Such odd, odd stories in the Bible.
It seems like, every few weeks or so, I stumble upon another one. Not that they are necessarily “new” to me—after all, I am well-versed in the flannelgraphs of the 70’s. Musty-smelling cut-outs of Bible figures that would “stick” to a board covered in flannel. My favorite stories were of Noah’s ark. I liked it when I was chosen to add the zebras to the board. Conversely, the story I didn’t like (and that definitely was not in the Bible) was the story of the mother hen whose body was charred beyond recognition because she covered her chicks during a wildfire.
Yeah, that one kept me up at night.
But I liked most of the others. And they did give me a basic education in the stories of the Bible.
But, somehow, the stories are more captivating now. Or, maybe it is that they are captivating in a completely different way than cool zebras and lions in a big boat (how the heck did they all fit??) and that great feeling of sitting as quiet as a mouse in hopes of being chosen as the good girl for Zebra duty.
Take, for instance, that snake on that stick.
In Numbers 21.
I ran across that in some other work I was doing this week, and it has sat there in my brain for a few days. Because it’s strange. So strange.
The quick version: the Israelites complained. Again. They not only spoke against Moses, but they also spoke against the God who had seen, who knew, and who rescued them.
God’s response was swift and would not be soon forgotten. It came in the form of fiery serpents with vicious, death-producing bites. And many died.
But when the people admitted their sin, and begged of Moses to pray on their behalf, he did. And’s God’s response was a directive to Moses. A strange one. He was to fashion a bronze serpent, fasten it to a pole, and put it in the midst of the people.
And, the command was, “Look and live.”
Those who gazed upon this bronze serpent lifted above them would live. Can you imagine the clamor around that pole? The jostling? The pushing, the shoving for the right angle, the right position so they could clearly see the bronze image? Surely their desperation to live created an urgency to not just glance at this object that would save them, but to gaze upon it. To stare a hole straight through it. To fix their eyes upon it.
To really, really look.
Flip the pages of scripture to another familiar passage. A passage in John 3 that I memorized one year at Vacation Bible School as a child so I could pick a prize from the treasure chest at the end of the week. It’s funny, because I certainly didn’t put the two stories together in that dusty sanctuary as I recited all of those words. Shoot, I had absolutely no idea what all those words meant. I just liked words–and prizes–and being the “best”.
I get it now; but yet, really, I don’t.
I understand the Jesus was lifted up, on the cross, to save the people…to save me…just like that bronze serpent (and why a serpent?? That always makes me think of the serpent in Genesis…but that’s not the point). I understand that, just as those desperate, complaining sin-bitten Israelites had to gaze upon that bronze serpent that was lifted up in their midst in order for their lives to be saved, we too must gaze upon the one who was ultimately lifted up so that we, too may be saved–from separation that never ends. From darkness. From all manners of awfulness. From hell, whatever that is.
But, so often, I don’t get it. I don’t gaze upon the one that I have said I believe in. I take sideways glances….fearful to look intently. Or, I study Him as a specimen. A theological term that I must dissect and define and use properly in a sentence. I wrap my brain in so much cynicism and detachment, that I dance all around the one sent to die on the cross in order to save me from my sin–from myself–and rarely do I look and live.
Look and live, Moses said.
And John echoes that, though not in so many words. But, essentially.
Look and live. Believe and live.
The cure is odd. Peculiar. Strange. And yet, it is what is needed for the poison in our veins. We run to the pole, or rather, the cross, to not just glance, but to gaze. To be transfixed.
To worship the only one who can save.