So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. - Numbers 21:9 (NRSV)
A novel threat has invaded the camp of the Israelites. Poisonous snakes are biting people, and they’re dropping like flies. Everybody’s terrified. Can you imagine the talk?
“I heard it’s not really snakes.”
“Just hold your breath for ten seconds and the snakes won’t bite you.”
“Those snakes aren’t that fast. I dodged one yesterday. It’s only gonna affect the slow people.”
“If you get bitten, swallow a bucket of sand to soak up the poison.”
In the midst of the rumors and the panic, God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and hoist it up. The story doesn’t say how exactly it worked. Maybe it was a miracle. Maybe it was magic. Or maybe it was this: maybe Moses just forced them to truly look at what they were dealing with.
“This is what it is. This is what is killing you. Not a conspiracy. Not vampires. It’s snakes. These snakes. If you do not change how you live, you will get bitten sooner or later. This is what we’re going to do...”
I imagine Moses remembering how it had gone down for the Egyptians when they’d had their ten novel infestations, what a scared Pharaoh’s leadership had done to them, how in the end they’d been inundated by their leader’s stubbornness. I imagine Moses informing the Israelites, with calm clarity, exactly what needed to be done. I imagine the sweet relief of facts—even hard, sobering ones—and of firm, steady leadership.
I imagine them grumbling, changing, complying. I imagine them surviving.
I imagine them writing the tale down, in case God’s people ever face such a problem again.
Grant us leaders, facts, and self-control. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.