Today's lectionary reading: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
Selected passage for reflection: Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 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.
8 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.” 9 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, they lived.
There is a rhyme I remember from a young girl in school. My classmates and I would sing this rhyme and run around in a circle while others would chase us. Do you remember this old nursery rhyme?
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush
The mulberry bush
The mulberry bush
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush
In this rhyme, I see the Israelites moving around the bush. Sin, or in this case, the desire to control our own lives is the mulberry bush. The Israelites move around and around this bush, creating a cycle of forgetting, remembering, repenting, and seeking forgiveness, but never moving away from the bush.
In this passage of scripture, the Israelites are unhappy. They are on a seeming eternal road trip. They don't like the journey, nor the food, and they are thirsty. I get it. I've taken road trips that seemed endless and anxious to get to my destination. I became cranky, irritable, and unhappy. So I get it; the Israelites were tired. They survived an attack from the Canaanite king in which God gives them the victory. But these ongoing episodes create this road trip from hell as they journey to the Promised Land.
In their unhappiness, the Israelites forgot. They failed to remember who they were dealing with. Our God, in all of His awesomeness, is not to be taken for granted nor treated with disdain. God is the giver of life, love, and justice. He will turn you and your problem around. Our God will heal your body and protect you from your enemies. He will provide for your needs and send the advocate to negotiate ahead of you. Our God is strong, and the Israelites, in their discomfort, simply forgot. And our God, in His wisdom, sent them a reminder.
Imagine walking with your friends and family, complaining about what's happening in your lives, feeling like you're not getting what you deserved, wondering if God will keep His promises. Suddenly, a ton of snakes jump out from the sand, biting people, and some die instantly. God was angry with His people. They’re complaining, highlighting their doubt of God’s love, protection, and His ability to keep His promises. So, He threw them to the snakes, and this was an act of righteous justice. The Israelites rejected God. They were ungrateful. So, God taught them a lesson. Like us, the Israelites quickly remember who God is, who to call on in the midst of terror and fear. Who do we call when we are in trouble? God is the answer. They asked Moses to intercede on their behalf. We also have an intercessor who works on our behalf, and his name is Jesus. When we are in trouble, full of fear and facing terror, we call on his name. JESUS!
And God looks at us in pity and shows us mercy. Just as Moses hung the bronze snake on the pole and the Israelites looked at it and were healed. Our Savior Jesus hung on a cross, delivering us from sin and moving us away from the mulberry bush. Sometimes, we are like the Israelites, going around and around this bush, getting burned when we get too close, asking God for His forgiveness, then going back to the bush. The cycle doesn't end until we ask not only for forgiveness but also repent from our sins. Our sin of taking God for granted and not giving Him total control over our lives holds us in bondage. Until we let go - we won't break this cycle of forgetting, remembering, repenting, and seeking forgiveness. Around and around the mulberry bush, we go.
What are areas of your life that you are holding onto control? Resisting God’s guidance? Is there a mulberry bush in your life you keep returning to?
Listen to what God is saying to you and embrace His love and gift of acceptance.
Heavenly Father in Heaven, I ask that you bless the reader with wisdom and remembrance of all you have done in their life. I ask You to walk alone alongside them as they come to the same conclusion I have. You are the God of everything. You see all and you are everywhere. Help us to bring our sin to you so we can repent and ask for forgiveness and never return to our sin. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
About the Author
Kimberly Thomas is church planter, advocate for racial justice, women and children, event planner, administration expert, foodie and a great home cook. She’s a wife and a mother, daughter and sister, friend and cheerleader. She also serves as the Pastor of Administration at Radiant Covenant Church, Renton, WA.
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