1 The Canaanite king of Arad lived in the Southern Desert of Canaan, and when he heard that the Israelites were on their way to the village of Atharim, he attacked and took some of them hostage.
2The Israelites prayed, “Our Lord, if you will help us defeat these Canaanites, we will completely destroy their towns and everything in them, to show that they belong to you.”
3The Lord answered their prayer and helped them wipe out the Canaanite army and completely destroy their towns. That's why one of the towns is named Hormah, which means “Destroyed Place.”
4 The Israelites had to go around the territory of Edom, so when they left Mount Hor, they headed south toward the Red Sea. But along the way, the people became so impatient 5 that they complained against God and said to Moses, “Did you bring us out of Egypt, just to let us die in the desert? There's no water out here, and we can't stand this awful food!”
6Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes that bit and killed many of them.
7Some of the people went to Moses and admitted, “It was wrong of us to insult you and the Lord. Now please ask him to make these snakes go away.”
Moses prayed, 8and the Lord answered, “Make a snake out of bronze and place it on top of a pole. Anyone who gets bitten can look at the snake and be saved from death.”
9 Moses obeyed the Lord. And all of those who looked at the bronze snake lived, even though they had been bitten by the poisonous snakes.
Years of aimless wandering are drawing to a close and now the Israelites move toward taking the Promised Land. They learn quickly that they will not enter without opposition. The King of Arad attacks a generation of Israelites with little to no experience in warfare, taking some hostage. The Israelites must have been so afraid! Yet they do well: they ask God to help them defeat the Canaanites and promise to completely destroy their towns. God answers and helps them defeat the Canaanites and the Israelites name the site of their victory “Hormah,” which means “destruction.”This has deep meaning for them. 37 years earlier they had attempted to enter the land after God had condemned them to die in the wilderness for their unbelief and rebellion (Numbers 14).On that occasion they had been defeated at a place called “Hormah.”They have now come full circle – God has given them victory at the Canaanites’ “Hormah.”
And yet these children follow a great victory up with a colossal failure. They are forced to detour around Edom. While in the desert, they grumble about the lack of water and the awful food. God sends snakes (probably indigenous to the area) to bite the people and many die. They beg Moses to intercede for them and he graciously asks God to take away the snakes. God doesn’t answer exactly as they want, but does provide, instructing Moses to put an image of a bronze snake on a pole so the people could look at it and be healed. Moses, who could have been so frustrated by a new generation of whiners, prays for his people, and helps turn a story of failure into a story of redemption. Jesus refers to this story, stating that the “Son of Man must be lifted up.”I wonder if I would be as gracious as Moses, advocating for a people who are weak, pointing them to the cross. In the end, we are people who do not deserve, but constantly receive, mercy.
O loving Lord, you are just, yet merciful. You have provided your Son to turn my story of sin and failure into a story of redemption and reconciliation. Thank you for your love and sacrifice. May your Spirit lead me to pray for your mercy for the weak. This I ask in the name of the One who came, lived and died for mercy and forgiveness for all of us, Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.