Today’s reading: Numbers 21-22.
Something is bugging you. Would you rather get a treatment to ease the problem, or get rid of the problem itself? No question that you’d vote for eliminating the problem, but sometimes that isn’t an option.
As the Israelites make their first forays into enemy territory they win a battle, but once again fail to win the fight against their own ingratitude and discontent. God disciplines them by sending poisonous snakes into their camp.
Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 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 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 21:4-9
This episode foreshadows Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus made the comparison himself. Anyone, anywhere, with any severity of poisonous bite/sin can look to the snake/Jesus and by faith receive healing/forgiveness/life.
But as I read the story today, what strikes me most is this: God did not take away the snakes. The snakes are still loose in the camp. God could have destroyed them, but he didn’t. The people prayed that God would take them away, but he didn’t. The snakes continue to slither and strike even though the people admitted their sin. I don’t know how long the snakebites continued; the Bible doesn’t say. But it does say that the bronze snake was still around in King Hezekiah’s reign, some 600 years later. I suspect that the snakes plagued the Israelites far longer than the few verses in Numbers suggest.
And so it goes with sin. “Sin will take you further than you want to go; cost you more than you want to pay; and keep you longer than you want to stay.” We may stop sinning, but the consequences continue. God taught the Israelites a lesson about the results of sin by leaving the snakes in the camp. We need to keep learning the same lesson. Some people say live and learn. I say, learn and live. Learn to keep the snakes away by not sinning in the first place.
You’re probably thinking, “easier said than done.” You’d be right. Jesus wouldn’t have gone to the cross if there was an easy solution for sin. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The Old Covenant with its laws didn’t solve the problem. The New Covenant put the desire to obey God in our hearts, and finally there is a possibility that we can keep the snakes at bay. As for me, I’m glad Jesus let himself be lifted up so that I could look to him, believe in him, and receive the cure for my snakebitten soul.
”Young man, you look very miserable” (said the preacher).
Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued,
”and you always will be miserable–miserable in life, and miserable in death,–if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”
Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do,
”Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.”
I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,–I did not take much notice of it — I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, ”Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, ”Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.” Spurgeon’s salvation testimony
Image by Lawrence OP on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0