Read the text below, preferably aloud. As you hear the word, “listen with the ear of your heart” for a word or short phrase that God has for you this day.
From Mount Hor they set out by way of the Red Sea, to bypass the land of Edom, but the people’s patience was worn out by the journey; so the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” So the Lord sent among the people seraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of the Israelites died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord to take the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses: Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and everyone who has been bitten will look at it and recover. Accordingly Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever the serpent bit someone, the person looked at the bronze serpent and recovered.
As I listen to this Scripture passage, the phrase ”worn out by the journey” stands out for me.
The Israelites were on a journey from Mount Hor where Aaron was buried (Numbers 20: 22-29) to the Red Sea. They were on a detour around the land of Edom. As is often the case, detours can be filled with unexpected twists and turns, and much frustration. This was the case here, as the Israelites, “worn out by the journey” began to complain. Although the Israelites were no strangers to complaining, having done so before against Moses and Aaron, this time they had reached their last straw so to speak. The Israelites began to lists all that was wrong in their world, and in so doing this time were complaining against God – dying in the wilderness without food and drink, wanting to go back to Egypt, disgusted with the manna that God had provided.
God responded by sending “seraph serpents” which bit and killed many of them. The word saraph in Hebrew means “burning,” referring to the poisonous, burning bite of the serpents. The Israelites confessed to Moses that they had sinned and asked him to pray to God to take away the serpents. Moses prayed and God relented. God instructed Moses to mount a bronze seraph on a pole, and anyone who looked at it lived. Hence, the seraph became not only a sign of death but also a symbol of healing – a paradox of death and life.
Where are your frustrations this day? Where are you burning? Where do your eyes behold signs of new life? As you listen to this scripture today, what word or phrase is God whispering to your heart?
– Fr Kirtley Yearwood
© Poisonous Serpent, Thomas Ingmire, 2003. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.