Monday 16 March 2015

Bible Book:

“So Moses prayed for the people.” (v. 7)

Numbers 21:5-9 Monday 16 March 2015

Psalm: Psalm123


The book of Numbers acquired its namebecause a large proportion of the text is concerned with countingand lists. It also relates many dramatic episodes in the story ofthe Exodus, though: the 40-year journey of the Israelites in thewilderness. This is one of those incidents and follows a similarpattern to some other stories in the book: the people complainabout an aspect of their nomadic life in the desert; they long forthe settled life of Egypt, even though they were slaves there; andGod responds, usually after Moses intercedes. In this case, thepeople were allegedly complaining about the lack of food and drinkbut they had been provided with both by God (Numbers 11:31; 20:11): it was actually thekind of food they are complaining about (read verse 5carefully).

God sent "fiery" snakes as punishmentfor the Israelites' complaints. (The Hebrew word is hard totranslate: fiery may refer to their painful bites and can betranslated 'poisonous'.) In the 20th century, Lawrence of Arabiawould make similar complaints about the vipers and cobras thatstill haunt this part of modern-day Jordan. To heal them, Godordered Moses to construct a bronze (or copper) model of a snake.Interestingly, in the 1950s archaeologists working at an ancienttemple near the location of today's events discovered a smallcopper snake model that could be roughly contemporary with theseevents. It reflects well-known ancient Egyptian beliefs in thepower of serpent images to repel and heal snake bites. We know fromlater passages in the Bible that some people believed that thesnake model was indeed magic and tried to worship it (2Kings 18:4; Wisdomof Solomon 16:5-7). However, today's passage makes it clearthat it was faith in God, not the serpent, that saved the people.Only those who truly believed in God turned to look at the snakeand were healed. Jesus would later use the serpent in thewilderness as a metaphor for what would happen to him in thecrucifixion (John 3:14-15).

To Ponder

  • The bronze serpent was given to the people as a token of God'ssaving power but later they chose to worship the snake itselfinstead of God. What other signs and symbols of God's love andpower have we ended up worshipping instead of the one who actuallycreated them?
  • The people asked Moses to pray for them (verse 7) instead ofdirectly approaching God themselves. When people ask us to pray forthem, what are we actually doing?
  • How should we understand the concept of God sending snakes topunish the Israelites (verse 6) when poisonous snakes canstill be found in that part of world?
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