“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us.’ And Moses prayed for the people.”
Numbers 21: 7
King James Version
“Look Up and Live”
“I find more real enjoyment in contrition for sin, excited by a view of the adorable moral perfection of God, than in all earthly joys.”
Ann Hasseltine Judson
What does the word “repentance” mean to me, personally?
“Sorry is such a simple word, so why is it so hard to say?”
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”
Psalm 51: 17
King James Version
My neighbor Adrianne and I were comparing notes on our recent visits to see the “little ones” in our lives. For Adrianne, it was a visit to see her first grandchild, a darling little girl who just turned two. For me, it was a visit from my niece in Dallas who brought her 9-month-old baby boy, Alton, and her 2 1/2 –year-old girl, Elise. Because both little girls are two, Adrianne and I were discussing their behavior and we were amused because we found out that one of the favorite sayings of both girls was, “I can do it myself.” These tiny ones, are already showing an independent spirit, that unique tendency to say, “Let me alone, I’m capable.”
All too often in our, “I can take care of myself world,” we shun and deny assistance because we believe it would be a huge sign of weakness for us to reach out and ask, “Could you help me?” Unfortunately, this independence driven philosophy spills over into our spiritual life and before you know it, we think we can fix ourselves. Sadly, there are many religious theories being propagated today that offer this buffet to you and me. Take your pick from a table laden with all kinds of delicious ideas that appeal directly to our ego-driven lives. However, if we get to the very core of most of these “do-it-yourself” philosophies, we find that their origin came from a talking serpent in a beautiful garden called Eden when the serpent seduced Eve with the appealing idea that “In the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3: 5, K.J.V.). This idea, that we can be as smart as God, is still alluring and when added to the notion that we are all little gods, these delusional ideas take us down a path that doesn’t require a Saviour and certainly doesn’t need repentance. “I’m sorry,” becomes obsolete for how can “gods” make a mistake. And who needs a Saviour or Redeemer if we have the power to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps?
Lest you and I fall prey to these destructive notions, we find that in Numbers 21, God has chosen to leave a record of what happens when His children embrace a, “I can do it myself, I don’t need you,” attitude.
The first verses of Numbers 21 contain a record of the people of Israel asking for God’s help – and as our faithful God always does -- He came to the immediate aid of His children. But after God’s impressive deliverance and His kindness in rescuing His children from King Arad of Canaan, the Israelites became discouraged. How soon they forgot and hurled at God the question, “What have you done for me lately?”
Their grumbling and murmuring was over the top and God’s protective hand was lifted and serpents invaded the camp. I don’t find this story unusual at all. Having grown up in the desert, I’ve run into snakes more times than I can count. In fact, not too long ago I went outside at dusk and as I walked up the path to our front door, I heard an all too familiar sound – the rattles of a rattlesnake. Slowly I stepped back as I recognized that if I had taken one more step forward, my left foot would have been on top of a coiled snake.
Without the protection of God, it isn’t surprising fiery snakes came into the tents and bit men, women and children. What a different tune the people began to sing now that they were facing death. “God help us,” they wailed. And Moses, who had been criticized and derided by the people, was now begged to pray to God. “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee,” they pleaded (Numbers 21: 7, K.J.V.).
At this point Moses could have said, “You got it right you stiff-necked, ungrateful bunch of gripers.” But this dear man, the Bible tells us, “Prayed for the people.” And our merciful God, who could have said that the repentance of His children didn’t mean much because they had gone back on their word so often, instead told Moses, “make a serpent of brass, and put it on a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten anyone, when they beheld the serpent of brass, they lived” (Numbers 21: 9).
The people weren’t told they could fix themselves. They weren’t told they had the power inside of themselves to heal their illness. Furthermore, they weren’t even told to look at Moses or some other human. They were instructed to “Look Up and Live.” While it was a wily serpent in a tree that brought pain, suffering and heartache into the lives of God’s earthly children, drawing up them down into a pit of destruction, the brass serpent in the desert was a representation of God’s Son Jesus, our Saviour who promised, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men (women) unto me” (John 12: 32, K.J.V.).
What a lesson for us today. We may look down at ourselves and become hopelessly discouraged or choose to look up and live. And if you are worried that like God’s children long ago, your promises have been ropes of sand and you fear God will turn a deaf ear to you because your words of repentance seem so hollow, then I’d like to share this beautiful Proverb which states, “Years of repentance are necessary in order to blot out a sin in the eyes of men, but one tear of repentance suffices with God.” All we have to do is, “Look Up and Live.”
“Herein lies the glory, in that the high and lofty One, the God that inhabiteth eternity, and that has a high and holy place for His habitation, should choose to dwell with, and to be a companion of the broken in heart, and of them that are of a contrite spirit, yea, and here is also great comfort.”
“I was sinking deep in sin,
Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more.
But the Master of the Sea heard
My despairing cry, from the
Waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Souls in danger, look above;
Jesus completely saves.
He will lift you by His love
Out of the angry waves.
He’s the Master of the sea,
Billows His will obey,
He your Saviour wants to be,
Be saved Today.
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me!”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
(Available May 2009)