The journey of the children of Israel through the wilderness and a Christian’s walk with God have a lot of similarities. They’re both traveling to a Promised Land through a wilderness where God is leading them through trials to bring them closer to Him.
But I feel like we have a bit of an upper hand that Israel didn’t. You see, we can look back and learn from Israel’s mistakes. There is one mistake in particular that had deadly consequences. In Numbers 21:4-9, we find a horrifying story.
Aarron had just died and the children of Israel were traveling from Mount Hor to Edom (Numbers 20:29). This means that they were in the fortieth year after leaving Egypt and probably the sixth month (Numbers 33:38). The sixth month, Elul, is equivalent to our August/September—not the coolest time for traveling. They’re traveling “by the way of the Red Sea” which was a rocky, sandy, sand-stormy route that lead they away from Canaan (Pulpit Commentary, 2010). No wonder they got discouraged.
But they let their discouragement get the best of them and we find them complaining and speaking against God and Moses (Numbers 21:5). They even go so far as to despise the manna God was miraculously sending them every day. Miracles we see everyday will become normal to us and no longer seem like a miracle unless we take an active part in thanking God for them.
God’s response to Israel’s complaining was to send venomous snakes among them (Numbers 21:6). That seems like a hard punishment for such a seemingly small offense, but we have to look at this from God’s perspective. When we complain about where God has us in life, we are saying that God is doing it wrong.
It wasn’t until after the punishment was sent that Israel realized they had done wrong. How sad it is that we often don’t realize our mistakes until after God sends the consequences.
“And Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21:7). Remember, just two verses before, this the same people Moses is praying for here were speaking against him. It takes great humility to have compassion on difficult people instead of holding bitterness against them. Had is not been for the humility and forgiveness of Moses, I wonder if Israel would have ever made it to the Promised Land.
So God made a way of salvation for the people. Moses was required to make a snake statue on a pole and if a person was bitten, if they looked at this brass serpent, they would live (Numbers 21:8-9). This brass serpent is a symbol of Christ on the cross. In life, we can often get focused on trying to fix our problems and avoid others (looking at our snake bites and avoiding the other snakes) instead of focusing on Christ (looking at the brass serpent). You have to look up to be saved. It’s terrifying to do that when your ankle is swollen to five times it’s size and another snake is slithering it’s way towards you. The poison in your ankle is already starting up our leg towards your heart. You don’t have much time. You have to decide. If you suck the poison out, the snake will bite you. If you kill the snake, the poison will be too far up your leg. Will you focus on your situation and try to save yourself in your own power? Or will you let go of control and trust God by looking up?