Have you ever been bitten by a poisonous snake and felt its lethal venom coursing through your veins?
I have. No, I never have been snagged by the fangs of a rattlesnake, but I been attacked by other kinds of snakes that inject their poison of hate, bitterness, discouragement, hopelessness, and fear through my mind, my heart, and my body.
“Please Lord,” I plead. “Can’t you take these deadly snakes away from my life?”
Remember when the Israelites went through a rough patch in their long journey through the wilderness? They grew impatient with God. They couldn’t figure out what he was up to and began to grumble and complain. “Why Lord? Why this? Why me? We hate eating this horrible manna!”
God responded by sending poisonous snakes, and many Israelites were bitten and died. Only then did the Israelites wake up, come to their senses, and repent. “We’ve sinned against God and against you, Moses” they cried. “Ask God to take away the snakes.”
Just like you and me, the Israelites pleaded for God to remove the snakes.
But shockingly, that’s not what he did. Instead he instructed Moses to make a bronze replica of the poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. He then told Moses, “All who were bitten would live and be healed if they simply looked up and gazed at the bronze snake” (Numbers 21:8).
God’s ways often seem bizarre to our understanding. God didn’t remove the poisonous snakes; instead, he provided an antidote to their poison. God knew Israel’s biggest problem wasn’t the snakes. It was Israel’s unbelief.
God didn’t take the snakes away, but he gave the Israelites a life-changing choice to make. They could learn to trust in God and what he provided (look up at the pole when a snake bites you)—or they would die in the wilderness. God knew that unbelief was that harmful to their long-term well being.
I’ve learned that God provides the same remedy for you and me today. When we feel those poisonous snakes biting at our ankles, God doesn’t remove them—instead, he tells us to look up.
Jesus tells us that “as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).
Next time you get bit, look up.
When we choose to take our eyes off our difficult circumstances or toxic emotions (or people) and look up, we see Jesus, the one who knows our pain and has born our sorrows (Isaiah 53). By changing our focus from what’s happening to me to what Christ has already accomplished for me, we find relief and comfort from the snake bite’s toxic effects.