November 9, 2016
(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
They has been graciously given manna from heaven for forty years! Yet the Israelites complained – with disastrous results! The record is in Numbers 21:4 through 9. I have condensed it to part of verses 4 through 8:
[As] they journeyed from mount Hor….the people spoke against God
and …Moses: “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 loaths this
worthless bread.” So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people,
and they bit the people; and many…of Israel died….Therefore 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.” And Moses prayed for the people. Then the LORD
said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent [of bronze], and put it on a pole;
and…everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”
Free bread has always been a great draw!
The Emperor Augustus…began the system of state bribery that the [Roman]
writer Juvenal described as ‘bread and circuses’. Free grain and controlled
food prices meant that plebeians could not starve, while free entertainment –
such as chariot races and gladiators in amphitheaters and the Circus Maxi-
mus – meant that they would not get bored and restless. Bribery it may have
been, but it often worked.
Today, in America, free ‘bread and circuses’ – social services for the poor – have provided too much of an incentive to be filled and distracted, and not work!
But back to our ancient Scripture: Why did not the Israelites joyfully receive the manna? It was free, after all! But they were tired of wandering in the wilderness! They were tired of the hope of the Promised Land being delayed! And they were tired of manna as their main food! So they complained, not just against Moses, but in this case, against God also! And then the snakes came! Now these snakes are described as fiery serpents – the bites of which must have caused a horrible burning sensation as their poison spread through the bitten, often leading to an agonizing death! So they repented, confessing their sin of rebellion to Moses (and to God), and pleading with their leader to intercede with the LORD to take away the fiery serpents!
Isn’t that often the case! We turn to God and desperate prayer when we find ourselves in grave trouble. That’s not the time to develop a holy prayer life! Such a life is a discipline to be regularly practiced in the good times also, so when trouble comes, we are ready to seek the face of the Father to help us.
But God, in His mercy, provided a way out! He did not take away the snakes, but He made it possible for those bitten by the fiery serpents to overcome the poisonous effects and live! Moses was to cast a bronze replica of one of the snakes, put it upon a pole so it could be lifted up and be seen from all over the Israelite camp. Those who believed God’s solution to the fiery serpent problem, and simply looked at the bronze replica, would survive!
In John 3:14, the gospel writer equates that wilderness experience with a shadow prophesy of Jesus Christ on the cross: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
• It must be by faith! The children of Israel had to believe that the antidote to their lethal problem was simply looking upon the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole. Some might have thought it too simple or even silly, but it worked! Those who believed and looked lived! (See Numbers 21:9).
It is the same with Jesus Christ! We look with faith believing that He died for me – for my sin. We look to the One who was raised up on a pole, on the cross. And when we look in faith, accepting Him as our (my) Savior, we – who were heading for eternal death – find that we now have eternal life!
• We are all ‘bitten’ by the serpent! In Revelation 12:9, our ‘poisonous snake’ is called, “…the great dragon…that serpent of old…the Devil and Satan….” We are ‘bitten’ through the sin of our first parents, for it says in Romans 5:12, “…through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin…thus death spread to all men, because all sinned….” Paul further states in Romans 3:10 and 23: “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And in Romans 6:23 he writes, “…the wages of sin is death…,” eternal death, separated from God, forever in hell! That’s the result of the ‘bite’ of Satan!
I wonder if there were some Israelites who thought, “It’s too easy! I am supposed to just look upon that metal snake and I will live? Rediculous! I won’t look!” And so they died. God has made the way, the only Way! Jesus plainly said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). But He gives us free will. He gives us the choice! And some choose to ignore the only Way!
Do not be one of those who are ‘bitten’ and die! Look to the Savior who is raised up high on the cross! Look in faith believing – and live!