Numbers 21:1-3,6,7,9,23,24,34 The Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that the Israelites were approaching on the road through Atharim. So he attacked the Israelites and took some of them as prisoners. Then the people of Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will hand these people over to us, we will completely destroy all their towns.” The Lord heard the Israelites’ request and gave them victory over the Canaanites. The Israelites completely destroyed them and their towns, and the place has been called Hormah ever since... So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people... So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!... But King Sihon refused to let them cross his territory. Instead, he mobilized his entire army and attacked Israel in the wilderness, engaging them in battle at Jahaz. But the Israelites slaughtered them with their swords and occupied their land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River. They went only as far as the Ammonite border because the boundary of the Ammonites was fortified... The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, along with all his people and his land. Do the same to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon.”
From being a peaceable people, we now see the Israelites in a new light as warriors who are able to destroy strongholds. What is God speaking to us through this chapter?
Apparently two million plus people walking through a land was not considered the least bit comfortable to the kings of the land even though they did not seem to have any military credentials or conquests to their name.
When the Edomites refused them passage, they continued to journey by avoiding the land of Edom but when they came near Arad, the local king decided to fight them rather than deny entry.
Worse still, he took prisoners of the people and this enraged the Israelites. It's wonderful here to note how the Israelites went to God to seek His favor rather than taking matters in their own hands.
God was pleased to support their fight to save the captured Israelites and victory was theirs!
As always, after great success came the moaning of a doubting people and God punished them with poisonous snakes that killed and hurt many of them.
In response, the Israelites repent their words and actions and beg Moses to ask God for redemption from this curse. God's response is not to take away the poisonous snakes but to offer them the bronze serpent's image that the people had to look at for healing.
How interesting that to be healed, the Israelites had to put their faith in God's ability than God simply taking away the problem. Speaks volumes about how God works in our lives specially in areas of repeated sin.
Jesus himself referenced this passage as recorded in John 3:14-15 when He said:
"And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life."
As we continue to read the chapter, we see other kings fall to the might of the Israelites whose only real strength is the hand of God that goes with them.
Having lived in captivity under the brutality of the Egyptians for 420 years, they certainly had no training in warfare nor did they have any strategists or weaponry but God equipped them and provided them the wisdom, direction and success to conquer great kings like Og.
If anything, today as a Christ-follower it comforts me a great deal to know that God leads me to His destination, equips, emboldens, and gives me wisdom to achieve all that He has set out for me and all I need to do is to trust Him and put my complete faith in Him.
Are you able to see the significance of Christ on the cross just as the Israelites were saved by looking at the bronze serpent set up high?
In His Loving Service,
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