The Israelites numbered about a million and a half homeless people. They made tents and moved about the desert at the whims of a column of smoke. They ate flecks of mystery manna gathered from the sandy ground. Their clothes never wore out, so there was never an excuse for new.
At least in Egypt they had their own space. Sure, they were forced into servitude by a cruel, cold hearted ruler, but at least they knew what was expected of them. Moses, the deliverer, had delivered them over to a bizarre and uncertain faith. He had enticed them out of Egypt with promises of freedom, failing to mention the desert between them and the Land of Promise.
The Israelites were afraid of the God whose voice thundered out of the mountainside, but Moses, was just a man. An intimidating man, but one they could talk to. Moses didn’t get a lot of affirmation from his people. What he did get was complaints.
“Why did you bring us out into the desert to die?!”
“We are so tired of manna, we just want meat.”
“We were better off in Egypt.” (see Numbers 21)
Have your kids ever done this to you? Mine have. It usually happens around hour three at the zoo.
“I’m tired of walking.”
“Why won’t you buy me a toy?”
“The lions are sleeping. I’m bored.”
“Can I play on your phone?”
“Can we watch a movie on the way home?”
I get furious. I am trying to give them a good thing. We are trying to build memories together as a family, but they are so ungrateful all they can do is complain?? Oh, I’ll give you something to complain about…
Like nails on a chalk board, complaining and arguing take their toll on everyone involved. In the desert, God Almighty himself decided to do something about it.
Talk about creative parenting.
The symbol of the snake is not all that hard to spot. The most famous snake of all time whispered words of discontent into the ear of Eve, God’s original creation. Venomous reptiles slithered into camp and began biting the complainers, God’s chosen.
And in one of the most brilliant foreshadowing moves of all time, God provided a solution.
And the solution—another snake. God told Moses to craft a snake out of bronze, wrap it around the pole and set it up in the middle of camp. Anyone who looked at the snake would live. Easy.
The snake had no power to heal the people. God did the healing; their obedience to yet another odd-sounding requirement allowed him to do so.
And a couple of thousand years later, the Son of God made the connection for a seeking Pharisee. “As Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up that everyone who believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life in him” (John 3:14-15).
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son—not a symbol this time. This time he gave his Son for a bunch of lost and ungrateful arguers and complainers. God allowed his son to be the focal point, the representative of hope. Look to the Son on the cross and be saved.
In the desert, God punished the children of Israel for their bad attitudes. But he offered them forgiveness and an escape as well. Then and now, because that’s how God works: here, now and forever all at once. The snake offered temporary relief from the consequences of sin. The Son crushes the head of the snake by offering himself as a permanent solution to sin.
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing,” Paul says, “so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” Philippians 2:14-16
Clearly Paul’s words against grumbling and arguing are not merely cautionary. There is real danger in the habit. Snake bites of discontent are bad for our health! Anyone can be a complainer. Do you want to be like everyone else, or do you want to be a shining star? Look to your Savior and in obedience, live.