Numbers 21 – A Snake on a Pole

The physician’s symbol for healing is a pole around which is wrapped a snake (sometimes two.) This imagery relates to a story found in Numbers chapter 21. There, God’s people were complaining and rebelling against God, so God sent deadly snakes to strike the people on the feet and ankles.

But, despite their rebellion, God provided a means of rescue. He told Moses to lift up a bronze snake on a pole, high above the people. Everyone who looked up at the bronze snake, rather than the snakes at their feet, lived.

This story raises some questions:

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Numbers 20 – Swinging at Rocks

If you’ve ever had trouble following directions, you can relate to Moses. There was a specific time in Moses’ life when failing to follow God’s directions cost him dearly.

In Numbers chapter 20, God tells Moses to gather everyone in front of a rock and speak to the rock, that it might provide water for the grumbling Israelites. But rather than speaking to the rock, Moses strikes the rock with his staff. Because of this, Moses was not permitted to enter into the Promised Land.

You may be thinking, “What’s so bad about striking the rock?” There’s two problems with it:

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Numbers 17-19 – Chosen for the Team

As a kid, I was usually the last one picked for the team. This was true for basketball, football, baseball…basically anything with a ball. I had no coordination or talent when it came to sports. So when kids were choosing teams, I was usually avoided till I was the last on left. It was hurtful.

Perhaps this is why it’s hard for people to think about God choosing the Israelites to be His special people. It seems biased, politically incorrect, and hurtful to those not chosen.

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Numbers 16 – Pay Attention to Your Posture

Remember when your parents would fuss about your posture? They would say things like: “Sit up straight.” “Don’t slouch.” “Stand tall.” Why was this so important to them? It was like our parents believed our posture is some kind of statement about who we are!

After reading Numbers chapter 16, I think they might have been right about this posture thing.

The thing that strikes me about this chapter is Moses’ posture. When the people grumble, complain, and attack him, he doesn’t stand up straight and tall against them. Instead, he falls face down before them. He takes a posture of humility before the people. (Numbers 16: 4-22-45) Then, when God plans to bring much-deserved punishment upon the people, Moses leans toward the people. He identifies with them and seeks to spare them. (Numbers 16:47-48) Moses takes a posture of compassion toward the very people who were complaining about him.

I’m afraid that when it comes to people grumbling and attacking me, I’m not as prone to take a posture of humility or compassion. Instead, I tend to either take a stand against or turn away from them. In the face of complaints, I need to fall on my face before God more often and reach out to the complainers more.

So, evidently our posture does say something about us.

Numbers 15 – Keep It Up!

It’s a good feeling to finally reach a goal.  The sense of accomplishment and achievement you get from reaching a goal is intoxicating.

But then what? What do you do after you’ve reached your goal? Do you sit back and just enjoy the fruit of your labor?

God answers that question for the Israelites in Numbers chapter 15. In this chapter, God refers to what is to happen after they enter the Promised Land. (Num. 15:2)

What is it that they are to do? Continue to do all that they’ve been told to do already. In other words…KEEP IT UP!

A team that wins a championship will not be able to keep their title if they don’t continue to work, train, and practice. A house that has been repaired and remodeled will not stay that way, without continued maintenance and up-keep. In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the hare lost because after he had achieved his large lead on the tortoise, he didn’t keep it up.

This is true of the Christian life. Although we never really “arrive,” there are times when we reach new levels in our faith and our relationship with God. These times feel wonderful to our soul. But, if we allow ourselves to slack off and coast, we will lose the very thing we worked to achieve.

Romans 12:11 tells us to never be lacking in zeal, but to keep our spiritual fervor. In other words, whether the goal is in the distance or under your feet, keep passionately following the ways and commands of God. This will smooth out the roller coaster ups and downs of life that come from us starting, stoping, and starting again with God.

Numbers 14 – Trading “I Remember” for “I Can’t Wait to See”

I was working in the oil fields of West Texas when God called me into full time ministry. After some preparation, I moved my wife and two small children to Ft. Worth, TX and began my seminary education.

