Rebels. Each of us is one, or was one. How does a just and holy God deal with rebels? With wrath and grace.
40 years is a long time, right? The other day I thought back to how long I have been at the printing company and that has been like 17 years. Wow! Then I thought about how long I have been at NCF and it has been 29 years. Holy moly! And a few weeks ago, Laura and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. I cannot even remember life without her!
All those numbers are impressive, but none have reached 40 yet.
When you are doing something you love with people you love, time is not really an issue, is it? What if you were at a job you did not like? Would you stick around for 40 years until you could retire?
The last chapter in the story of God that we looked at was when the spies came back, and 10 of them convinced the people not to trust God. So, God told them they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all the men that were over 21 would be dead, except Joshua and Caleb.
You have camped at the edge of the Promised Land. Some of your people were in it for 40 days. You could see it… and now you will wander around in the wilderness near it, but not able to possess it, for 40 years.
For some, this was too much to fathom. They tried to enter even though God told them they could not. Moses warned them but let them. They died by the enemy as they predicted.
They knew they would literally wander in the wilderness until they died.
Numbers 21:4–6 || 4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died. [CSB]
Vs4: You should note that they are bypassing the land of Edom because they cannot go through it. They asked for permission and were met with an army and a threat. So, they were forced to take the long route around the land of Edom. I am sure this was discouraging, but when you have 40 years to kill, what difference does it make? (bad pun, I know)
So, the complain and God and Moses. In the past they spoke against Moses or Aaron or both Moses and Aaron.
They could not speak against Aaron, because Aaron died just before this journey began. His son, Eleazar was appointed in Aaron’s place. So why not complain against Moses and Eleazar?
One of the things I find quite interesting about this passage is that it is one of the few times so far where is says the people specifically spoke against God. Previously they complained *in front of* God (Numbers 11) and God zapped them with lightning and burned them up.
This time they are not just speaking loud enough so God could hear them, they were speaking *against* God.
Numbers 21:4–6 || 4 They set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient along the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us from Egypt to die in the desert? There is no food and no water, and our hearts detest this miserable food.” 6 And Yahweh sent among the people poisonous snakes; they bit the people, and many people from Israel died. [LEB]
Notice, too, that they spoke against Elohim. Against a god or the God. It did not say that they complained against Yahweh. This would be like saying that someone complained about the pastor versus someone complained about Mike.
The complaints, the actual words are the same as some of the previous complaints, but in this passage we get the cause as well. “the people became impatient along the way.”
All I can picture in my mind is road trips with my family and the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?”.
So, as you can imagine, they got tired of wandering. I mean, there was no hope. It didn’t matter if they took the shortcut or the long way, they were going to wander and die in that wilderness.
So, they complained because they became impatient during the journey. I believe this is the 7th time they complained to God since leaving Egypt. [about once a quarter or once a semester]
BONUS: When we are not living for God’s purpose and in light of our future hope, we too will often find ourselves complaining!
Their complaint against God was met with an immediate punishment from God. This is consistent with God’s actions in the past.
God sends poisonous (fiery) snakes among the people and many were bitten and died. Have you ever wondered why serpents? Let’s go back in the story. What is the most famous serpent of all? The one in the garden. The lie that he deceived Eve with was that she could be like “god”. She could be an elohim.
When we rebel against Yahweh, we are, in essence, making ourselves elohim. We are despising THE God and elevating ourselves to be gods.
That was the trick of the serpent and it brought death to Adam and Eve and to all mankind.
The Israelites were despising God and committing the same offense. God’s punishment echoes back to the beginning of His story to the first sin, and the punishment is that the serpent will once again cause death.
When the people saw what was going on, it was obvious that God had sent this plague of snakes. The people responded with confession and repentance.
Numbers 21:7 || 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned because we have spoken against Yahweh and against you. Pray to Yahweh and let him remove the snakes from among us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [LEB]
This is OBVIOUSLY confession.
Why would I say repentance? Because they stopped complaining. There was a change in behavior that accompanied the confession.
Do you know how to medically treat a deadly, venomous snake bite? So, if I told you that I was going to make a bronze copy of the snake that bit you and put it on a big stick to cure you, would you trust me? All you would have to do is look at it and believe that you would be cured. You would probably wonder what it wrong with my head if I told you that, right?
Numbers 21:8–9 || 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered. [CSB]
Once again, God provides a solution to the problem that can only be explained as coming from Him. It is his grace that offered a solution and His power that heals.
The cure is trust. It’s faith.
I know it seems like just another story in the lives of a nation of whiners. However, this story is significant in several ways:
Can you can quote John 3:16? (prove it!) But, can you quote John 3:14-15? John 3:16 makes a lot more sense when you understand it in context. The context of John 3:16 is actually Number 21.
John 3:14–18 || 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.” [CSB]
Jesus quoted the incident with the serpent to point out what His mission was. The mission of God has not changed.
When we refuse to believe in Jesus, we are denying his deity. We are saying there is no Elohim and we make ourselves out to be elohim.
The punishment for that has been, and always will be, death.
But the LOVE OF GOD provides a way to be “saved” from the venom of sin and rebellion towards God.
We might want to think we can earn it, or we can work hard to break free. We might even try doing things to save ourselves. I am sure the Israelites in the wilderness tried to save themselves, and in the end, died.
The solution has, and always will be, faith in God.
Ephesians 2:8–10 || 8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [NLT]
God saves us when we look up to Jesus to save us from the death we deserve for rebelling against God. It is only when we look to Him in faith that we can be healed; that we can live.
Friend, think carefully about the way you view Jesus. Do you believe he is God and that he died for your sins? Or, do you believe that you are the master of your destiny and can save yourself? It may sound foolish to you that you can experience forgiveness, life and hope simply by believing – but God has always done things that require trust, because God wants a relationship with you, not empty religious ceremonies.
If you have looked to Jesus in faith, confessing that you have rebelled against God, and trusted Him to forgive you and save you, then you have been saved and you are a masterpiece.
Not only that, but Ephesians says that we get a new life where we get to join with God in doing the things he planned long ago. The most important “good thing” is joining God on his Mission of restoration. We do not have to wander aimlessly, without hope, for the remainder of our days on this earth. We are a part of God’s family and we are partners with him on his mission.
As we celebrate our new relationship with God this morning, we do so with the stark reminder that our rebellion was the cause of Jesus dying for us. Our sin is why Jesus had to be put on a pole. He did so, willingly. HE did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.