Friday, March 16, 2012

Snakes in the Desert

  In Numbers 21, we read about poisonous snakes attacking God's people in the desert.  Now, I am with Indiana Jones on this-- "snakes; why did it have to be snakes?"  I do not like snakes in any way, shape, or form.  Yes, I know. I know.
  The snakes come in response to the people's lack of trust and obedience.  Once again they have been complaining against Moses, but also against God.  In the people's discontent all they can see is what they don't have: "at least in Egypt we had bread to eat and water to drink."
  Gone is all memory of what God has been doing for them.  God set them free from their slavery in Egypt.  Water has come gushing forth from rocks to quench their thirst.  God has even given them quail and manna to eat.
  So snakes come and begin to bite the Israelites.  This is no vampire story, however.  Those who are bitten suffer a slow and often very painful death.   I knew there is a reason I do not like snakes.  Maybe I am not silly in my aversion to snakes, after all. 
  But that is not the end of the story.  Notice that God also sends the remedy.  God commands Moses to make a bronze (or fiery) serpent and mount it on a pole.  When the victims of the snakes look up at the bronze snake, they are healed and live.
  Given God's command against images in the Ten Commandments, this seems strange.  However, it is not the snake that saves the people.  Statues or figures do not have that power-- they are inanimate objects.
  Rather it is the trust and obedience of following God's instructions that cures the people.  When the people look up, they are pointed beyond themselves, beyond the snake, beyond Moses to the Lord God.  And that is the true source of their healing.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills-
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth."
~Psalm 121:1-2

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