tell you that I am not in any way a picky eater. As long as you don’t make lima beans – the
one food I absolutely detest – I’m fine. Now too be sure, there are some things
that I like more than others. But I am perfectly
content to eat whatever we have for dinner.
I am certainly not going to complain or express any kind of objections
about what is served.
two reasons for this. First, I am content to eat many different things. And
second, I’m not stupid. I may be the
grill master at the Surburg house, and I help out in little ways like cutting
up strawberries for dinner or other things.
But at the end of the day, Amy is the cook in our house. She does the
shopping and makes the food, aided by us as we are able.
I greatly appreciate all the work that she does, and I am
certainly not going to complain. That would be unappreciative … and very
In the Old
Testament lesson for today, the Israelites complain about what’s for dinner.
But since it is God who is directly providing them with food, to complain about
dinner is to speak against God. It is to
sin by rejecting God and his gifts. God acts in judgment against them, and
after their repentance, God provides deliverance in their midst – deliverance
that points us to the great deliverance that he has given to us in the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our text begins by telling us, “From Mount
Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of
Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.” The people became impatient on the way.
Doesn’t that sound like us? As God leads
us through the pilgrimage of this life, we want things on our time table.
We know how we want things, and we want it
now. And yet the Psalms are filled with the instruction and
encouragement to wait on the Lord. Psalm
twenty seven ends by saying, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your
heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”
God’s way and God’s timing often do not match ours. And you know who is right? God is. We need to
trust in God’s love and care, and know that his way and timing is best. He may take things in different directions
than we expected. He may be preparing us for what is ahead. He may be acting to draw us closer to
himself. But his will and way for us is always one of steadfast love.
We learn further that not only did the
Israelites become impatient, they spoke against God and Moses as they said, “Why
have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no
food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Now this statement is in itself,
contradictory. Notice how after saying
there is no food – or bread as the Hebrew says literally, they then go on to
say that they loathe this “worthless food” – once again using the Hebrew word for
We heard in a previous Old Testament
lesson from Exodus chapter sixteen that Yahweh was providing them with bread
from heaven – with manna. He was also
sending them quail in the evening for meat.
Now maybe one could say there was a lack of variety, but certainly they
were not without food. God was providing
them with all the food they needed.
It might seem that a lack of water could
be an actual problem. But the fact of
the matter is that in the previous chapter, God had just given them water from
a rock. And this was indeed the second time he had done this during
their journey. So there couldn’t
possibly be any question about God’s ability to meet their need for water.
No, what Israel was complaining about was
that they were not satisfied with the way God was providing for them. They said it wasn’t good enough. Yes there
was bread – bread from heaven – but as far as they were concerned this was worthless
This temptation is always present in our
lives too. Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our
daily bread.” God has promised to
provide us with daily bread – with what we need to sustain this life. But we
want more. We want it better than that. We look around at what others have, and they
sure seem to have it better than we do.
And so we covet what others have.
We resent God for not giving us those things. We take for granted the immense blessings God
has given to us – and remember, there are billions of people in the world who
would trade places with you in a heartbeat.
Our text states that when the Israelites
made this statement, they spoke against God. This is an important
reminder for us. Sin is not just the
fact that we have done something that breaks some objective standard we call
the Law. Since it is God’s Law – since it
is the way God has said life is to work – sin is always committed against
God. To sin is to reject God.
The Israelites spoke against God. They
sinned against God. God is the just and
holy God who punishes sin. In this case
he did it immediately. We learn that
Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people. They bit the people and many
of the Israelites died. God’s judgment against sinners is not something that
the world wants to admit. Some Christians don’t even want to talk about the
wrath of God against sinners. But
Scripture is very clear on this point. God punishes sinners. God judges
sinners. God damns sinners who do not repent.
Israel did repent. We learn that “the
people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the
LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents
from us.’” The people confessed their sin. They asked Moses to pray for them –
or as the Hebrew more literally means, to intercede for them.
