“Repent and believe” is always the way to reconnect with God’s heart.

TLW10 March 11 Lent 4

Readings this week from the calendar for Sunday, March 11 (Lent 4)

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-9, 17-22

John 3:14-21

Ephesians 2:1-10

Numbers 21:4-9

Venomous snakes attack the Israelites and the Lord tells Moses to fashion a copper snake image and elevate it on a pole

4  They travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;

4  “To go around Edom” – because Edom had refused to let them pass by, and threatened the Israelites with a large army, Numbers 20:14-21

4  “Impatient on the way” – there had been quarrelling (the place was therefore named Meribah) over the apparent lack of water, which caused Moses to make an unholy outburst and God to be angry, Numbers 20:2-3, 1-12

5  …they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

5  They had experienced miraculous deliverances. They seemed to have forgotten pledging dependence on the Lord, before going out to meet the king of Arad’s threat and defeating Arad in a ‘holy war’ engagement at Hormah.

5  “Miserable” food – the word is unique and probably derived from quillel, to despise. It was not a good attitude before the Lord who had provided them with manna day after day.

6  Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 6  “Venomous” – fiery (burning) serpents, Amplified Bible. Probably the carpet viper. The bites were inflamed and deaths painful.
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.

7  “The people said… we sinned…” – they recognised where they had gone wrong. The Lord will sometimes let a situation get worse, to bring realisation.

7  “Moses prayed” – and the answer was unusual. Are we alert for unusual answers, unexpected directions, from prayer requests?

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, they lived.

8-9  “Bronze” – or copper. The archaeologist Professor Rothenberg discovered a small copper snake Egyptian temple at Timnah, near Eilat, in the same general area, a little later in date. It could have been copied from hearing the story of this deliverance. The symbolism in sacrifice draws on opposites – animals are killed so men may live; blood which pollutes when spilled can be used to sanctify; the ashes of a dead heifer cleanse from the impurity caused by proximity with death. A red snake, like the red inflammation, delivers from the snake bite.

8-9  God would spare the lives of those who were unhesitating in obeying, John 3:14-15

8-9  John Wesley noted: “The pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lifted up for our salvation: and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ.” In making sacrifice, there had to be contact e.g. laying a hand upon the animal, for it to be effective. Here the ‘contact’ is choosing to look up and gaze at the snake image, and so raise faith for God’s provision.


A discontented, unbelieving or resentful heart never plays out well in the Lord’s order. It is sin!

In this event, linked to the difficulty over finding water in the previous chapter, resentment is being expressed against Moses, as the Lord’s appointed servant and leader, and against the Lord Himself.

Thankfully a lot more grace surrounds us, as those in Christ, but the principle remains clear. Keep a clean, pure heart towards the Lord. In life there is friction and we have to be quick to forgive without condition (not waiting for an apology); we do this largely for our own benefit. The other person may never know, but we have done what is right before heaven, and we are then free.

Here’s a bit more of challenge that comes out of this story. When the twists and turns of life are difficult for us – the unexpected loss of a loved one, a setback or an injustice – we call out to God and ask “Why?”  That’s the right starting point but not the right finishing point. Although God never does anything wrong, it can seem wrong to us, and that’s when resentment can creep in. So as well as forgiving others, we sometimes have to take the bold step of choosing to  ‘forgive’ God for allowing the pain.

Also in this desert scene of dissatisfaction and angering the Lord, we see why things sometimes have to go on getting worse when we are praying just the opposite. We are good at justifying ourselves, and remarkably poor at times at seeing our own faults; sometimes the struggle has to intensify until we all ‘get it’. What does the Lord want? For us all to recognise where we have headed off independently, and to turn to look at Him again. The serpent on the pole, and also the Cross.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

1  How does God get your attention when you’re not listening and going your own way?

Also published on Medium.

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