Summary: Like the Israelites, too often we grumble about our lot in life. May the Lord lead us to repentance...and thankfulness!
“Are we there yet? How much longer?” Anyone who has ever taken a long car journey with children has heard those questions. They are questions that stem from impatience, from boredom, and maybe even a little lack of trust that the driver really knows where they’re going. Now it’s even worse when the questions, “Are we there yet? How much longer?” are voiced by more than one child. If you have 2 or 3 or 4 impatient children, it really makes for a long car ride for everyone.
Now imagine that you had 2 million children, teens, and adults all complaining to you, “are we there yet? How much longer?” And now you know how Moses felt, as well as how the Lord felt. And this was more than just impatience, this was disrespect, this was unbelief. And so we see God punishing the Children of Israel by sending poisonous snakes into their camp.
But this story is much more than, “don’t make God angry or else he’ll punish you.” What we are going to see this morning is that with the Lord, even punishment has a loving purpose. 1. This harsh action turned the Israelites to repentance. 2. This snake on the pole foreshadowed another deliverance from the poison of sin.
In a way, we can sympathize with the impatient feelings of the Israelites. They hadn’t been in a car for 8 or 9 hours. They hadn’t been in a car for 3 or 4 days. They had been on the road for 40 years! A journey that should have only taken months was stretched into decades because of the unbelief and rebellion of the Israelites. And they were getting tired of this journey. And then, they were approaching the Land of Canaan. They were almost there. They just had to go through the land of the Edomites and then they’d finally be home. But then the Edomites refused them passage through their country. And so the Israelites, who had already been a long trek, had to go even further around the Edomites’ land. Can you blame them if they were a little impatient? Would you have acted any differently?
We give our pets treats from time to time, but their diet is mostly the same. They eat the same food day after day, and I’ve often wondered how they can do that. I mean, if it was you or me eating the exact same food every day, we’d start complaining, wouldn’t we? And again, for 40 years the Israelites had the same diet day after day. The Lord miraculously provided manna during the morning and quail in the evening for them to eat. They never had to worry about food…and yet they complained. Our text records their complaining, whining words, “why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Maybe you’ve seen on the news this past week the truckloads of food that we are distributing to the Iraqi people, and what a logistical nightmare it is to make sure that this food is handed out evenly. Now just imagine for a moment that you are God. And you give, free of charge, food to 2 million people so that they can eat everyday for 40 years, and they think that’s not good enough. How would you feel if you were God?
God is not just impersonal force out there. He is a real being who has real feelings. How human beings act affects God. And God was saddened by this ingratitude on the part of the Children of Israel. He had feelings of anger. And yet, amazingly, the Lord also harbored feelings of love toward these people who were rejecting him. He wanted to find a way to get them to appreciate him and love him. Sending these snakes was his solution to this problem.
It’s fair to say that we sometimes sadden God and anger God by our impatience. Because who of us here enjoys waiting…waiting to find a new job, waiting to get over a sickness, waiting, waiting, waiting. Probably not your favorite thing to do. We might even say to God, “are we there yet? How much longer?” And yet so often in our lives the Lord calls on us to be patient, to wait, and to trust that he is going to take care of us.
And like the Israelites, we sometimes sadden God and anger God by our unappreciation for his gifts to us. God has given you a nice home to live in, but you look at other people living in bigger houses and want that. The Lord gives you a car to drive, a real blessing when you see some people having to walk or bike to work, and yet that vehicle just isn’t quite as nice as you want. The Lord gives you a loving spouse, and yet you lust after others who are more physically attractive in the worldly sense. When we do these things, aren’t we saying, “we detest this miserable food that you give us, God!”?