A Required Chastening

Numbers 21:5-6 (ESV)
“And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “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.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.”

God’s mercy is indeed great. As a reminder, mercy refers to God not punishing us for our sins though we richly deserve it; different from grace, which can be thought of as unmerited favor from God. In our study verses above, it might be difficult to see the mercy of God—in fact, taking just these two verses alone, there would appear to be none at all.

But then we would fail to understand how they make us grow.

Contextually, we have to remember just how contemptable the people of Israel were and had been. All throughout their journey from the bondage of Egypt, they witnessed miracle after miracle of God, and yet were so quick to grumble anytime something challenging came upon them. Through all of these times, God relented on His wrath and provided for His people. Now, after just experiencing God delivering them in battle from the Canaanites in Arad, they were quick to grumble once again.

But at a certain point, rebellion requires an object lesson. This is no different than how an earthly father would discipline his child when he repeatedly continues to disobey and rebel. God disciplines us because He loves us, not out of hatred (Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:6).

Can you see yourself in this pattern? Are we quick to dismiss the grace of God that is exhibited daily in our lives only to complain to Him the moment something goes wrong? We fail to see God growing us—and worse—seeing how God loves us enough to want to grow us!

Nothing in Scripture tells me that God delighted in sending the snakes among the people, but it was a necessary chastisement to gain repentance. Notice what happens: the people immediately recognize their sin and in doing so, also re-confirm to themselves that Moses is God’s chosen leader for the young nation.

This has so much relevance for us today. We do not always understand why bad things come about in our lives, especially if we believe ourselves to be faithful to God. But the Christian life was never a promise of freedom from trials, but only assurance of deliverance when our time on this earth has ended. In the interim, we must learn to understand that the various trials and tests are, while temporarily bad, will result in good (1 Corinthians 11:30-32; Romans 8:28)

Take time to reflect on your own walk. Learn to see the times of testing as God’s love, seeing God in both the test and the deliverance (James 1:2-8).