Psalm 121:1-8 (NIV) “ 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; 8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
If you look closely that’s me way down, there. I’m at the end of a logging road that lead to the top of this mountain somewhere between here and Keremeos. Well truth be known it was more like a goat trail in places than a road but if you could see my face up there you would see a huge smile. I’m enjoying my Father’s creation and praising the LORD.
Now I’ve lived in this area for nearly 15 years and when we first got here Lynda and I used to go for backcountry drives almost weekly. Sometimes we would take the kids along but often it was a great place for just the two of us to talk and pray and just be in God’s presence enjoying His handy-work.
There are amazing views around this area! This picture is one is one of the lakes at Twin Lakes from about a week ago. David writes, “ 1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. 3 For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.” (Psalm 95:1-4 (NIV)
God created all that beauty in nature that we sometimes take for granted. The truth is we often take God for granted not just what He has created. He gives us so much and asks very little of us and yet we may even forget to say thanks dad for the wonderful sunset!
I’m not sure where my love for the great outdoors came from. I’d love to say that it was the camping trips my dad took me on. But by the time I came along those were a thing of the past. I was number 6 of 6. And the other five were a real handful J.
So I can’t blame him but at least he sent me to cubs and scouts and it was there that I grew to love and respect the great outdoors. And thanks to dad’s National Geographic Magazine I saw much of the world from our living room. I suspect that is what gave me the photo and the travel bug.
Anyway pretty well all my life I have enjoyed the great outdoors and I hopefully have passed that legacy onto my kids. I’m pretty sure I have with my daughters to some degree. With Lorna traveling to the other side of the world and not bucking the harsh conditions she’s well on her way.
And last weekend when we went for a hike with the 6 under 6 and their parents, in our household, I overheard Karemi tell Stef that a love for the outdoors needs to be started while they are young. Zach can be seen here doing exactly that.
A love for God’s creation and a healthy respect of the environment are just some of those things that dads and moms can help instill on their children as a lasting legacy. Unfortunately, so is cursing God and grumbling and complaining about his provision and experiencing His rod of correction as we’ll see in our passage today.
So turn with me to Numbers 21:4-6 and let’s witness how a loving Father provided the right environment for spiritual growth to His unruly children so that they leave a heritage that heals when seen through the eyes of faith.
“4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived” (Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV).
Anybody here love snakes? Enjoy picking them up and playing with them? Anybody here really hate them? Maybe you think “the only good snake is a dead snake?” It’s ok by me if they’re not your favorite critter on God’s green earth. After-all
“14 … the LORD God said to the serpent, … I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15 (NIV). So if you hate snakes I can understand that, and you are not alone. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people have aversions to snakes. And that aversion was very strong in Israeli culture, they detested snakes and apparently for good reason.
Although I fear those slithering beasts I am thankful for them too. They eat rodents and ticks and mites preventing things like bubonic plague, typhus and hantavirus, not to mention Lyme disease. So though I’d prefer that they do so out of sight, I’m thankful for even this part of God’s creation. What God creates is always for good when it does what it should.
Without a doubt the sons and the daughters of those rescued from Egypt had learned many things from watching their parents wandering in the wilderness. For example, they learned quite effectively how to anger the LORD Almighty to the point of correction. And we know that they learned those things from their fathers and mothers because they even used some of the same old words. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (5)
Yup that would do it! If you don’t believe me just, try it sometime with the one who bakes the bread around your place. Especially that, “I detest this miserable food!”(5). And see how they react. So the Israelite children had certainly picked up some of their parents bad habits.
But they did actually grow spiritually beyond that of their parents in some ways. In verses 1-3 of this passage the children of the wanderers actually saw victory after choosing to trust in God. The King of Arad had attacked and took some prisoners of Israel so they cried out to God and vowed, “ 2 … “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” (Numbers 21:2)
That was a far cry from their fathers who cowered at the thought of attacking the Canaanites some forty years earlier. Even at the assistance of Joshua and Caleb who reminded them that ‘with God on your side who can be against you’ (Cf. Num. 14:9). But now their children called upon the LORD and according to verse “ 3 The LORD listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah” (Numbers 21:-3 (NIV).
