The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived (Numbers 21:8,9).
If you want to get people’s attention, throw a batch of poisonous snakes among them.
It surely caught the attention of the Israelites. They were marching from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. They had seen the Lord work miracle after miracle to protect them. But they were growing tired. They were growing impatient. They were fed up with God and His ways.
We hear: “…they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
The “miserable food” they spoke of could more rightly be called “miraculous food.” Maybe 1.5 million of them were passing through wilderness areas. How could they feed themselves? They couldn’t. They didn’t. Instead, God provided bread (they called it manna) that appeared on the ground in the morning, and he sent in quail in the evening.
It’s a sad story of not appreciating what God has done. It’s a familiar story. And sometimes, it is our story.
It seems it is only human nature to want something different from what God provides. It is sinful human nature to gripe and complain, to feel we deserve more. Even if God is waiting on us, literally hand and foot, we complain about the service. We surely are not ready to leave him a tip or even a thank-you.
Do humans think that God is deaf? Do they expect he will just shrug his shoulders, grin and bear it? If so, they do not know God. People living today need to learn from the past. The history of the Nation of Israel presents us with vivid lessons.
We hear: “Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”
The wages of sin is death.
The lesson was learned: “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”
The prayer was answered, but not in a manner expected.
Moses was told: “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
That didn’t make sense to human minds. What was needed was antivenom. What good would a look do? What good would the figure of a snake lifted up on a pole do?
The answer? “Only believe, and thou shalt see…”
Over a thousand years later, the Son of God would say, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14,15).
That’s as foolish as thinking that the metal snake on a pole would keep people from dying from snakebite. Isn’t it?
Or is it? What about, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (I Corinthians 1:25)?
Those who believed while in the wilderness, they lived, did they not? Those who believe in the Son of Man, they will live, will they not? Indeed! They will live forever.
Christ, the Life of all the living,
Christ, the Death of death, our foe,
Who, thyself for me once giving
To the darkest depths of woe—
Through thy sufferings, death, and merit,
I eternal life inherit.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto thee. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military