The Israelites in their lack of faithfulness and their distrust of God spoke out against God, and God got tired of it. There are consequences to any action. In the case of the Israelites, their unfaithfulness prompts God to send venomous snakes that attack and kill many of them.
This is a difficult story to grasp. It is not a comfortable image of God, and yet we can learn a lot from the actions of the Israelites. They turn away from God, and the consequences are painful. However, they also turn back to God, confess their wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness. God is faithful and responds with a reminder of the life-giving hope that roots our faith.
We are not unlike these ancient Israelites, and often our behavior is like a serpent that harms our world. Our challenge is to learn how to claim our responsibility and work to repair it. Repentance is an aspect of the season of Lent, and this passage invites us to ask what that looks like in our own lives.
In the wilderness we are tempted, but we have an opportunity to turn back to God. This is often a painful process. Recognizing how our actions have harmed others and asking for forgiveness requires humility. However, to live in the world as God intends requires accountability and personal responsibility.
The path to redemption is a hard one, but God does not leave us in the wilderness alone. Healing is possible. Yet we can’t see that possibility unless we are able to turn toward God and lift up our eyes to see the hope of reconciliation and salvation that God offers. When fear threatens us, we look toward the reminders of God’s love that give us life and sustain us in the wilderness.
God, help me to turn toward you and to lift up my eyes to see the reminders of your life-sustaining love. Amen.
Sometimes we get ourselves into trouble by our words and actions. It’s okay to admit it. It happens to all of us. The Israelites experienced this when their constant grumbling provoked God’s wrath in Numbers 21. Yet even in this story, God provides the means of salvation. The psalmist echoes the refrain that when we put ourselves in bad positions, we may cry out to the Lord for deliverance. We read in Ephesians that all of us were living in disobedience to God, but God has done all the work of reconciliation by grace given through Christ Jesus. John ties all this together, gesturing to the story in Numbers 21 to teach us that Christ is the means of restoration and salvation for all who believe in him.
Read Numbers 21:4-9. When do you complain to God? Does your complaining ever interfere with your sense of God’s presence with you?
Read Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22. What practice helps you to thank God each day for God’s steadfast love?
Read Ephesians 2:1-10. How does your sense of God’s salvation and grace move you to do good works?
Read John 3:14-21. How do you act as a creature of light in the world? What are your “deeds that have been done in God”?
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