Wow, what a ride the past week or so has been as we all struggle to come to terms with this new reality we find ourselves in. Pandemic Pandemonium! In full transparency, it has taken me the better part of this first week to hunt down toilet paper, trim down the bills as my husband was sent home from work and keep up with the deluge of conference calls for my own job as the rapid changes have triggered new requirements.
Amidst the chaos in my world, I have been lobbing up questions to the Lord in my spirit. What’s going on Lord? What are you up to? Where do I fit in? “Look to me” was the consistent message. “Sit at my feet.” When I finally had some time to quiet myself and get back to my daily bible reading, His answers to my questions lifted off the pages of this obscure passage and brought focus to my chaos. I pray they will for you as well.
“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 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.
8 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.” 9 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, they lived.”
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way.
The Israelites were on a very difficult journey. They had little food or water as they traveled over rough terrain and suffered through sandstorms. It was a journey of hardship and distress and it was taking much longer than anticipated. They grew impatient and their soul was discouraged. We too find ourselves on a difficult journey right now with the uncertainty of this pandemic. We find ourselves distressed and discouraged as we look at our retirement account balances, are sent home or fired from our jobs, become separated from those we love and fear for our health or the health of those we love. Our journey has perhaps only just begun but I have already heard murmurings from those growing impatient.
5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
They loathed what God had provided for them. One version translates “we loathe this vile contemptible bread”. Needless to say, they were not at all happy. Nor are we right now as we settle for ingredients and items we don’t normally purchase because the ones we want are nowhere to be found. We are not happy with the isolation, the uncertainty, the disruption to our families, the powerlessness we feel….we are not at all happy. Their intense dislike for their circumstances led them right down the path of the waving finger pointing up to God deigning to ask the question “WHY”? Why have you allowed this to happen to us? Over this past week, I’ve heard it and I’m sure you have too…why have you allowed this pandemic to plague us Lord? Why? If we hold tight for just a moment, we will see the Israelites get their answer, and perhaps we will get ours as well.
6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
This is one of those verses that challenge our understanding of a loving God as we see the consequence of sin and the judgement of the Lord. In our current culture, we rarely make connections between our behavior and the unfortunate circumstances we find ourselves in. Ok, I will say it….is this God’s judgement against us? The truth is, no one can say whether the Lord sent this virus like He sent those snakes or if it’s simply a byproduct of our fallen, sinful world. The only thing we CAN say is that the Lord has allowed it and He is not surprised by the situation we now find ourselves in. Regardless of where you stand on this topic, one thing I do know is that our Father is good and as a good Father he allows hardships for our benefit. Romans 5:3-5 says that good things like hope and character are birthed in our souls through suffering. Our current suffering is eerily similar to that of the Israelites. Just as we don’t know who will be bit by the Corona virus, they didn’t know who would be bit by a deadly snake. They were also living with the reality that although not everyone died, many did die. The threat of death was hanging over them much as it is for us today as we check the COVID 19 death toll on a perpetual basis.
7 And the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
Barnes commentary says “The severity of the scourge and the appalling extent of mortality brought them to a sense of sin, and through the intercessions of Moses, which they implored, they were miraculously healed. And because of this they cried out for help.” Did you catch that? The severity of their scourge? I give the Corona Virus a 10 on the severity scale. The appalling extent of mortality? At current count we are over 17,000 deaths worldwide with this pandemic. I believe there are people in your sphere of influence and mine that are being brought to a sense of their own sin right now. Our fellow man is being forced to contemplate what really matters as they grapple with this situation and just like the Israelites needed Moses to pray for them, you and I need to be the intercessors. I believe our role at this time is to be in prayer for an awakening of our sin and our desperate need for a Savior. Our role is to pray.
8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
The Lord responded with some odd instructions for Moses. He was asked to make a large, fiery serpent out of bronze. I am not a metalworker, but I am guessing it took some time. The Israelites did not experience an immediate relief to their circumstances. Right now, there is no immediate relief in sight for what we are experiencing. One commentary I read said “God would not speedily take off the judgement because they were not thoroughly humbled.” The good Father was willing to allow them to suffer for a little while longer to bring about the desired character of humility He wanted to produce in them. I think we can all relate to the humbling effects of COVID 19. We can’t be our normal productive selves at work, our nest egg just cracked wide open and we can do little to protect our health and that of those we love other than hunker down and wash our hands a lot.
Why a fiery serpent? The symbolism and meaning are too complex to unpack for our purposes here but just know that the serpent represented their sin and foreshadowed Christ. The bronze replica of the serpent had the outward appearance of a real serpent but inwardly was without poison. Likewise, Christ took on the likeness of sinful flesh but was inwardly without sin.
Moses put the large serpent replica on a very large pole and stuck it in the middle of the camp so that everyone could see it no matter where they were. You see this large vertical pole topped with a very large horizontal bronze serpent replica resembled a CROSS. It was a foreshadowing of the cross upon which Christ would be lifted up for our salvation. In order the be healed, they had to LOOK UP TO IT. It was not the sight of the serpent itself that cured them but the act of looking up to God as the Lord that healed them. This is where I caught my breath….this whole time the Holy Spirit has been whispering this same message to my heart.
"Look to Me!"
Are you looking to God right now? The only way they were able to save themselves was to LOOK TO GOD and thereby find their healing. I don’t know where you are looking to find answers right now. Perhaps you are looking to your spouse, your government, the health experts, the internet or your own know-how and grit. Can I humbly suggest that we all need to stop and look to Him who is the only one who can truly save us? This is the time to look up from our knees and ask God for a fresh vision of himself. God is our refuge and strength. Our ever-present help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1-2).
We all know John 3 :16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life”. But did you know the two verses just preceding this say 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Lift up the Son! If you are like me you are screaming YES Lord, I am all in, I want to lift you up. So how do we do that? Psalm 99:5 says “Extol the Lord our God (ie. lift Him up), worship at His footstool, Holy IS HE!” Take this gift of time and sit at His feet and worship Him. Sing out His praises, speak of His goodness and faithfulness.
Friends, we are on a difficult journey, and many people are waiving their fists at God and asking why. I believe the Lord has allowed this moment of “severe scourge and vast mortality” to stir in us a renewed awareness of our sin and our desperate need for Him. And as Moses prayed for his people, we too need to pray for ours. Notice the last two words of our passage state “they lived”. Take a moment and let that soak in. Life was waiting for them once they turned their hearts to God. It’s time to look to the Son and it’s time to lift Him up. Wont you join me at his footstool?
Duet 8:15-16 says, “He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.”
May it go well with you dear friends.
Post written by: Janice Seal
Janice grew up in the Bay Area in a broken family. She met Christ in the 3rd grade at a neighborhood gathering for kids called a 5 Day Club. The woman who led the club took her to church where she was baptized and received her first bible. In later years, she encountered the ministry of Young Life where she deepened her faith and felt the call to love others with the love of Christ as she had been loved. She now serves at Powerhouse Ministries and claims it is the highlight of her week. Janice is married to her husband of 24 years and they have three children all now in college