At this point in Numbers, the first generation of Israel that fled Egypt during the Exodus had died and now the second generation was preparing to see the promise of the land fulfilled. And yet, because of their sin, Israel was once again experiencing God’s judgment.
This passage is one of those that you can read and wonder what’s going on. It deals with sin, judgment, poisonous snakes, repentance, a bronze snake, and God’s mercy. It’s also one of the events in the OT that Jesus refers to in John 3:14-15 which means this text gives us an opportunity to practice one of the great principles of interpreting scripture – scripture interprets scripture. This means that when we come across a difficult passage in the bible, or one that’s confusing, we interpret it by using other scriptures to get more context and clarity.
Even though this text describes events from thousands of years ago in a culture foreign to most of us, the underlying issues are completely relevant to us. And that’s one of the amazing things about the Bible in general – the setting may be different but it is able to expose the complexity of the human experience in ways that are all too familiar. Unbelief; grumbling and complaining; selfishness; rebellion against God – these are not just modern experiences. They are as old as sin. It is the story of God’s people. Every generation and every person deals with these things. We have to ask ourselves, “why do I let my circumstances dictate my belief about God?” Why I am I so quick to doubt God’s goodness?
As we seek to answer those questions we’ll see how God meets us in our sin and rebellion with grace and mercy.