I've been pondering on this particular passage for the past few days. I think partly because I am guilty more often than not of discontentment and complaining. I know it's not pleasing to the Lord, but why do I do it?
In Numbers 21, the Israelites defeat the Canaanites and are headed along the Red Sea around the land of Edom. They begin to get discouraged along the way. So as any discouraged follower, they start speaking against God and Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” (Numbers 21:5) God doesn't stand for "ungratefulness, complaining and whining." God then sent "snakes on the plain." Verse 6 says, "So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died."
When the people realized that their tongues were speaking venomous words against God and his servant Moses, God had to help them understand that every time an accusation came from their mouths, it was the same as if being bitten by a snake. You don't die instantly, it is slow and painful. This is how much our words affect our life. James 3:8 says "But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison."
When the people realized what they had done, they went to Moses and repented. Moses in turn prayed to the Lord to remove the snakes. The scripture goes on to say "Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So
Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a
serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he
lived." (Numbers 21:8 & 9)
I surely would have been one of those who would have had to look at the pole if I had not already died. What is interesting to me is that the people were speaking out against God and Moses. How many times in our lives, especially those of us who are Christians, have talked against pastors, evangelists, those called to lead by God? We blame them for why we don't trust church leaders, church people and it's their fault why we stopped attending church. We often give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but when it comes to leaders, we complain about their actions. We are human and we all make mistakes. But sometimes, just as little children don't understand why parents make some of the decisions they do, God doesn't explain what He's doing. Sometimes that includes the leaders he places in our lives.
The passage says that they were on a route near the Red Sea going around Edom. They didn't like the direction God was taking them. How many times do we get frustrated with God at the direction our lives are going? We often scream like an impatient child, "it's taking too long." I can say this because I'm the first to raise my hand at this. The more I ponder on this, I wonder if that is why so many of us Christians are stuck in our wilderness suffering through the poisonous words that have cursed our lives and have caused us suffering and pain.
I found out several years ago after reading this that the medical symbol comes from this passage. When I went searching for this image, it looked very similar to another image of salvation. God made a way to reverse the curse of the snake bite by having the people look at the pole with the bronze serpent. This really made me think about the cross and how it is a similar picture for us. The cross is a symbol of salvation. Instead, Jesus bruised the serpents head and conquered death by going to the cross. The curse was reversed because of Jesus being willing. Jesus didn't complain or whine about the direction his life had to take. Why do we think we have right to complain about the direction God is taking us in our lives? I wonder if most of the sickness in the church is from the poisonous words we've spoken about one another and about those God placed in our lives to lead us?
I want to see the promises of God come to pass in my life. Could it possibly be my own tongue delaying them? This short little passage has made a big imprint on my heart. I need to forgive those I've accused of leading me the "wrong way" and blaming others for some of my decisions. But even more, asking God to forgive me for blaming Him just because things aren't to my preference. Hebrews 12:2 says, "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our
faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of
God." 1 Peter 3:10 says, “He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit."
What "snakes" have slithered their way into your life? What venom has gotten into your bloodstream that is affecting your health and attitude? Take a moment right now to look to the cross for forgiveness. Humble yourself, repent, receive healing and eternal life. An interesting thought is, the scripture doesn't say God removed the snakes from them, He only made a way for them to live. There will always be snakes in our lives so keep your eyes on Jesus, he is the author and finisher of our faith.