Formations lesson for July 27: The Mercy of God
July 11 2003 by Tommy Bratton , Numbers 21:1-9

Formations lesson for July 27: The Mercy of God | Friday, July 11, 2003

Friday, July 11, 2003

Formations lesson for July 27: The Mercy of God

By Tommy Bratton Numbers 21:1-9

A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, "Do you have anything to say?" The monk replied, "Food bad." After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to say something. He said, "Bed hard." Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, "I quit." "It doesn't surprise me a bit," said his abbot, "You've done nothing but complain ever since you got here."

A Vow to the Lord In the first three verses of Numbers 21, the Israelites put their trust in God above their own strength. The people make a vow to the Lord that if He will give them military success over the Canaanites, then the Israelites will destroy their towns. The place was called Hormah, which means both "destruction" and "devotion." When God fulfilled His end of the bargain, the Israelites destroyed the city in devotion to God.

After this unexpected success over their enemies, the Israelites set out again toward the place God had promised. God had heard their vow and had blessed them with victory. What a glorious moment for the wandering people!

Impatience Verse 4 tells the reader that the Israelites turned south by way of the Red Sea and bypassed the land of Edom. It is possible that this indirect route helped the Israelites avoid other powerful enemies that they may have faced.

However, the Israelites once again become impatient. They returned to their repeated complaint about the lack of food and water. They again questioned both Moses and God concerning their trek in the wilderness - "Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die?" How quickly the Israelites forgot the blessings of God and their military victory over the Canaanites.

How often do we forget God's guidance and blessing in our past and His promise to go before us in the future? Remembering and trusting are the only way we can overcome the impatience that tempts us to complain against a loving and powerful God.

Consequence Throughout the Hebrew Bible, there are accounts of punishment toward those who complain and murmur against God. In this account, poisonous serpents are sent by God to plague the people. The people have forgotten God's provisions and protection throughout their journey. Their lack of faith is an affront to God who only calls them to trust.

The Israelites only thought they had it bad. When the serpents come, many of them die and all are afraid. In the face of this horrible punishment, they recognize their sin against God. They quickly go to Moses and ask him to pray that the serpents be removed. So Moses does. Moses trusts God's faithfulness and relies on God's mercy to bring them through this challenge.

Faith and Mercy The Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent and to place it on a pole, so that whenever someone was bitten, they may look on the serpent of bronze and live. In response to the prayer of Moses, God does not remove the poisonous serpents from among the people. Instead, God offers mercy on those who trust in his promise to heal. The same God who sent the serpents provides the antidote to their bite.

The act of going to and looking upon the bronze serpent was an act of faith. The bronze serpent was not a magical idol, but rather a symbolic reminder of the God who was able to bring people out of suffering by His steadfast love and mercy. Yet God made this healing conditional on the response of the injured to come and look and remember.

God is merciful to us, yet He calls us to remember and to trust. When we forget the mercy and the faithfulness of God, we wind up complaining about our present circumstances. But when we claim God's promises, we can confidently set out on the mission God has begun in us, until we reach that Promised Land.

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7/11/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tommy Bratton , Numbers 21:1-9 | with 0 comments
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