After yet another disobedience, after even more grumbling, from Israel, God once again decides that He's had enough. He sends poisonous snakes among the camp of the Israelites in the wilderness, and everyone who is bitten by the aggressive snakes dies.
Now, we could talk about what it means that God chose snakes to send among them. As we know, it was a snake (a serpent, cursed to become a snake) in the Garden who tempted Eve into wanting to know good and evil the way that God did, and so it makes sense that God would send snakes among a people who thought they knew better than He did and were arrogant in their own self-confidence and self-assurance.
But that's really just a bonus. It's not what I want to talk about today. (Interesting bonus, though, right?)
What we need to look at is what happens after the snakes, what God does when His people are dying and when the man He's appointed to lead them falls face down once more in intercession for them, as was Moses's pattern. He pleads with God to stop the plague among the people, to stop killing them, to stop the havoc that the snakes are wreaking. And God does, but not in the way that you might have expected.
God walks Moses through making a bronze snake and then raising it on a pole, high enough that the camp can turn and look at it. Anyone who has been bitten by a snake can raise his eyes and look at the bronze snake and be cured of the bite. The poison won't affect him. He will live.
Oh, thank the Lord for His mercy! Thank Him for His grace! Thank Him for providing healing for His people, just as He promised, and for watching over them...
...except, kinda...why didn't He just take away the snakes?
That's what our faith wants to know. That's what we expect Him to do when we pray. It's all well and good that we have a God who can heal us, and who will heal us, but what we really want is for God to take away what's hurting us in the first place. yet, that's not what Numbers tells us happened here. Not once do the Scriptures say that God took away the snakes. Rather, He merely made a way for men to live with them.
It's a tough pill to swallow. We pray and we pray and we pray, but we still have cancer. We still have bitterness. We still have failure. We still have rejection. We still have difficulty. We still have death. It doesn't seem to matter how hard we pray sometimes, we can't seem to shake the snakes that slither among us. And we cry out to God, asking Him what in the world He's doing, since He doesn't seem to be doing anything for us.
And He says, look! Lift your eyes, and you will see.
A bronze snake. Fantastic.
But remember, when the New Testament comes around, it is Jesus Himself who says that He is the one lifted up in our camp. He has become the bronze snake. Those who look to Him, though they be afflicted, will live. He has made a way for us to live in the trials and troubles of this world.
It's not what we want, but it's mercy nonetheless. It's grace all the same. It is provision and healing and promise, everything we love about our Lord. It's part of living in a messy place with a God who still loves us, despite our grumblings. And He's given us a way to live, and promised life abundant.
Even where the snakes slither.