Remembering the Passover & Exodus: a selection of passages & meditations
"Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live"

Scripture: Numbers 20:1-13; 21:4-9

20:1 And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.

2 Now there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people contended with Moses, and said, "Would that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink."

6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, 7 and the LORD said to Moses, 8 "Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water; so you shall bring water out of the rock for them; so you shall give drink to the congregation and their cattle."

9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle.

12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." 13 These are the waters of Mer'ibah, where the people of Israel contended with the LORD, and he showed himself holy among them.

21:4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of E'dom; and the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against 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 worthless food".

6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us". So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live". 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Meditation: The people of Israel make complaint to Moses because they lack water in the wilderness. Their complaint follows a common pattern of murmuring throughout their wilderness journey. They accuse Moses and regret that they had let Moses led them out of Egypt in the first place. As so often happens, the challenges of freedom have given rise to the desire to be slaves again. Moses responds with grace and meekness and intercedes on behalf of the people. God in turn graciously answers Israel's need. When things go wrong for you, how do you respond? Do you complain and accuse others, or do you seek God's mercy and help?

Numbers 21 records further complaints from the people of Israel in their desert sojourn: "The people became impatient on the way" (vs. 4). They were dissatisfied with their circumstances: "we loathe this worthless food" (vs. 5). It is dissatisfaction, rather than need, which gives rise to their complaint and accusation against Moses. God's response is to punish, in this case, by sending serpents whose bite brings death to many of the Israelites. Moses intercedes with God who graciously instructs Moses regarding the bronze serpent which yields life in the face of death. The bronze serpent points to the cross of Christ which defeats death and obtains everlasting life for those who believe.

"Lord Jesus Christ, your death on the cross won victory for me over sin and death. Free me from selfishness and discontentment that I may find true freedom and satisfaction in you alone as the "treasure and pearl of great price".


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(c) 1999, 2001, 2002 Don Schwager