Today’s reading includes Numbers 21:1-22:20, Luke 1:26-56, Psalm 57:1-11, Proverbs 11:9-11.
Today I invited one of my dearest friends, Allen Worsham Bradford, to teach us about the Snake on the Stick, which we encounter in today’s reading. What a strange story at first glance, but what wonderful truth and encouragement for us when we catch a glimpse of the message behind the story. I know you will learn from and be blessed by Allen as I have.
Our God is an amazing story weaver. All of Scripture connects seamlessly over thousands of years to reveal who God is and what He is doing. I love the story of the snakes in the desert for that reason.
It all began in the beginning, of course. Adam and Eve lived a paradisiacal life in the Garden of Eden. But that all began to unravel when the serpent in the garden asked Eve, “Did God really say…?”, which planted a seed of doubt in Eve. She responded as if God were withholding from her, tricking her, not intending good for her.
The Israelites doubted God and His goodness so many times that we lose count as we read through the Old Testament. They saw many miracles and direct provisions from the Lord. Yet when pain, temptation or discomfort came, they doubted and complained. When God sent the deserved punishment in Numbers 21, they asked Moses to intercede for them: “Tell God to take these snakes away!”
The first time I read the account of the snakes in the desert, I was confused by God’s answer. His answer seems odd and incomplete. So many times He answered the Israelites definitively. They cried for food and water; He provided food and water in miraculous ways. But when they cried for Him to remove the snakes that were biting and killing them, He didn’t remove the snakes. He gave them a snake on a stick.
He didn’t immediately remove the source of pain and death as He did other times, but provided a cure. It’s a surprising but simple cure, a cure that would force them to remember where the deliverance came from. Make a bronze snake on a stick and look at it. They were cured only if they believed what He said to do and then did it.
You and I are no different from the Israelites. We want life to work out the way we envision for ourselves and our loved ones. The vision we have may not be a bad vision at all; in fact, it may be a beautiful, biblical vision. But when life begins to veer off that path and things aren’t working out exactly like we hoped, either because of pain, death, temptation or even just boredom, we begin doubting God’s power and goodness. “Did God really say I can’t have it my way? He is holding out on me and is keeping my happiness from me.” We can’t see God doing His own mighty work, and we doubt God the Most High. We do all we can to make everything work out our way.
When those attempts don’t work, when they backfire and bring consequences we don’t like, when we see our rebellion against God, then we cry out to the Lord to deliver us from our sin. We cry out, “The snakes are biting us on every side! We are hurting and dying, Lord! Take them away!”
And Jesus answers: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:14-16
Jesus says to us, “I am the snake on the stick. Because God loves you, He provided an ultimate solution, not a temporary fix. Sin is a debt that can’t just be erased. It has to be paid for to be made right. So the Son got in the place of sin and death, became the curse, became the sin that the serpent in the garden represents in order to pay the debt owed to the holy God of all creation.”
We are to look to Jesus and be healed. Look to Him in faith, saying “I believe you are my Deliverer. In you I trust.” And He WILL deliver and heal you. He may not change your circumstances but He will change you, though it may not come as quickly as we like. You have to look at the snake, the very thing that is killing you, to see how He is delivering you in the midst of your rebellion. And that is how He receives glory – the only remedy for your circumstances is that He climbed on the stick and took the poison from us for us.
And we know the rest of the story. Unlike that snake on the stick, Christ was not stuck on the stick forever. He defeated death and sin and darkness and rose from the stick to glory. And right now He stands victoriously at the right hand of our Father loving us and praying for us.
Hallelujah! We can sing with Mary: “My soul exalts the Lord. He has given help to Israel (and to all of His children) in remembrance of His mercy.” (Luke 1:46, 54)
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Allen Worsham Bradford is wife to Reverend Bill Bradford and mother to four wonderful children: Mollie, William, Hannah, and Andrew. She and her family spent ten years as missionaries in Peru. Now, she works with Bethel Road Publications, and is involved with women’s ministries in the US and Latin America.