In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites set out from Mount Hor and make their way through the blazing desert. In despair, they complain against God. When God sends “fiery serpents” that ensnare the people, they repent and cry out for mercy. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it high upon a pole. “And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Num 21:9, ESV).
The entire story occupies five verses. It’s a peculiar little episode in the grand narrative of God’s deliverance of his people. Jesus refers to the story in John 3:14. He, too, would be “lifted up” like the serpent in the wilderness, and those who looked to him would find everlasting life.
One of my favorite aspects of the Numbers story is what it requires of the afflicted. If a snake bites your foot, the natural reaction is to look down. We are all tempted to fixate on our troubles and our fears. In order to look for God, in order to be healed, we have to lift our eyes and see God’s provision.
The bronze serpent reappears in 2 Kings 18:4. Centuries have passed, and some have begun to worship the symbol. King Hezekiah destroys the bronze serpent, cutting it in pieces. It was a mere object—not God himself but God’s provision for a specific time and place. It was worthy of gratitude and remembrance, but not worship.
In the months since I came to serve Christianity Today, we have been practicing “lifting our eyes.” In the midst of our daily work, it’s easy to fixate on the challenges of the moment. Sometimes we need to stop, breathe, lift our eyes, and look for the new thing God is putting in front of us.
In these president’s notes in coming months, ...1
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