At first, it was exciting. But the new eventually wore off when the demands of graduate school kicked in. There were mountains of books to read, a constant demand for papers to write, and tedious projects to complete. All of this (along with holding down a job) increased the stress on my marriage and family. Too little time, too little money, and too many expectations began to wear on us.

I found myself thinking, “I miss the good old days.” Graduation was in sight, but this nagging thought kept getting louder. Others around us called it quits and went back home. But we stuck it out, and it turned out to be one of the best things we’ve ever done.

So I can relate to Numbers chapter 14, and the feeling of being in that difficult in-between spot. God’s people were not in slavery, but they still were not in the Promise Land. God was asking the Israelites to do something that required a lot of risk. Consequently, they longed for what was behind them, rather than what was ahead of them.

We must be willing to follow God and step into the freedom of the unknown, rather than retreat to the bondage of the comfortable. The key to is believing God is good (Psalm 100:5) and brings all His power to bear for one purpose..our good. If we believe this, we will launch into the risky unknown, knowing that no matter what happens, it will be better than the past.

Let’s trade in our “I remember” for “I can’t wait to see.”

Numbers 13 – Armchair Quarterbacks

I’m not really into sports, but I still play “armchair quarterback” more than I care to admit. An armchair quarterback, is one who talks a good game. They sound strong, confident, and sure of themselves. But when it comes to truly getting involved and into the game, they suddenly come up with reasons why they can’t. It’s not that they wouldn’t like to, it’s just that they allow the difficulties, obstacles, and risks to get between them and what they want.

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Numbers 12 – I Want to Be More Like Moses

I want to be like Moses. It’s not that I want to walk around with a big stick and a glowing face, calling down plagues and parting large bodies of water. It’s not even that I want to be some big-time leader over a large group of people.

In Numbers chapter 12,  Moses demonstrates three qualities that I need more of…

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Numbers 11 – Lighten Up!

I hate to admit it, but I’ve become a complainer…at least more than I used to be.

I’m not sure what happened. I used to be more up-beat, more positive, and more hopeful. It seems as the demands and stresses of life increased, so did my my complaining. Maybe I have more things to complain about now than I did before. (Or maybe I’m just more aware of those things.)

I know some of this is normal and natural. It’s what happens as you grow older. And I certainly don’t want to go through life oblivious to legitimate concerns, but neither do I want to go through life complaining about them.

After reading Numbers chapter 11, I’ve come to realize that complaining doesn’t come from being overly focused on important considerations, but rather from ignoring more important considerations.

Complaining is what happens when we ignore God’s presence, God’s provision, and God’s power. It makes sense, because my complaining if often born out of:

  • Feeling like I’m on my own. (Ignoring God’s presence.)
  • Feeling like I don’t have what I need. (Ignoring God’s provision.)
  • Feeling like something is going to happen to me that I can’t control. (Ignoring God’s power.)

When I focus on God’s presence, provision, then these issues are decidedly answered.

It’s really true…the key to lightening up is looking up!

If you’re one of those people who find yourself complaining more than you use to, try praying this prayer to God every morning: “God, please help each urge to complain trigger me instead to focus on Your presence, provision, and power. Change my heart from focusing on my complaining to focusing on your sustaining.” 

Numbers 10 – Traveling Details

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a detailed person. I’m a big picture person. I have great ideas, but when I look at all the details of making those great ideas happen, I lose my momentum…and my mind. But after reading Numbers chapter 10, I realize I need to be better at details.

If I had been God, (what a scary thought) I would have said, “Ok. We need to get all of you Israelites from here to there. Go! Details? I don’t know…work them out!” It’s a good thing I’m not God.

God paid attention to details. Because there were no cell phones or public address systems, God gave His people signals to know when to assemble, who to assemble, and why they were assembling.

He also gave them specific assignments for both work and travel. Think how chaotic it can be just to get a family of four started on vacation. Now, think about doing that for an entire nation of people.

He gave them a navigational system to follow. A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This was important, because they didn’t have GPS and there were no road signs saying, “This way to the Promise Land.”

God knew what His people needed to get where He wanted them to go, and He provided for that down to the smallest details.

So here’s the obvious application…If God did that for an entire nation of people, why should you and I doubt that He can do that for us?