On their journey toward the promised land, the people of God have faced many trials–the least of which is their being tested to see if they will trust God to satisfy their most basic needs. Previously, God made it clear that His provision was sufficient for their hunger, for their thirst, for their shelter, and for their protection. Nevertheless, it was in the face of extreme difficulties–some of the most inhospitable and destitute terrain and environments–that God had chosen to forge their faith. Time after time, however, their hearts turned toward their own ability to meet their most basic needs, and to be their own guides toward rest and comfort.
And so, they come to another junction on their journey as they make their way around the land of Edom. This time, their hunger and thirst compels them to speak against God and Moses, as well as to lose gratitude for the food God had previously provided.
“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. 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 we loathe this miserable food.”
No sooner did they complain than did God bring about swift and immediate judgment. Time after time God had been faithful to provide, and time after time God had been faithful to judge when they did not trust Him.
“The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.”
The consequences of their sin was an infestation of snakes that killed many people. Their hunger compelled them to distrust God, to speak out against Him and His chosen mediator–Moses–as well as to disdain the food He brought them. Incredible. Yet, understandable. They’re tired, they’re weak, they’re hungry, and they’re thirsty.
So they respond with self-preservation.
Predictable, while at the same time relatable to the human condition and state of every heart. However, in the face of this judgment they responded exactly they way they should have…
“…the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people.”
Repentance ensues. The people acknowledge their failure to trust God, and so Moses–God’s mediator–intercedes. Glory! But, what happens next is most remarkable, and has much for us to reflect upon today…
“…the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”
What just happened? Did God instruct Moses to make an idol? Of course not. So then, what is the point of this fashioned object set on a pole for the people to gaze upon and be healed? In their context, it was healing of physical pain and possible death. It was a direct response from God to bring their eyes to one focal point, and in so doing to receive physical healing for the moment. God’s provision came through raising their eyes to an objective reality that brought physical healing. They looked up to that object on a pole and they were healed.
How Does This Apply to Us Today?
First, we are no different than those Israelites of old–we are expert self-preservationists.
How many times have you doubted God’s provision, and instead you relied upon yourself and your abilities to satisfy your most basic needs?
- If you’re married (or single), have you looked at porn to satisfy your sexual needs? What you’re doing in those acts is saying that God’s provision for a spouse to meet your sexual needs is insufficient and that you can meet your needs on your own. You are self-preserving.
- If you’re having trouble financially, have been scrupulously honest in all your business dealings? When you step into acts of dishonesty to make sure you provide for your family, you’re saying that God’s standards are arbitrary and that He doesn’t mind when the ends justify the means. You are self-preserving.
- If you’re looking for a job, have you lied on your resume? When you lie on your resume you are inauthentically representing yourself to ensure you have a job to make money to provide for your family. You are self-preserving.
- If you’re talking with your friends, do you allow the conversation to turn to gossip or slandering of others? What you are doing is controlling either the perceptions of others or yourself by cowardly being unable to stand against someone who is. You are self-preserving.
- Consider also the questions below:
- “Are you demanding of others a higher standard of behavior than you demand of yourself?
- Are you less charitable about the failings of your neighbors than you are about your own?
- Are you standing in public for principles which you do not practice in private?
- Do you ever allow physical satisfaction to take precedence over spiritual interests?
- Do you ever allow your own interests to take precedence over the interests of your community?
- Are you allowing your happiness to be too dependent on the good opinion of others?
- Is the sympathy you show to others who are in trouble equal to the pity you would expend on yourself if the same things happened to you?” (Adapted from Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie)
- If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are self-preserving…which leads to our second point…
Second, as a result of our own self-preservationism, we deserve the same fate and judgment those Israelites of old received. We deserve–just like they did–to have snakes bite us for our sins, or whatever form of punishment God would deem necessary for us transgressing His perfect law and expected standard of living to honor, glorify, and love Him. Which leads to our third point…
Third, it was into our predicament of self-preservationism that God sent forth His Son. And it is the beloved disciple, John, who puts forth–under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–the deeper meaning of the serpent story from so long ago.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
There it is. The meaning of the serpent being put on a staff for people to look at and be physically healed. To them it was present physical healing as they looked in faith, but the symbolism reached far beyond that day to us today–to Christ.
- He was the One lifted up–on a cross, innocent and absent of any self-preservation.
- He was the One lifted up–on a cross, suffering humiliation and shame.
- He was the One lifted up–on a cross, receiving the bite of the serpent on behalf of those who should have been bit.
- He was the One lifted up–on a cross, dying in the place of all people taking the penalty and poison for all their sins.
- He was the One lifted up–on a cross, whose dying breath was TETELESTAI–IT IS FINISHED, therefore satisfying God’s wrath for every self-preservationist who has ever lived.
- He was the One lifted up–on a cross, so that all those who–like the Israelites of old–turn to God in faith might be healed of more than just physical healing, but instead receive eternal healing and life with God forever!
Glory to our God–we, self-preservationist, have a hope in the One who did not spend one second preserving Himself, but rather offered His life for us–taking our punishment and becoming snake-bit for all of us deserving of that fate!
Glory!— November 17, 2017