A detail stood out to me as I was reading the scripture reference for my devotional reading this morning (Tuesday). It comes from Numbers 21.4b-9. The scene is the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness under Moses’ leadership. They’ve been at it for several years now and have become disillusioned not only with Moses but also with God. See if you pick up on the detail I’m thinking about:
The people became impatient on the road. The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill us in the desert, where there is no food or water. And we detest this miserable bread!” So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people and they bit the people. Many of the Israelites died.
The people went to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned, for we spoke against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord so that he will send the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and place it on a pole. Whoever is bitten can look at it and live.” Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole. If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.
As I was typing that out, a second, much more minor, detail jumped out: on the one hand, the Israelites are reported as saying that there is “no food” or water in the desert, and then, in the next sentence, they say, “We detest this miserable bread!” They must not have had NO food if they had bread, as miserable as it was.
But that’s not the main detail I’m thinking about. What I noticed was that, after the people complained, and God sent poisonous snakes, and the people repented, and God came to their rescue again, God didn’t remove the original threat – the snakes. God simply provided a means for dealing with it. The text is clear that the snakes were still there. The snakes were still biting people. But instead of dying, they now had a way of being healed.
It’s an insightful lesson, I believe. When we face difficulties, whether they be life threatening or not, God has options: to remove that difficulty altogether or to provide a way for us to deal with it. We’re not usually as happy with being given the tools to deal with an ongoing problem, since we would rather see the problem disappear. But, should God choose to give us those tools instead of removing the problem, then we need to be as grateful as the Israelites for whom a bronze snake was provided to deal with the ongoing threat of being bitten.
Why would God choose to allow a problem to persist rather than simply get rid of it? Who can say? But we need to trust that whatever God chooses for us is for our benefit. The understanding may not even come in this life, but eventually, we “will understand fully, just as we are fully understood” (1 Corinthians 13.12). And for that, we should be content.