Moses did and Yahweh told him, “Make a
fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees
it, shall live.” Moses carried out God’s
instruction as he made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. God attached his
promise to the bronze serpent on the pole, that everyone who was bitten and
looked at it would live. And God was true to his word. Those who were bitten and
listened to God’s promise – who believed God’s promise – looked at the bronze
serpent on the pole and lived.
sinned, and God sent judgement against them.
We have already described how we see our own sin reflected in what
Israel does in our text. When the Israelites repented and confessed their sin,
God provided deliverance as he had Moses raise up a bronze serpent on a pole.
Our Lord Jesus teaches us that the bronze serpent raised up on a pole was a type – it was something in the Old Testament that pointed forward to the salvation that God would work in Christ. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
lifted up on the cross in order to rescue us from the eternal death of our
sins. Our Lord said during Holy Week, “Now is the judgment of this world; now
will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am
lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John
adds, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
died on the cross to rescue us from sin and death. When he compared himself to the serpent on
the pole he said, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in
him may have eternal life.” But
merely being lifted up on the cross in death could not bring us life. Our Lord said, “For this reason the Father
loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No
one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have
authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up
again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Lifted up on
a cross in death, Jesus was buried in a tomb.
Yet on Easter, he took up his life again as he rose from the dead. Our Lord defeated death by his resurrection.
He is as John says in Revelation, “the firstborn of the dead.” His resurrection means that we have life with
God now, and that we will experience resurrection life when Christ returns on the
Last Day and raises our bodies.
Israelites who were bitten by the serpents, they had to have faith in God’s
promise that he had attached to the bronze serpent on the pole – they had to
look at it. For us to receive the
eternal life that Jesus Christ describes, we must have faith in him – faith in
our crucified and risen Lord who has carried out the Father’s saving will. We
must believe and trust in Christ.
In order to
give us the forgiveness that Jesus has won, God works in the same ways that he
did with Israel. He attaches his promise
to located means in our midst. He does
so because we are bodily creatures who live in this world. He has attached the promise of his word to
water in Holy Baptism, and to bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar. He places these means in our midst to which
we look in faith.
We have been
born again of water and Spirit in baptism, and our sins have been washed
away. We receive the true body and blood
of Christ in the Sacrament, and through this Jesus gives us forgiveness and
life. Through these means – these Means
of Grace – we receive the salvation that Jesus has won for us. Like the serpent on the pole, God gives us
something towards which we look in faith. For to have faith in God’s promise
about them is to receive Jesus and all that he has done for us.
from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand in the ascension that we will
celebrate on Thursday evening – you are planning on being here, right? – Jesus
is the fulfillment of Moses in our text.
We learn that the people confessed their sin, and asked Moses to
intercede for them with God. John tells
us in his first letter, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you
may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the
propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of
the whole world.” The One who was lifted up on the cross as the sacrifice for
our sins, is now the risen and ascended Lord who intercedes for us – who speaks
on our behalf. He declares that we are
forgiven because he carried out the Father’s will by dying on the cross and
rising from the dead.
Jesus said, “And as
Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be
lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Our Lord loved us by giving himself into
death in the suffering of the cross. He loved us by taking up his life again on
Easter and giving us the assurance of eternal life and resurrection on the Last
to receive this love through his Means of Grace that he has given to us in our
midst – the located means by which he meets us where we are. But Jesus said that this love does not stop
with us. Instead at the Last Supper he said, “A new commandment I give to
you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also
are to love one another. By this all
people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In word and especially in deed we love and
support one another. And this love is,
of course, is not limited to those in the Church. It extends to all who are around us – all
whom God places in our life.
In our text
we find that the people complain and speak against God. God acts in judgment
against their sin – their sin committed against him – as he send fiery
serpents into their midst. But in
response to their repentance, God attaches his word of promise to the bronze
serpent raised up on a pole and provides deliverance. God has responded to our sin against him by
sending his Son into the world to die on the cross and rise from the dead.
Through Christ we have life, for Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the
serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that
whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”