March 24, 2017

Numbers 21:8-9 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.

It has long been interesting to me that Jesus referenced some of the stranger stories of the Old Testament in His teaching. For example, He referenced Noah (Matthew 24:37-39) and He referenced this bronze snake. (John 3:14-15) God’s actions are never either isolated or meaningless; they always have implications for succeeding generations. At the same time, the devil always tries to twist what God does so as to use it for evil. Even this bronze snake, that Jesus said was a foreshadowing of His crucifixion, later became an object of idolatry and had to be destroyed. (2 Kings 18:4) That illustrates a common human failing: we tend to focus on what God has done in the past, rather than on God Himself who is still speaking and acting. That sometimes takes the form of “Bibliolatry,” worshiping the Bible rather than God who caused the Bible to be written. Some churches seem to worship “Father, Son, and Holy Bible,” rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am deeply grateful for the Bible, but a piece of printed matter isn’t to be worshiped. Just as the bronze snake was a tool to focus people’s attention on God, the Bible is a medium to transmit God’s Word to our hearts and minds. To illustrate, you could have a DVD of a wonderful movie, but unless you put that DVD in a player and watched it, it would be of no benefit to you. The recent movie about prayer, The War Room, comes to mind. Just owning the disc won’t change your life, but watching the movie and applying the principles it illustrates will. It all comes back to James 1:22, applying the Word rather than deceiving ourselves. As long as the people were doing what God had said through Moses, looking at the bronze snake in faith, they were healed and the snake fulfilled its purpose. When they later deviated from that, looking just at the snake rather than at God who was behind (figuratively) the snake, they were falling into idolatry. We need to read the Bible frequently, at least daily, and store it up in our hearts, (Psalm 119:11) but that must always be for the purpose of drawing closer to the God of the Bible, doing what He says.

I am frequently reminded of how at-risk I am in this area. I have a pretty broad and deep familiarity with the Bible, but if I am not applying it in my daily living, I am deceiving myself. I have multiple translations in both English and Japanese, but if I don’t use them to deepen my understanding and obedience, that becomes meaningless. I realize that the principle God has been expressing here applies to other things as well, including Church traditions. Traditions aren’t bad in themselves, but it is all too easy to fixate on the tradition rather than on the reason that tradition arose. I’m not to venerate any bronze snakes! I am to learn from what God has done in the past, but I am not to limit Him in my mind to repeating Himself. He is eternal and unchanging, but from the human perspective that makes Him ever new. I am to look to Him so that I won’t miss any of the new things He wants to do in my life.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s not like You just caused this passage to appear in the Bible, but You have made it new to me. May I apply it fully as You intend, so that Your will may be done in and through me for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!


About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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