Saturday, 17 July 2010

Snakes and poles!

Reading Numbers 21 again I was struck (again) by just how strange the story is - mind you that is in keeping with much of Numbers! In case you're not familiar with it, the people had sinned (again), they continued with their perpetual moaning and complaining so God sent poisonous snakes to bite them - an odd sort of punishment when you think about it. However, when viewed in a salvation context ( metaphorically) the story is clothed with new layers of meaning and depth - or so it seems to me. Leaving aside the New Testament analogy between snakes on poles and Jesus on a cross there are subtleties that go deep.

For me the most obvious question is, why, after the people repented, did God not just remove the snakes? Job done you would have thought. However, there seems to be something important about the fact that after repentance God always provides a way to ensure sin does not and need not follow it's natural course and lead to death. A number of truths flow from this , firstly it is God who has to provide the way, people cannot achieve it on their own, secondly that way is only explicable by God as it defies rationale and logic and thirdly the people were not guaranteed any immunity from the initial consequences of their sin - they could still get bitten! This, for me at least, contains some phenomenal and powerful truths which not only foreshadow and prefigure Jesus, they also make sense of my experience.
There is one other thing (at least on this occasion) and that is the poisonous and insidious nature of sin that gets deep into our system affecting every aspect of our lives - you don't get bitten by a deadly viper and just continue as though nothing has happened. It very soon becomes obvious to everyone and the wise person looks quickly for a permanent cure.
Well, that's how it spoke to me - this living and active Word.


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