“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 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 detest this miserable food.’ Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”-Numbers 21:4-9 (NRSV)
Oh those Israelites! They sound like a little child whining when they don’t get what they want. The Israelites are upset that God has not provided them what they want. In the book of Exodus, we know that God did indeed send them food. He rained down manna from heaven. Yet the Israelites detested the manna. Can they not be satisfied that God is providing for them?
In the midst of their grumbling, God sends poisonous serpents among the people which bite the people. Many of the Israelites die. It seems to me that God needed to get their attention and it couldn’t be a subtle nudge. It needed to be an alarming nudge that would remind them of who provided for them. In seeing their family members die, they knew that something needed to be done so they turned to Moses. They asked for his forgiveness and for God’s forgiveness. Moses followed the Lord’s instructions and made a serpent of bronze. This serpent of bronze reminded the Israelites of what they had done and also reminded them of who did and would always provide for them.
How often do we expect God to provide for us one way and then he provides for us in a totally different way? We may pray for one thing, but God sees fit to answer that prayer in a totally different way than we could have ever imagined. Now God doesn’t send us bronze serpents, but God does send people into our lives to remind us of who and whose we are.
And as God’s beloved people, like the Israelites, God offers us grace and forgiveness. God calls us to tell and retell the story of God’s love for us through the life, death and resurrection of God’s one and only son. Jesus hangs lifeless on the cross and breathes his last; shedding his body and blood for our sins. Yet because of God’s great love for us, three days later Jesus is risen and we proclaim in the promise that light not darkness and life not death have the final word.
“Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.”-Clarence W. Hall