“And the people spoke against God and against Moses,. . . Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Numbers 21:5a, 6-8)
The Israelites who wandered in the desert for 40 years were a rebellious bunch of people. Despite the Lord’s provision of food and safety they constantly complained about God. They grew tired of what He had given them rather than consider the alternative. In the barren wilderness they could never have survived if they had to supply food for themselves let alone the vast multitude of the nation. Because of their lack of faith the Lord punished them with a plague of deadly serpents. The Lord also provided the means of healing the deadly bites: a bronze serpent on a pole. It was not the statue itself that saved, it was the act of faith as the dying person obeyed the Lord’s command to look and live.
The people of God still wander in the wilderness today, the wilderness of the world. When adversity or sickness come, many complain about God or about what He is doing in their lives, or not doing. Yet adversity shows us that God is working in our lives. The Lord uses it to drive us closer to Him in prayer even if the prayers are primarily complaints. Our faith is demonstrated even then because we know He is listening. We know by faith He will give us the strength and comfort to endure the worst situations for He has given us His Holy Spirit. Those who have no such faith will complain bitterly only in an attempt to make themselves feel better which is, of course, a paradox as bitterness feeds on itself. Better to suffer by faith then suffer with no hope. And yet that faith is offered to all.