Look at it and Live

If you’re following the church’s Bible reading plan this year, you’ve just begun the book of Numbers, so you’re about to read about a series of rebellions that culminate in an event at Kadesh-Barnea that seems to be the tipping point (the 12 scouts, Israel’s disbelief, etc.). God turns them back toward the wilderness where they’ll spend almost four decades.

Our story today falls into this period of time–after the Kadesh rebellion and during the wilderness wandering. It’s short, but Jesus elevates its importance by citing it here: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). And it’s interesting that what immediately follows that reference is the most frequently quoted verse in all of Scripture (“For God so loved the world . . .”).

I think it helps us read the difficult parts of Numbers–the parts that are filled with rebelling and complaining and questioning. In the middle of all of that, God provides a path to salvation. He never abandons his people . . . though they are unfaithful, he never forsakes his covenant.

The same is true for us today. As hard as we sometimes are on Israel (“How could they be so hard-headed? Why weren’t they more grateful? . . .”), we’re guilty of the same attitudes.

And yet God provides hope. Surrounded by death, God offers life. Like Israel, we’ve complained and rebelled, and we deserve the snakes. But God lifted Jesus up on the cross and offers salvation to us, a rebellious people.


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