1. COMPLAINING AGAIN
a. Toward the end of their pilgrimage through the desert, how did the people of Israel still complain against God and against Moses? Numbers 21:5.
b. How did Moses try to convince them that their complaints were unjustified? Deuteronomy 8:3, 4, 14–16.
“Every day of their travels [the Israelites] had been kept by a miracle of divine mercy. In all the way of God’s leading they had found water to refresh the thirsty, bread from heaven to satisfy their hunger, and peace and safety under the shadowy cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Angels had ministered to them as they climbed the rocky heights or threaded the rugged paths of the wilderness. Notwithstanding the hardships they had endured, there was not a feeble one in all their ranks. Their feet had not swollen in their long journeys, neither had their clothes grown old.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 429.
2. THE BRAZEN SERPENT
a. What answer did the Lord give to the complaints of the people? Numbers 21:6.
“Because [Israelites] they had been shielded by divine power they had not realized the countless dangers by which they were continually surrounded. In their ingratitude and unbelief they had anticipated death, and now the Lord permitted death to come upon them. The poisonous serpents that infested the wilderness were called fiery serpents, on account of the terrible effects produced by their sting, it causing violent inflammation and speedy death. As the protecting hand of God was removed from Israel, great numbers of the people were attacked by these venomous creatures.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 429.
b. What did the people do when they understood that, since they had been complaining without any good reason, God gave them something to complain about? Numbers 21:7. How is this a lesson for us?
“Now there was terror and confusion throughout the encampment. In almost every tent were the dying or the dead. None were secure. . . . All were busy in ministering to the sufferers, or with agonizing care endeavoring to protect those who were not yet stricken. No murmuring now escaped their lips. When compared with the present suffering, their former difficulties and trials seemed unworthy of a thought.
“The people now humbled themselves before God. They came to Moses with their confessions and entreaties. ‘We have sinned,’ they said, ‘for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee’ (Numbers 21:7). Only a little before, they had accused him of being their worst enemy, the cause of all their distress and afflictions. But even when the words were upon their lips, they knew that the charge was false; and as soon as real trouble came they fled to him as the only one who could intercede with God for them.”—Ibid., pp. 429, 430.
“When we see our sinfulness we should not despond and fear that we have no Saviour, or that He has no thoughts of mercy toward us. At this very time He is inviting us to come to Him in our helplessness and be saved.”—Ibid., p. 431.
3. “LOOK AND LIVE”
a. What was Moses commanded to do to solve the problem with the serpents, and with what result? Numbers 21:8, 9.
“Some would not believe that merely gazing upon the metallic image would heal them; these perished in their unbelief. Yet there were many who had faith in the provision which God had made. Fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters were anxiously engaged in helping their suffering, dying friends to fix their languid eyes upon the serpent. If these, though faint and dying, could only once look, they were perfectly restored.
“The people well knew that there was no power in the serpent of brass to cause such a change in those who looked upon it. The healing virtue was from God alone. In His wisdom He chose this way of displaying His power. By this simple means the people were made to realize that this affliction had been brought upon them by their sins. They were also assured that while obeying God they had no reason to fear, for He would preserve them.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 430.
b. What counsel should our ministers offer to habitual complainers today? Philippians 2:14; Isaiah 45:22; 1 Peter 5:6, 7.
“The lifting up of the brazen serpent was to teach Israel an important lesson. They could not save themselves from the fatal effect of the poison in their wounds. God alone was able to heal them. Yet they were required to show their faith in the provision which He had made. They must look in order to live. It was their faith that was acceptable with God, and by looking upon the serpent their faith was shown. They knew that there was no virtue in the serpent itself, but it was a symbol of Christ; and the necessity of faith in His merits was thus presented to their minds. . . .
“While the sinner cannot save himself, he still has something to do to secure salvation. ‘Him that cometh to Me,’ says Christ, ‘I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6:37). But we must come to Him; and when we repent of our sins, we must believe that He accepts and pardons us. Faith is the gift of God, but the power to exercise it is ours. Faith is the hand by which the soul takes hold upon the divine offers of grace and mercy.”—Ibid., pp. 430, 431.
4. “THERE IS NO OTHER NAME”
a. What lesson in connection with the brazen serpent became very clear in the teaching of Jesus when He was among His disciples? John 3:14–17.
“All who have ever lived upon the earth have felt the deadly sting of ‘that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan’ (Revelation 12:9). The fatal effects of sin can be removed only by the provision that God has made. The Israelites saved their lives by looking upon the uplifted serpent. That look implied faith. They lived because they believed God’s word and trusted in the means provided for their recovery. So the sinner may look to Christ and live. He receives pardon through faith in the atoning sacrifice. Unlike the inert and lifeless symbol, Christ has power and virtue in Himself to heal the repenting sinner.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 431.
b. Through whom, alone, can the blessings of the covenant of grace become ours? John 6:37; Acts 4:12.
“Nothing but the righteousness of Christ can entitle us to one of the blessings of the covenant of grace. There are many who have long desired and tried to obtain these blessings, but have not received them, because they have cherished the idea that they could do something to make themselves worthy of them. They have not looked away from self, believing that Jesus is an all-sufficient Saviour. We must not think that our own merits will save us; Christ is our only hope of salvation. . . .
“When we trust God fully, when we rely upon the merits of Jesus as a sin-pardoning Saviour, we shall receive all the help that we can desire. Let none look to self, as though they had power to save themselves. Jesus died for us because we were helpless to do this. In Him is our hope, our justification, our righteousness. When we see our sinfulness we should not despond and fear that we have no Saviour, or that He has no thoughts of mercy toward us. At this very time He is inviting us to come to Him in our helplessness and be saved.”—Ibid.
5. HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
a. Why and how were many Israelites hesitant to receive the help God had sent when they were attacked by the serpents? Hebrews 3:9, 17–19.
“Many of the Israelites . . . continued to lament their wounds, their pains, their sure death, until their strength was gone, and their eyes were glazed, when they might have had instant healing.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 432.
b. How are we warned not to follow the example of the Israelites? Hebrews 3:7, 8, 12–14.
“Many are unwilling to accept of Christ until the whole mystery of the plan of salvation shall be made plain to them. They refuse the look of faith, although they see that thousands have looked, and have felt the efficacy of looking, to the cross of Christ. Many wander in the mazes of philosophy, in search of reasons and evidence which they will never find, while they reject the evidence which God has been pleased to give. They refuse to walk in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, until the reason of its shining shall be explained. All who persist in this course will fail to come to a knowledge of the truth. God will never remove every occasion for doubt. He gives sufficient evidence on which to base faith, and if this is not accepted, the mind is left in darkness. If those who were bitten by the serpents had stopped to doubt and question before they would consent to look, they would have perished. It is our duty, first, to look; and the look of faith will give us life.”—Ibid.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. When the Israelites still complained as they approached the border of Canaan, what lesson did the Lord teach them?
2. What counsel should be given to habitual murmurers?
3. How can repenting sinners be healed?
4. What happened to those who hesitated to receive God’s help for their snake bites?
5. How are many of us following today the example of the Israelites?