Snakes in the wilderness
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Then they arrived at Mount Sinai.
Moses went up the mountain and God gave him the 10 Commandments---
the sign of God’s covenant with the people.
But the people worried that Moses was gone so long.
They complained that God was no where to be seen.
And they made the golden calf to worship.
So even though God was angry, and Moses broke the tablets with the commandments
God gave the law again, and claimed them anyway as God’s special people.
There were many more trials:
They didn’t have any meat;
There were hostile kings and their armies;
There were people who were unfaithful and who sickened and died.
But the biggest blow was that when they arrived at the promised land, there were people living there!
Not only that, the people were giants!
Were they ever going to live there??
And so we come to our story for today.
The Israelites by this time had been wandering in the wilderness for two years.
They were tired: tired of travel, tired of each other, tired of everything.
They had to go the long way,
around the land of Edom, because the king wouldn’t let them pass through.
And the people have just about had it.
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?
For there is no food and water, and we detest this miserable food.”
Anyone who’s had a four year old knows the tone of voice.
The Israelites were whiny.
They wanted to get on with the show, get to the promised land,
Forgetting they had just been there and were too scared to go in.
It really didn’t make any sense.
And beyond that, they were so miserable
that they didn’t even see the good things God had done for them:
The Israelites became so turned in on themselves, and all they could see was what they didn’t have.
They were bitten by snakes of ingratitude, impatience and fear.
Sometimes we are bitten by snakes those snakes, too.
We have our own negative story lines
There are times when we rehearse all that we’ve been wronged
That I’m no good, that no one really loves me.
If you look at life that way, you are likely to find evidence.
End up believing it, living that way, which makes it more true-
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We end up complaining like the Israelites.
There is some truth to the complaints.
Israelites accused God of leading them into the desert to kill them.
And in some way it is true: only 2 of the people who left Egypt made it to Canaan.
But another story line is equally as true.
That is that God provided for the Israelites
The manna, the quail, the law, the water, protecting them and leading them.
God gave them the law (twice).
IN our story for today God instructs Moses on how to deal with the snakes
Look up to the bronze serpent on the pole and be healed.
I think it is significant that God didn’t take away the snakes.
The temptation of a negative story line and the death to our souls it brings is always with us.
But God is faithful to the people
God does not reject or abandon them
Instead heals their bodies and their perspective when they repent.
In the end, this story boils down to trust.
After years of wandering the desert, will God keep God’s promises?
In our wilderness times of despair, confusion and grief
Will God be faithful to us?
We know how the story ends for the Israelites- next generation enters the land
And they live as God’s people there.
For us the story’s ending is not yet clear.
Yet John in his Gospel references this story of the snakes when talking about Jesus.
John says: The bronze serpent lifted up meant healing for the people
Jesus lifted up means ultimately healing for us.
Jesus gives unending life that begins now
Our end IS sure in Jesus
And so while the intervening chapters of our lives have a lot of question marks
Throughout is God’s faithful providing
Jesus’ life in us
Strength for today and hope for tomorrow.
Life can be full of snakes
It can seem like a trip from hell
But our faith gives us another perspective
With the snakes there is also healing
With the bad travel karma, we get an unexpected and breathtaking view
of the snow capped Himalayas
Jesus was lifted up so that we may be lifted up, too
Jesus brings us a new story line
One where despite the snakes, our lives still have purpose and direction
One in which our ultimate end is sure, for God is trustworthy—
God keeps God’s promises.