The Bronze Serpent — Israel’s complaints, God’s judgment, & Christ on the cross.
Reading 1: Numbers 21:1-9
Reading 2: John 3:14-17
Reading 3: 1 Corinthians 10:5-12
I think it is reasonable to assume that most of us want to please God. But the way we seek to please God matters. And we will do well to recognize that pleasing God is not natural to us – it is supernatural, and thus is a gift from God. Today we read three short accounts that give us insights into this challenge, and illuminate the tension between our desire for God and our natural, sinful tendency to turn away from Him.
The Israelites again show us an unpleasant reflection of our sinful propensities: God blesses them with victory over their enemies, but they have to make a detour on their journey because they are treated unfairly by those who should be their friends. On the way, they become impatient (again) and complain against God, and against Moses. They constantly come back to the theme of food, preferring the tastes they had to slave for, over the miraculous provision of God.
I’m sure you don’t fall into this temptation, but I know how easy it is to look at the daily ups and downs of life, and complain about them, while overlooking the constant, miraculous activity of God. Lord have mercy on us!
The result of their rebellious complaining is that they fall prey to poisonous snakes, symbolizing the way that earthly-mindedness bites us and ultimately causes spiritual death. But God instructs Moses to make a replica of a snake and hold it up on a pole, saying that whoever is bitten and looks to the snake will be saved. In the same way, our Lord Jesus was born as a man, and lifted up on a pole (the cross) and now anyone who looks to Him is saved from the deadly jaws of sinful thinking and action.
Remember that the purpose of the snakes was to expose the complaining, and to dramatize the consequence of turning our backs on God. God’s desire is always that we turn away from sin to be saved by Him. Jesus told us clearly that God’s priority is salvation NOT judgment. Judgment is only for the purpose of prompting repentance and salvation, in the same way that seeing a blue flashing light makes us watch our driving habits more closely!
Thank God for the warnings that help us to turn back to thoughts and actions that please God – that is where we find salvation, and the freedom for which we were created.
Together: what is one way this reading has challenged you to change?
Have a great day!