“We detest this miserable food!”
Complaining about the food is a time-honored pastime – whether it’s the school cafeteria, the mess tent, or the company lunchroom. Food is something almost all of us care about – it’s basic to our happiness. When we don’t like, it, we say so.
Sometime during the Hebrews’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, we have this story from Numbers chapter 21 about the people moaning and complaining against God and Moses about the poor food. God apparently gets fed up with them, and sends poisonous snakes which bite the Israelites so that many died. This seems a bit extreme, although it’s true that the Hebrews had been complaining about the food for a good 10 chapters. When the people realized what God had done, they admitted their sin and asked Moses to intercede for them. God, strangely, tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole. When those who were bitten by the snakes look at the bronze serpent, they are allowed to live.
John’s Gospel, again strangely, compares this bronze serpent to Jesus lifted up on the cross, who also brings life to those who believe in him. This comparison doesn’t work very well for me. I get stuck on the fact that God sent the venomous snakes to kill in the first place. What do you think?
We don’t hear from the Book of Numbers that often on Sundays. It is one of the first five books of the Bible, known as the Books of Moses or the Pentateuch. Its name comes from the many lists and enumerations that fill the book, starting with a census of all the people and tribes of Israel. Numbers tells much of the same history of the time in the wilderness that we also hear about in Exodus. Numbers does give us a number colorful vignettes: Balaam’s talking donkey, the manna and the quails, the spies sent into Canaan, a man executed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and of course today’s bronze serpent.
Numbers also gives us this beautiful benediction which is still often used, known as the Aaronic Blessing:
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”