Todays Reading: NUMBERS 19:1-21:35
I am a linking the dots kind of guy. Since I read plenty of history books for pleasure I have developed a keen skill in linking dots. I love reading something in one book about a certain history and then linking that to either something I have read somewhere else or to something I know or to somewhere I have been.
Did you know I actually enjoy driving. Just this week I decided to drive to Bavaria for a business meeting instead of taking a plane. I listen to books, enjoy the scenery and do a lot of thinking. I often like linking things as I am driving. Last spring I drove down to Luxembourg for a meeting and in the first 3 hours of my drive I made three quick links.
1. On the road down from the Netherlands to Luxembourg you drive through Liege (Luik in Dutch). If you didn’t know, that is the city where the Germans invaded Belgium in World War I (Battle of Liege). I have read several books about WWI and I know that the Belgians knew that this was a potential entrance point for the evermore militaristic Germans. So in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Belgium invested a great amount of time and money developing a circle of forts around the city. Unfortunately, the Germans were able to bypass the city and slowly wear it down with its heavy artillery. As I drive through Liege each time I am always imagining the German Army on the bluffs over to the east of the Maas river in Liege. Linking things.
2. Another 45 minutes down the road I was in the Bastogne area. Of course, as a military history buff, I know a lot about the World War II battle that was fought there in December 1944 and January 1945. A few years ago, my son and I went there for a memorial hike that is held every year, here is a link to our photos from that event. My grandfather served in Patton’s army and was at the Battle of the Bulge south of Bastogne. I thought of him, the battle and the Bastogne landscape as I was driving. Linking things.
3. A while later I was driving and listening to A History of the English Speaking People: Volume I by Winston S. Churchill. I am listening to the story of Julius Caesar’s campaign across the lowlands prior to invading what we would call Great Britain today. As I was driving I realized that I was crossing the path that Julius Caesar took from the Rhine to the English Channel with his two legions, which happened over 2000 years ago. Linking things.
In today’s reading, Numbers 19 – 21, I again am linking things. A link to a symbol of heath and safety and of rescue and salvation. A link from the Old Testament to the New Testament to today.
The passage I am referring to is Numbers 21:4 – 9. Just prior to these verses the people of Israel once again are grumbling and complaining about their situation. They were in the desert and they were running out of water, so they grumbled and complained until God provided them water (a fuller story for another day). Then they sought to go through the Kingdom of Edom but the King of Edom refused and the Israelites had to take the long way round, no shortcuts.
While they are taking the long road to the Red Sea, the Nation of Israel was attacked by the Canaanites. The Nation of Israel wisely appealed to God for help in the battle and God responded with a victory. (Numbers 21:1-3)
But even after seeing God provide a victory the people were still grumbling. They were sick and tired of walking in the desert and they spoke out against God and Moses. It is the same old story we have seen since they left Egypt. They did not like how God had been providing for them. They had become a ungrateful people lacking faith in God their Deliverer.
Numbers 21:4 – 5 NLT
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Can you imagine complaining about the food that God had specifically given you as a miracle provision from heaven? Can you imagine the anger and frustration that God and Moses must have had about these miserable people?
6 So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.
God’s delivered His justice and sent snakes to bite the complainers and rabble rousers. The Nation of Israel immediately saw the error and sin of their ways.
7 Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.
God listens to Moses’ prayer and provides a means for the people to be saved from the repercussions of their sin in the form of the snake bite. Moses was directed to make a staff with a bronze snake on it for the people to look up to to be saved.
8 Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” 9 So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!
As I read that story, I immediately linked it to an image of today. The image of the physician’s staff. So, I began to research the image to see if originated from this story in Numbers. Most histories that I found associated the modern symbol to Greek mythology as a staff of Hermes (Mercury) or Asclepius. I am of the opinion, but can’t prove it, that the Greek myths may have gotten the imagery from the history of the nation of Israel, as it occurs more than a 1000 years before the time of Greek Mythology.
This special staff of Moses with the Bronze snake will show up again in our reading through the Bible later during the days of Hezekiah the King.
But there is a more important link in this story – a link to New Testament and a link to us today. The staff healed and saved the people by them simply looking up to it. By simply believing that it can heal and save them. They didn’t have to do anything more. They did not need to make any sacrifice or make any offering, they simply looked and believed. It saved them not by their works but by their obedient faith. God did the rest.
This staff of Moses was referenced by John in his Gospel of Jesus’ life. Its reference is just 2 verses prior to what may be the most famous verse in the Bible. The reference is during Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus about how it is possible to be born again. The reference is here:
John 3:14 – 15
14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
The link is there, just like the Israelites, who only needed to look upon the staff to be saved from the consequences of their sin, so also you and I only have to look onto Jesus to see and believe that He alone can save us and heal us from the consequences of our sin.
The next verses summarize it best.
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Are you making links as you read through the Bible? Are you linking what you are reading today in the Old Testament to what is in the New Testament? Are you linking what your are reading today to your world today? Can you use these links to share the Word with others around you?