Hollywood could not dream up a story as wild and exciting, with as many surprise turns, as that of the Lord delivering His people from Egypt to the promised land. A persecuted slave class of people being lifted up out of bondage through plagues and mighty miracles. Through moments of faith and moments where the faith utterly fails and they are disciplined by the Lord. A righteous man, Moses, interceding on their behalf each time they repent. There was no easy road. What irony that they were too afraid to take the promised land but then had to fight many other nations along their now extended journey. Don’t skip the details, read back through… the ground swallowed up some who rebelled, and not snakes through the camp causing mayhem and repentance. A bronze serpent as a symbol to save them… what a wild ride… and it’s all true, historical events.
We get the opportunity to learn from the Lord through exciting and unexpected plot twists that His people actually experienced first hand.
As we read the historical events of Numbers 21, we once again see a roller coaster ride for the Israelites. They are attacked by Arad and beaten initially. They turn to the Lord and He gives them absolute victory. Then not long after, the people get impatient again and speak against the Lord. What a tiresome bunch for the Lord to tolerate… but let’s take care, as we still often act in much the same way. We forget His last blessing or victory so quickly once the next challenge or wait is in front of us. We are naturally impatient and selfish and often do not long remember the victories He has given us.
With rebellion in speaking out against the Lord, comes punishment… righteous punishment. All of us deserve correction from time to time, and a loving Father disciplines those He loves. Then comes the question of how we receive that rebuke… with humility leading to repentance or with resentment leading to further separation from the Lord. The Israelites at least turn toward the Lord for help again once they punishment of the snakes was upon them. Moses interceded for them with the Lord and the Lord forgave them.
At least for awhile, they remained more patient on their ongoing journey.
1When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, then he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. 2So Israel made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.” 3The LORD heard the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. Thus the name of the place was called Hormah.
4Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. 5The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”
The Bronze Serpent
6The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 8Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” 9And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
10Now the sons of Israel moved out and camped in Oboth. 11They journeyed from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness which is opposite Moab, to the east. 12From there they set out and camped in Wadi Zered. 13From there they journeyed and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that comes out of the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.
14Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD,
“Waheb in Suphah,
And the wadis of the Arnon,
15And the slope of the wadis
That extends to the site of Ar,
And leans to the border of Moab.”
16From there they continued to Beer, that is the well where the LORD said to Moses, “Assemble the people, that I may give them water.”
17Then Israel sang this song:
“Spring up, O well! Sing to it!
18“The well, which the leaders sank,
Which the nobles of the people dug,
With the scepter and with their staffs.”
And from the wilderness they continued to Mattanah,
19and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20and from Bamoth to the valley that is in the land of Moab, at the top of Pisgah which overlooks the wasteland.
Don’t fool yourself that each of us is not able to act in similar fashion as the Israelites did in Numbers 21. It is all too easy to declare, “I would never act that way.” We are still vulnerable toward focusing on our selves rather than God, focusing on our current challenge rather than our past victories with Him, grumbling against Him when things are not going how we want them to go. Pray for the Spirit to help us remain faithful to the Lord through even the tough times, remain thankful for all the victories He has handed to us in the past, and trust in Him that He will be with us through to the end of our current and future challenges. He is a loving Father! Let us rejoice and praise Him and not speak against Him!
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