Thursday, May 07, 2009

By the Numbers

In the Book of Numbers (from the Old Testament) is a little story of a time when the people of Israel complained agaist God and His servant Moses. These people had already been condemned to wander in the desert for forty years (until the passing of a generation) because of their doubting that God could deliver them into the Promised Land.

Once again, we see the familiar cycle of man's sin, God's judgment, man's repentance and God's deliverence.

Here's the text from Numbers 21:

4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"

6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

This raises several thoughts in my simple little brain.
First, when the people finally come around to repenting, they tell God how they expect relief (deliverance) to come. They tell Moses to ask God to take the snakes away. God however, rather than taking away the snakes, tells Moses what to do so that the people that have been bitten might not die. God didn't take away the punishment for their sin, but He delivered them from the death that accompanied the snake bite. I imagine that once they no longer feared death from the snakes, they probably set about to get rid of the snakes themselves.
Second, I have this image in my mind that there were people that managed to die in spite of the deliverence that God provided. Imagine a Hebrew lying in his tent, dying a painful death from a snake bite. His friends rush in to tell him that he can be cured. He just has to go out at look at this snake that Moses has put on a pole in the center of the camp. The man looks at them like they're crazy. He tells them to leave him alone to die. As much as they try to convince him, he refuses to believe this fairy tale that one can simply look at a statue of a snake and be healed...and so he dies in his unbelief.
I also wonder about those that had been saved from death. I can see two such people walking through the camp talking about the miracle of their healing. As they are talking, they remember their friend that was bitten. The conversation goes something like this:
One asks the other, "Did you tell our brother Josiah about the snake on the pole?"
"No. Did you?"
"No, but I'm sure that somebody did."
"Do you think that we should go by his tent and tell him?"
"You can if you want. I've got to tend to the sheep. Besides, I'm sure that his neighbors will let him know."
And so their friend dies in his tent, never having heard about the cure in the center of the camp.
Jesus said, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."
John 3:14,15
God hasn't taken away the sin that surrounds our lives. But He has taken away the death that is a consequence of our sin. Even today, there are many that are dying in their sin and they refuse to believe that eternal life is as simple as looking to the Cross and trusting in Jesus.
There are many believers that have been delivered from eternal death by trusting in Jesus but find themselves too busy to tell others of the cure that is theirs for the asking. Surely somebody else will tell them, right?
If you are still living with the punishment of sin hanging over your life (...the wages of sin is death), look to the Cross; trust in Jesus.
If you are saved from the power of sin, then tell somebody that needs to hear of the cure for the punishment of sin. Tell them about Jesus.


fiona said...

God hasn't taken away the sin that surrounds our lives. But He has taken away the death that is a consequence of our sin.
Oh I fell another GREAT chat in the making ;-)

Mike said...

"in the desert for forty years"

Not quite as long as my recent ordeal under the thumb of air traffic control, but close.

John said...

The difference between Air Traffic Controllers and God?

God doesn't walk around heaven thinking that He's an air traffic controller.