(Yesterday, I talked about snakes as the prequel to texts in Numbers 21 and John 3. Here’s the rest of the story.)
People complained about the lack of food they could control. People started complaining about the lack of water they could control.
They said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?”
It was gradual complaining, I think. A slowly unfolding story, for days and weeks. They had food, just not their choice. They had water, just not a vast reservoir. But the complaining grew and grew until one day, the people stopped. “We’re tired of this,” they said. “We’re tired of the delays, the lack of information, of initiative, of authority. Why are we here, not back in Egypt?”
Forgetting that in Egypt they had no control.
And then, the worst nightmare of Egyptian theology started actually appearing among them. Snakes. Biting them. Killing them. Wishful thinking started having actual consequences.
Suddenly the people understood that they were in a story that God was telling. And that God could direct. And that they were powerless to change. The Egyptians had incantations against the snake god, but he represented general evil for them, seldom actual snakes. And in the face of actual life and death, the formulas weren’t much good.
So they cried out to Moses. And when people looked at the snake, the snakes stopped winning. The bites still happened, but the venom was not effective.
The bite had lost its sting. Because the power of God was greater than the power of the snake.
1500 years later, Jesus was talking to a religious scholar, Nicodemus.
“The son of man must be lifted up like that snake” Jesus said. But Jesus wasn’t talking about anything about the snake itself. He was talking about the looking. Looking to Jesus when we are bitten to death by evil. Because of evil. Because of our own evil.
We don’t like to give up control. And in our efforts to control things, we get wrapped up, bitten. And God loved us so much that he didn’t want us to stay wrapped up, bitten, poisoned by evil and our inability to defeat it on our own. Jesus came. Not to scold or to say, “You’ll never figure this out.” Not to be the snake god of chaos and destruction.
But to be the bringer of hope. Lifted up on a cross. Removing the hopelessness from the attack of evil by defeating the snake.
The hard part, often, is that death is still here. Uncertainty is still here. I still sit with people who are wrestling with the question, “why now? Why her?”
And I sit with them, with you. I can offer theological explanations, reasons, what we sometimes call apologetics. But in the moments of grief and pain, we don’t want intellectual apologetics. We don’t want to know the reasons why this makes sense.
What God offered is incarnational apologetics. God putting on a body and living with us, dying for us, and offering hope to us.
To ultimately drain the power of evil from the bite of the snake, look to Jesus. God with us, the hope of glory.