1. Stubborn Pasts 

Sometimes at the nervous bends on the journey of life, we bring upon ourselves silly troubles that inevitably leave sad reminders of a foolish past.  In other words, the wrong past does not always leave us without consequences.

On their journey from bondage in Egypt to freedom in Canaan, the Israelites felt so “discouraged” with the journey that they got reckless with their lips and “spake against God, and against Moses.” As consequence, “the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:4-6).  Maybe they supposed, like some of us do, that the pressures at the time gave them a license to be unruly with their tongues.  They had to unlearn that the unforgettable way.

  1. Between Wages and Consequences 

The story doesn’t just say that they got bitten by serpents, but that they got bitten by serpents “sent” by the Lord; a squad of snakes on special assignment from the Almighty Himself, against His own people whom He was still leading supernaturally at the moment with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  In other words, they were under the guiding pillars of blessing above, while they suffered the slithering curse of the serpents below.  A blessing above, a curse below.  It seems ironic that a people so blessed could at the same time be so cursed.

Sins are not always without consequences even when they might have been forgiven.  Whereas the eternal wages of sin might be cancelled by grace, the earthly consequences of the sin sometimes linger on, painfully.

  1. Converted by Serpents 

It seems paradoxical that venomous snakes could proceed from a loving God.  What has God got to do with snakes?  Well, God has many messengers; different weapons in His arsenal.  All serpents are not from the devil, some are messengers from God, attracted by the stubborn ways of those to whom they are sent.

Taught a tough lesson at last by the emissary serpents, “the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned…”  Suddenly converted, they confessed their foolishness and besought Moses to pray to his God to take the deadly serpents from them.  It is remarkable that they were able to connect their sudden disaster to their recent backsliding; that they were able to see the spiritual origins of their social and environmental crises.  Not everybody does, so they die slowly in their pride until they are wasted. Sometimes troubles teach a quicker lesson than many great sermons would.

  1. Living with the Serpents 

God accepted their plea and provided a solution, but it was a very strange solution.  God asked Moses to make a brass model of the snakes that had been their recent disaster, hang that brass snake up on a pole, so that whoever got bitten by the venomous snakes, if they ran to the pole and looked up at the serpent of brass, the poison in their body would be neutralised.  In other words, God did not take away the snakes as He had taken away the frogs from the Egyptians when Pharaoh had pleaded for a respite from that verminous invasion.  They had been forgiven their murmuring, but they lived with the immediate consequences; they had been spared the ultimate wages, but they kept the present poisonous bonuses.

Of course, nobody wanted to die, so, if someone got bitten in the night, and the pole was at the far end of the camp, they ran with every haste to that point to take their remedial gaze.  If someone was too old to run, their family carried them hastily there.  If they got bitten in the middle of a party, everything stood suspended as they ran to the Emergency section of the camp, to the pole with the serpent of brass handing down.  They lived with the snakes.  Those snakes were still very venomous.  Anyone too busy or too distracted or too proud to go to the pole and look, died; killed not by the venom of the snakes but by the venom in their own proud soul.  There was now a cure, but that did not take away the curse.  Imagine living with snakes in your tents, snakes in your kitchen, snakes on your farm, snakes at the playground; snakes, snakes everywhere, while the healing pole stands still for those who would care to look and live.

  1. O God, Send the Snakes 

Knowing that one could survive the snake bite was nothing compared to the awfulness of living with such deadly creepy creatures.  Sometimes they bit a baby in the crib, and the mother or father would have to rush the child to the Emergency Pole and get the crying and disoriented baby to manage a steady gaze at the brazen snake.  Their sins had been forgiven; they could now survive the bites, but the snakes remained.  I suspect that all the time they lived with those uncivilized snakes, their lips got very civilized, and they never were so close to another misbehaviour with their restless tongues.

Some people will never look up to God until a Special Serpents Squad begins to bite them from below.  If it be so, then may God send them those messengers. Amen.

  1. A Lesson from Paul 

Apostle Paul was a great man whom God saw fit to keep in check with what the man described as “a thorn in the flesh.”   Why would God send a pestilent thorn, then turn around to supply “sufficient” grace to cushion the effects of that nagging messenger that usually sent him deeper into God?  What weakness in the mighty Paul did God see, for which the best remedy was that prayer-resistant thorn?  What might have become of the mighty Paul if God had not done what He did, as unwarrantedly thorny as it seemed?

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me … 

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 

9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness… (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten … (Revelation 3:19).

From The Preacher’s diary,
April 9, 2023.

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