Fourth Sunday in Lent (Mar 11th)

Pastor's Summary of Numbers 21:4-9

The people of Israel are now in the desert in the Sinai peninsula, probably near its northeastern edge (southwest of the Dead Seas.) duringthier journey from Egypt to Palestine, the Bible tells us of eight rebellions: six of the people against their leaders and God, and two of their leaders against God. In Today's reading, the people rebel against Moses and God. The people are "inpatient" (v. 4) or short-tempered  because Moses has refused to engage Edom in battle and, (after being attacked) Israel, with God's help, has won a military victory over the local Canaanites. In criticizing "this miserable food" (v. 5), i.e. manna, they are resenting what God gives them freely. So God sends "poisonous" (v. 6, or fiery) "serpents"-fiery possibly because the bites become inflamed before the victim die. The people do repent, and ask Moses to intercede for them ("pray to the LORD", v. 7). God replies that he will heal through a symbol, a branze snake on a pole. Those who believe in God will be healed. The rebellion stories tell of a lack of trust in God-which led to all those of the generation that left Egypt (including Moses) dying before Israel entered the Promised Land-a punishment for lack of faith, and an example for later generations.

These stories also tell, very frankly, of the issues of human leadership: its qualifications, manifestations and limitations. Moses really has to struggle to be an effective leader. The bronze serpent was preserved and worshipped until, because it had become a symbol of worship separate from the worship of God, it was smashed to bits during the reign of King Hezekiah, in the late 700s BC (see 2 Kings 18:4).