“So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” Numbers 21:9
It’s fair to say that the novelty had worn off. The promise had long ago been spoken, but the horizon kept disappearing in the sandstorm. The so-called Promised Land had taken too long in coming. And their trust in God had turned to resentment for the journey ... their faith eroding like the dunes beneath their feet. The Children of Israel had been wandering for 40 years and hostility and impatience had become their companions on this never-ending journey to where? They didn’t even really know any more.
And then as if things couldn’t get much worse ... they do. In their desert wanderings ... and in their doubt of the journey, the Children of Israel stumble into a region known for its dangerous, venomous snakes. And because God seems so distant, and removed ... and because they had been complaining that Moses and God had led them to this godforsaken place, it was easier to blame them for allowing this to happen ... to blame God for sending these snakes into their midst to bite and kill and silence the Children of Israel.
I remember visiting friends of mine in Arizona a few years ago. My friends own a home on the edge of a golf course where the constant rhythm of the hi-tech sprinkler system made green the landscape of the promised land of the 9th hole, just a short walk across a sun-baked patio. Because this was my first time in such a desert environment, my friends had some sound advice for me ... ‘look first, step second.’ You see, there are numerous critters that call this climate home and some of them are prone to bite, sting and pinch. It’s best, my friends said, ‘to look first before you take a step forward.’
I remember going for a hike with them later in the week ... we were walking single file. I was very much taking my friends’ earlier advice to heart ... intently watching the ground before taking a step. So intent was I, that my friends had to actually remind me to look up because I was missing the spectacular landscape of the rugged mountains and brilliant blue sky ... a landscape dotted with pockets of colour where the desert wildflowers were in bloom ... a landscape both intensely barren, but intensely beautiful.
When the snakes started biting, the Children of Israel were focused on the threat in front of them ... they got mired in their pain ... they couldn’t see or think of anything else. When the hardships we experience in life come biting, we sometimes tend to do the same thing. We become so focused on the problem that the pain can consume us ... we sometimes cling tight to a hardship that mole-hills become mountains to the point where our view of life is obscured and we can no longer see and know the promises of God that surround us ... if only we could lift up our eyes to trust that God is present ... to know that God has not forsaken us, and to see the new life that God promises us ... if only we could lift up our eyes and live.
Rev. Christie Morrow-Wolfe
The Lutheran Church of Our Saviour,
Owen Sound, ON.