. We read, "And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses." They reiterate the same mantra about coming into the wilderness to die, not having enough food, loathing the food they did have, and so on. Here we see, (again!), that the Israelites took their focus off God, looked at their present situation, and began to become discontent and distrustful of God and his promises to them. And, they complain.
So, God sends the fiery serpents to bite them, and many of them die. The Israelites come to Moses, admitting their sin of speaking against God and Moses, and ask Moses to pray that the serpents will go away. Moses prays, but instead of the serpents just going away, God tells Moses to build a bronze serpent, set it on a pole, and instruct the people that whoever would look at it, would live. This is how the story ends.
Let me unpack what I learned here from this passage. First, I saw how much like the Israelites I am. I am continually getting my eyes focused on my circumstances and becoming discontent, and thereby, forgetting to trust in the promises of God. And, in that discontent, I find, I continue in it until God essentially has to send fiery serpents to get me to admit my sin! How foolish I am! How woefully content I can be to wallow in my dissatisfaction of my circumstances, grumbling and complaining about how I "have so much to do"; how my husband is not meeting my expectations"; "how my children never seem to listen to what I am trying to say"; "how I wish my body looked better"; "how I wish my house would stay clean for two minutes"; I could go on and on and on and on and on. Oh, God! How wretched is my heart! How woefully discontent! And, this seemed to be my continual groanings the last couple weeks. Just frustration and discontent. So, how do I fix this continual grumbling of my soul?
I found secondly, that when the serpent was erected, it required the Israelites to do only one thing: look at it. This is so incredibly simple. And, yet, so incredibly hard. Why? Because it requires desperation. Humility. Pain. Admitting failure. And, yet, this place is where we must come. We must come, knowing we can do nothing. That the pain in our lives can be healed by none other than God. That the discontent can be satisfied only in Him. And, we can bring nothing to the table for retribution. Nothing. We can only but look.
So in this, I find myself greatly humbled and greatly rejoicing. I am humbled because I so often think that I am doing all the things, trying to keep it all together, and wondering why I am so downtrodden, distracted, and discontent. I have so easily looked away from the Word of God, from his promises, his character, and I have focused so easily on me. On what I can do. (Or think I can do!) And, in that, I realize how easily and quickly I fail. This picture of looking to the serpent not only applies to the picture of one coming to God in salvation, but also of those of us who know God, yet, like the Israelites, find ourselves moving from great victory in our spiritual lives to wallowing in discontent. Matthew Henry writes, "Whosoever looked [at the serpent], however desperate his case, or feeble his sight, or distant his place, was certainly and perfectly cured... oh, that the venom of the old serpent inflaming men's passions and causing them to commit sins which end in their eternal destruction, were as sensibly felt, and the danger as plainly seen... then none would shut their eyes to Christ. A crucified Savior would be so valued....nor would any abuse the freeness of Christs' salvation." I look at our world with all its trappings and evil, and wonder how people cannot look to Christ for help! And, yet, in myself, I know the Savior, yet so readily abuse his free gift of salvation by continually attempting to do things my way or to find satisfaction in other things or to become disgruntled when I "go unnoticed" or to bemoan my current state because I feel 'dissatisfied' with what I think God is doing (or not doing!).
Yet, in all this, I rejoice, because here God makes it abundantly clear that I (and you!) need only look to be healed. Have you come to God for salvation? Have you looked to the Savior and found healing in him? If so, have you abused his free gift of salvation by continuing to wallow in your discontent and distrust, choosing instead, to let the venom of the old flesh seep into your veins, destroying the freedom you have in Christ? Oh, that I may live today, not dwelling on my fleshly desires or worrying about what others may think of me, but in dwelling on my Savior- of his free gift! Of his work in salvation! Of my lowly estate before him! Of my redeemed position before him! Of his work of sanctification! Of his forgiveness! Look to him, dear ones.
These days can be drudgery as we wander in the wilderness. Beware the fiery serpents of discontent and distrust. How easily they creep in and bite us. I love the quote from St. Augustine: "Because you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee." Are you resting in the Savior? In his free gift? Or have you become restless? Discontent? Grumbling? Worried? Looking to other things or people or social media or clothes or food or whatever else it is that you think will satisfy your hungers? Look to the cross. Look at the Savior. Be humbled, continually, that God accepts you, loves you, wants you to manifest his love to the world. Be amazed at his great salvation. Be grateful that you are called to live a holy life. Praise him! Reset your focus this week. Don't let the world, your flesh, and the devil convince you that you deserve something else. Your soul will not be at rest (satisfied, content, and so much more) until you find your rest in him.
I would challenge you to read this passage (Numbers 21:4-9), as well as the passages in the Gospels where Christ died on the cross (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19) this week. I have also included a link the song, "God of All My Days". This song has greatly blessed me this week. God is the answer for all our questions, for help in all our days. Prayers for you as you go into the rest of this week. May we seek him continually, looking to him as our only satisfaction and help.