So they had learned to seek God and when God says go, and you go, victory happens. It was a spiritual victory as much as a military conquest. So what happened that after such a victory they should suffer from God for their lack of faith?
Verse 4 gives us a clue. “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way…”(4).
They had to go around Edom…and they grew impatient… And who can blame them? They were so close to the promised land they could almost taste the grapes. And then Edom happened. If you flip back to the previous chapter, Numbers 20:19ff, you’ll find that Moses tried to bargain his way through to the promised land. He promised the King of Edom, “19 … “We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot–nothing else” (Numbers 20:19 (NIV). They weren’t looking to pick a fight they just wanted to pass through the land of Edom on the king’s highway. And Edom came out in force and said “try it you’ll die by the sword” (Cf. Num. 20:18). So rather than risk it Moses turned the whole nation around…back into the desert. They would have to go the long way round. They were weary and they grew impatient!
There’s your hint. Weariness leads to impatience which leads to grumbling. Instead of saying hey this is for the best they got impatient. And then they took that impatience and projected it on the menu and Chef of the day through his waiter.
What was on the menu? “Bread from Heaven”. Manna. Psalm 78:23-25 says, “23 Yet God gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens; 24 he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave them the grain of heaven. 25 Men ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat” (Psalm 78:23-25 (NIV).
They were not hungry they were just picky, picky and impatient! God provided the food that had sustained them for the past forty years. And they were bored with it. (There is an old saying that comes to mind for me, it goes: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.)
Say, did you notice Aaron isn’t mentioned here in our passage? Moses was now all alone having lost not only his big sister whom he loved but also his brother Aaron who laid buried on Mt. Hor. Moses too was weary! No sooner had they finished 30 days of mourning for Aaron then they were once again complaining about God’s provision to a mourning and weary Moses. And that’s when God interceded.
This time Moses didn’t have time to get to the tent of meeting and pray on their behalf before God’s wrath appeared.
God used snakes. It says in some of your versions fiery snakes. This is not to imply that the reptiles were on fire and went around burning people. These snakes were venomous. Like the Canadian Rattler their bite burned and people died from the effects of the venom. And there is a direct correlation between the sender and the results received here. The text is clear, God sent the snakes, many Israelis died.
This was swift judgement from God and this time they knew it. And low and behold they also knew what they need to do about it.
“7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21:7 (NIV). Notice that they specifically repented of their specific sin. It wasn’t simply I’m sorry Moses. Sorry doesn’t cut it.
This passage shows us that we need to be specific if we want to receive specific healing. They confessed their sin of speaking against the LORD and against Moses. And then they asked specifically, “Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us”(7). Which Moses, shocked I’m sure, immediately prays to the LORD on their behalf. And God hears his prayer.
But God does not open the earth and have the snakes instantly disappear. Instead He shows them progressive forgiveness.
In His Grace He provided an avenue of healing for them. “8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Numbers 21:8 (NIV). Such mercy!
As I come to a close for today, I noticed couple of things about God’s provision here that I want to pass on to you.
First it would take time for Moses to make this snake pole. It would be cast or beaten out of sheet metal and then fastened to the pole. In the mean time the people were still being bitten and some were still dying. And it was still their fault no matter how long it took Moses to make the snake-pole.
Sin has enduring consequences. Depending on the sin the consequences may be fatal. “But everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Rom 10:13; Acts 2:21).
Those who sin with alcohol or drugs for example may irreversibly damage internal organs. And even though they have repented of their sin, and accepted Christ as Saviour they may still physically die because of the effects of their former way of life. Many of those who got bitten by the snakes before the pole was set up likely died, afterwards they got better and lived. It wasn’t instant healing. It was progressive even as their sins were not one time but over a span of time.
