Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
In Numbers 21, the people of Israel have sinned against God by their grumbling. They show that they don’t trust God’s provision, even though he has shown them again and again that they are perfectly safe due to his care.
God provides a solution which makes absolutely no sense to our logic. He has Moses create a bronze replica of the snakes which are killing the people. It is to be raised up on a pole. When people look at it, they will live. As I said, the solution makes no sense. There is no earthly reason to think this would work.
What’s the sign of God’s glory? The solution he prescribes does work. Even though it’s something that really can’t work, it does. There are only two ways we can understand this passage. One way is to discount it as a the foolish babbling of primitive people who didn’t know that venomous snake bites aren’t cured by looking at a piece of sculpture. That’s an irresponsible way to consider people in antiquity. I have said it many times throughout my career as a teacher of ancient things. People in antiquity weren’t stupid. They knew that this was not a solution that should do anything. They did it anyway. Why? Because they know what a miracle is.
A miracle, after all, is an action that would not normally happen. It’s considered miraculous when the unexpected, or even impossible happens. That’s precisely what we see in our Old Testament passage. God prescribes a way in which lives will be preserved and the ill effects of a venomous snakebite will be reversed, in this one instance. It works. It’s miraculous.
In the Bible God describes a number of situations which we must consider miraculous. When he creates the world out of nothing it’s a miracle. When he says that guilt for disobedience is inherited by future generations of Adam’s race, it happens. When he says that a perfect sacrifice can take away the guilt of sin, it’s a miracle.
How, then, do we deal with the miracle of Christ’s death on our behalf, to take away our sin? It’s the way of salvation for us created by God’s decree. It works. Why? Because he said so. So Christians urge everyone to look to Jesus in faith, expecting that he will, indeed, accomplish salvation on our behalf. Yes, it’s impossible. But it’s real.
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