Lent 2012: Day Thirty-Five

Numbers 21:9 NCV: So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then when a snake bit anyone, that person looked at the bronze snake and lived.

There are a several ways to read the passage today…

The Israelites left Mount Hor and went on the road toward the Red Sea, in order to go around the country of Edom. But the people became impatient on the way and grumbled at God and Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this desert? There is no bread and no water, and we hate this terrible food!” So the Lord sent them poisonous snakes; they bit the people, and many of the Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we grumbled at you and the Lord. Pray that the Lord will take away these snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a bronze snake, and put it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, that person will live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then when a snake bit anyone, that person looked at the bronze snake and lived.

… at first sight it really doesn’t look like a pleasant one does it? A literal reading which comes into the preaching of some evangelical Christianity holds that God’s righteous judgement punished them for grumbling, and then mercifully provided a wonderful provision for their relief. If you read my blog often, you’ll know me well enough to know that as a Liberal I don’t agree with that reading…

Rev Chris Ayers asks us to read it metaphorically. In his Lenten reflection he pondered over the idea that we are in the season of Lent. Folk should be able to do some hard self-examination without fear of divine serpentine judgement. Heading into the wilderness and getting snakes set on us wouldn’t be very loving would it? Rev Chris doesn’t appear to come to any conclusion though, except that he believes that God loves us and wouldn’t deliberately harm us.

I think that too… and chose this potentially difficult passage from the Lectionary today because it has been key for me since I received the first Bible I could read and understand cover to cover (New Century Version). It is a youth Bible I now refer to rarely (use the NRSV which gives the best modern English translation), but when I do it can be enlightening. There are ideas in bubbles across the pages which reflect on some of the passages. Here’s an extract from the bubble on Numbers 21:4-9…

The Israelites were getting fed up with wandering around the desert. Despite the fact that God was providing all they needed, they were getting really discouraged. They were finding it hard to see the positive side of life and then, when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, they were plagued by poisonous snakes!

But Moses offered them, and us, a simple God-inspired suggestion: “Keep your chin up!” By looking at the bronze snake, the poison from the snakebites would be stopped and their bites would be healed. However, it wasn’t so much the act of looking at a bronze snake on a pole that was important. It was the act of looking up to God – the encourager – that brought healing.

Feeling down about life can be a poison too. As the venom of depression, hurtful comments or stress hits, it might be worth listening to the advice of your mates and of Moses: “Keep your chin up!”

Nicer! And yet still I feel more is needed, or we end up with the fear of fiery judgement (which does not exist). Hmm. I need to wrap this up because I have work to do… but I’ll leave you with a couple of ideas to play with (feel free to drop comments on this post with your thoughts).

First, they’re in the wilderness. And this wilderness happens to be the desert. Poisonous snakes were everywhere there. So rather than God punishing them with serpents, serpents appeared and he healed the people from them.

Second, perhaps the snakes aren’t real snakes. Perhaps they’re the symbolic “dark” we found voicing Eve in the beginning. The sin. And perhaps as the people got depressed and grumbled, they were reminded that God was with them. They looked up as the NCV had it. This had reminded me of John 3:14 – And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Hope will always be there. God will always be present. Healing must spread.

What do you think?

Numbers 21:9 NCV: So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then when a snake bit anyone, that person looked at the bronze snake and lived.

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One Response to Lent 2012: Day Thirty-Five

  1. paul deakin says:

    and the lifting up of the bronze snake so that the people could be healed links in with someone else being ‘lifted up’ was the theme of a sermon I heard recently, which of course you mention. Good Blog.

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