Have you ever been bitten by a poisonous snake and felt its lethal effect coursing through your veins? I have. No, I never have been snagged by the fangs of a rattlesnake or cobra, but I been attacked by other kinds of snakes that inject their poison of hate, bitterness, irritation, discouragement, hopelessness, fear, depression and worry through my mind, my heart and my body.
“Please Lord,” I plead. “Take these poisonous snakes away.”
But thus far he’s chosen a different remedy.
To understand, let’s go back to a story from the Old Testament where the Israelites grew impatient with God. They couldn’t figure out what he was up to and began to grumble and complain. “Why Lord? Why this? And, by the way, we hate this horrible manna!” (See Numbers 21:4-9 for the story.)
To make matters worse, God sent poisonous snakes among the people and many were bitten and died. They began to cry out, “We’re sorry. We’ve sinned against God and against you, Moses. Ask God to take away these snakes.”
As you and I do, the Israelites wanted God to remove the problem. But that’s not what he did. The snakes remained but the Lord 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”
God knew that the poisonous snakes were not Israel’s true problem. Deep down, Israel’s problem was unbelief. They didn’t trust God enough to make it through the wilderness. They still didn’t trust in who he was and what he could do. Their lack of faith was going to get them in serious trouble throughout their long trek through the wilderness.
God knew that faith in him alone was central to their well-being. In order for them to actually learn to trust him more, he sent the poisonous snakes and then provided the bronze pole to remind them to look up. Every time they felt a snake bite them, they had a choice. They could die, or they could look up and receive healing. Which would it be?
Although this story sounds bizarre and difficult for us to fully comprehend, I believe God sent the snakes to the Israelites as one of those mysterious gifts that feels and looks more like a curse or a punishment than a blessing. But each time they looked up and received healing, their faith grew stronger.
In the same way, when we get caught up in the toxins of poisonous snakes that are biting around our ankles, God has provided the same remedy for you and me as well. Jesus told Nicodemus, a respected Jewish religious leader something similar when he confronted Nichodemus’ unbelief. Jesus said, “If you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”
Then Jesus went on to tell him, “And 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 3:12,14)
God knows that trusting him is central to our well-being. We cannot make it through this journey called life without it. Eternal life isn’t just for heaven someday. Eternal life starts now (John 17:3) by knowing and trusting God with the details of our lives.
I have learned that God doesn’t always remove the hardship or the “snakes” that are biting at our ankles because they can help build our faith. But we have a part to play. As soon as we feel the bite, we must work to take our eyes off the snakes and fix our gaze on Christ. (See Hebrews 12:1-4; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10,18.)
When we choose to take our eyes off our difficult circumstances, or toxic emotions and look up we gain a new perspective. Our gaze is fixed on something bigger and greater than the pain we’re experiencing and our by changing our focus, we actually find relief from its poison.
Next time you feel the snakes biting at your ankles, look up.