Let’s just admit that we are no different than the complaining Israelites. It is human nature. The Hebrews grumbled in the Old Testament, the Jews griped in the Gospels, the new community complained at the launch of the church in Acts, and before the day is out, the odds are hovering around 100% that you will get grouchy over some inconvenience related to God’s silence or slowness or lack of provision in your life. Me too! Unfortunately, original sin rewired us from gratitude to griping. Not to excuse or diminish the sin of complaint in any way, but thank God for mercy and grace that covers our fallen, shallow, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately faith.
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 21:5-9
They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “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!” Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
Same song, umpteenth verse: the Israelites are tested, they fail. They run into hardship, they complain. They are delivered by God’s mighty hand one minute, the next they are blaming him for abandoning them. Over and again in Numbers, we see this sad story of shallow, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately faith displayed by the people of God toward their God and his leader. And over and again, the Lord patiently puts up with their whining and complaining.
Now before we cluck our tongues at their weak and wishy-washy spirituality, let’s just admit that we are no different than the Israelites. It is human nature. The Israelites grumbled in the Old Testament, the Jews griped in the Gospels, the new community complained at the launch of the church in Acts, and before the day is out, the odds are hovering around 100% that you will get grouchy over some inconvenience related to God’s silence or slowness or lack of provision in your life. Me too! Unfortunately, we are just wired that way.
But thank God, here in this story we have a sneak peak at the mercy and grace of God that sustains us every single moment of our day. In the case of the griping Hebrews, God’s patience wore thin and he sent punishment upon them in the form of poisonous snakes. And they paid a painful price. Interstingly, however, when they called out to him, he provided immediate relief. Rather than going through a sacrificial ritual to remove their guilt and sin, God gave the Israelites a way to simply look to an uplifted cross and be healed from the iniquity that was leading to their deaths.
That was mercy! God removed from them what they deserved: just punishment. That was grace: he healed them even in their sinful, rebellious state. Mercy—not getting what we deserve. Grace—getting what we don’t deserve. That is God.
Even in the Old Testament, God was planning for a time when his Son would be lifted up on a pole to pay the once-and-for all full price for our sins. And all we would have to do, could do, would be to look to him and receive our salvation.
That is mercy: we deserved punishment, eternal judgment for our sin. But God placed our punishment on Jesus, who knew no sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21) He became sin on our behalf, so that we could become righteous before God. That was grace: we got redemption, the forgiveness of our sins through his grace. (Ephesians 1:7). Due to no righteousness of our own, through Jesus we received grace—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Thank God for mercy and grace. You and I would not be here if not for that!