This weeks reading includes Numbers 21, where we find the Israelites again complaining about food, water, and even the manna God continuously gives them! God says, ‘enough is enough’ and gave them something to really complain about: serpents whose bite was fatal.
After Moses prayed, the LORD had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole where anyone could look at it. And anyone who was bitten, and didn’t want to die, could look at the serpent on the pole and be healed.
One of the surprising things about this story comes much, much later. In fact, several hundred years (give or take) later. Long after this event, when Israel has been in the land for a long time, and there are kings over Israel, we find King Hezekiah reigning, and we are told that ‘he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.’ (2 Kings 18:1-4). One of the things King Hezekiah did was to destroy the serpent. Yes, it was still there! And over time, it had become an object of worship to the Israelites. A blessing of God had been turned into a snare! How could this have happened? Yet we see the same sort of thing today in our churches and synagogues.
Over time, we take God’s silence about something as an indirect approval.
God never told them not to keep the serpent after it had served its purpose, and no one, not a single leader prior, ever mentioned it. After all, it was God ordained, wasn’t it?
In the same way, we take teachings and traditions that may or may not have made sense at the time of their authorship, and over time, incorporate them into our worship, even though God’s word may speak against such practices. This practice is ripe throughout Christianity and Judaism. Christianity takes away from God’s word as Judaism adds to it, yet we find God saying, “do not add to or take away from my Word” (Deut. 4:2, echoed by Yeshua (Jesus) in Matt. 5:18-19).
In the same way, we can easily become insensitive to God’s blessing and even dislike it (the manna in the story). This should not be! That is why God tells us to remember His works. Over and over He tells us (even in the “10 commandments” – Exo. 20:8-11 as one example). That is why He gave us His calendar (see Lev. 23), which, unfortunately, Christianity has completely thrown out. This led, among other things, to modern Christianity’s focus only on the here and now, and sometimes the future.
To sum up, we need to always be willing to judge our own actions, traditions, and teachings by the word of God, and to be willing to change when we see something that isn’t in line with His word, even if goes against a centuries old teaching or tradition!
That God hasn’t judged all that we do that is against His word, and often even done “in His name,” is a wonderful manifestation of His grace and forgiveness through Yeshua. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t follow His word.