Another thing I noticed was that God was listening to their gripes and complaints and even if it meant losing them He was prepared to give them what they asked for. In verse “5 they spoke…, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?” (Numbers 21:5 (NIV)
Was that really their desire? We’re going to die in the desert. It sure seemed like it as they had maintained that lament forty years and nearly two generations! Even after receiving water from rocks and manna from heaven! After witnessing divine deliverance and more than ten amazingly powerful miracles from God’s own hand. And having received His Laws written by His own hand.
If after witnessing all that they truly desired to die in the desert… all they had to do is turn away from Moses pole. Reject God’s gracious offer and the snakes would do the rest. And believe it or not some still chose to look away until it was too late.
I wonder now if that is what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he said, “4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:4-6 (NIV).
The offer was genuine, God would heal them and other than those who were now 60 plus, all the rest were given the opportunity to be healed and allowed to live out their lives in the promised land. The choice was theirs. Turn their eyes towards the snake on the pole or suffer the consequences of their rejection of God’s provision.
Which takes us to the another thing we should notice from this passage: “The people had called the bread of heaven detestable. Moses is commanded of God to make an image of something truly detestable in their culture and to hold that high on a pole as their only means of deliverance from disease” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 2: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers). They believed snakes were of the devil, who is the chief cause of all sin in the world (cf. Gen. 3).
And what could be worse than making the people look at a graven image, that the LORD had specifically forbidden in His Law? It’s the second commandment. They weren’t to make them and certainly shouldn’t look to an idol for healing! That was what pagan people do. It was detestable in Israel’s eyes to gaze upon such an idol.
And yet God told Moses to make one and lift it up for all to see! Some say this symbol would foreshadow what their children would do with Jesus Christ. He Who is the bread from heaven, the very bread of life, was lifted up and hung on a cross to die being rejected by the grumblers and complainers of their day as being detestable, and of the devil (cf. Luke 11:15). Yet to those who looked to Him healing was found.
John 3:14-15 says (NIV) “14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
“16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”
(John 3:16 (NIV).
So both healing and life were found for those who saw what was lifted before them. And on that note, you can see from this passage that only those, who, by faith, chose of their own freewill, to gaze upon what God had provided would be healed. God gave them the option to extend their physical lives through the power of His Mighty Hand. It would be a miracle that healed them and saved them from the snakes not an idol nor some sort of magic. And no placebo will heal rid the body of venom that was toxifying them to death. God Himself would detox them, He would accept their act of faith and bring healing. But only after receiving their undivided attention and obedience, it would be His way or no way.
So what would you do if you were in their place?
The Bible says, “ 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV).
- What do you think of snakes? Are they good or evil?
- What would you do to be healed of a potentially life threatening illness?
Read Numbers 21:4-9 in several passages if possible.
- What happened with Edom that Israel had to turn back to the desert? (Numbers 20:14-20)
- Why do you think Israel was impatient in verse 4?
- Who was it that Israel grumbled against? (Numbers 21:5) (see also: Numbers 11:1-6; Numbers 14:1-4; Numbers 16:13-14; Numbers 16:41; Numbers 17:12; Exodus 14:11; Exodus 15:24;Exodus 16:2-3; Exodus 16:7-8; Exodus 17:2-3; Psalm 68:6; Psalm 78:19).
- What was God’s response to their complaint? (Numbers 21:6) (See also: Amos 9:1-10)
- Why did a good and merciful God send snakes that kill? (Proverbs 3:12; Joshua 7:10-26; 1 Cor. 10:9-10; Hebrews 12:4-12;Rev. 3:19).
- What was the people’s reaction? (Numbers 21:7; Exodus 9:27-28; 1 Samuel 12:19; 1 Samuel 15:24; 1 Samuel 15:30; Psalm 78:34; Matthew 27:4; Acts 2:38; 1 John 1:9)
- What did Moses do with their request this time? (Numbers 21:7) (Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:3-4)
- How did God respond to Moses? (Numbers 21:8-9) (See also John 3:14-21)
- How should you respond to the passages you read today?