Working on something that we are not naturally good at opens us to vulnerability and suffering. We need to rely on the help and wisdom of others, and we risk failure and humiliation. It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, it’s foreign, but it is worth it! The people of Israel were not good at living in the wilderness; they were no longer nomadic people living like their ancestors Sarah and Abraham. It is unfair to expect them to excel in such extreme situations. Their vulnerability and suffering are relatable. What can we learn from the hardships of the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness? What have we learnt from our wilderness times?
In preparation for worship: If God put the snakes in the wilderness, would it not be easier to remove the snakes, instead of providing a complicated antidote? Many who gather to worship this week are likely wondering similar things. It is a common question: if God created it, why can’t God take it away? The cancer diagnosis, the tractor accident, the oil leak, the poisonous drug, why doesn’t God simple remove it?
How we answer these questions depends on our understanding of God’s providence and how we believe God is in our world. A God who punishes people is counter to our beliefs of a loving and benevolent God. What if the poisonous serpents in the wilderness are not a punishment? What if the serpents are a metaphor, symbolic of harmful thoughts, practices and attitudes that can kill? God providing an antidote, could be understood as a loving way of giving help and maybe buying some time until the people figure out how to eradicate the root problem, the poisonous serpents.