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Stake 'n Snake (1)

Numbers 21:4-9 is one of those remarkable Old Testament stories that is just dripping with lessons for our lives.

Near the end of their journey in the wilderness, Israel once again complained to God. It started with them losing their patience (v. 4), and once the lid was off everything spilled out --- they spoke against Moses, God, the food the Lord had provided, etc., (v. 5). They were not a happy bunch!

God’s response? He sent snakes. Not just any snakes --- poisonous ones. Why? We’re not given the reason, but it’s reasonable to assume the punishment fit the crime. Chronic complaining is a spiritual toxin. It not only poisons the complainer, it inevitably spreads to the surrounding community with conditions usually deteriorating rapidly unless something is done.

The snake intervention was effective. Some of the complainers died immediately from their bites, while others lingered near death. The people confessed their sin and asked Moses for deliverance. He prayed for them (v. 7).

If the story hasn’t grabbed our attention yet, what happens next will. God tells Moses to make a replica of a snake and put it on a pole. Everyone who looks at the snake will be healed from their bite.

Imagine for just a moment that one of your loved ones has been bitten by one of the snakes. You’ve taken them back to your tent where you’re doing your best to make them comfortable --- but you realize that’s all you can do for them. You’re trying not to think about what will inevitably happen. Suddenly someone sticks their head inside your tent and tells you that word is circulating through the camp that Moses has crafted this snake-on-a-pole contraption and that everyone who looks at it will be healed.

You make them repeat what they just said because you’re sure you didn’t hear it correctly. But you did. Your mind races in a dozen directions. Could this possibly be true? It sounds so nonsensical. But then again some incredible things have happened in the wilderness . . . water from rocks, manna from the sky, clothes that didn’t wear out. Certainly Yahweh has the power. And, what do we really have to lose? So with the help of others, you take your loved one out of the tent to a place where they can see the snake.

Looking at the snake made Israel confront their sin, but there was something more. Mustering up the faith to believe that looking at a snake on a pole would heal them from a snake bite was no small feat. The reflective among them had to realize that if they could do that they could surely find the faith to believe that God could lead them through the wilderness.  And choosing whether or not to trust God was a life or death decision. 

Fifteen centuries later, Paul told a group of believers in the Roman colony of Philippi to "do everything without complaining or arguing," (2:14).  It’s not difficult to see that he was drawing upon Israel’s experience in the wilderness to challenge the disciples there to trust God as He led them on their journey. 
Why didn't I get the promotion I needed to better support my family?  Why do I have chronic health issues?  Will I get accepted to the college I want?  Why do I have marital problems?  Why is my life more difficult than others I know?  These are wildnerness questions.  They are the kind of questions that real people living real lives in the real world wrestle with.  We can allow them to build up and become toxins in our lives or we can trust God to lead us through them.  
In the wilderness, a Roman colony, or in the twenty-first century, God will faithfully shepherd His people on their trek of faith.  He is our poison control.  Trust Him.  
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