Two snakes: one in Genesis 3 and one in Numbers 21. Since I’ve spent the last few years knee-deep in the Exodus story, I finally made the connection between these slithery creatures the other day. Aha! I thought, these two snakes are connected.
The first snake, the one in Genesis, represents Satan or the Devil and our inclination to follow suggestions other than God’s. We say, with Flip Wilson, the comedian, and Eve, “the Devil made me do it!” Or with Adam, “It was Eve’s fault!” And we believe that some outside force can entice us to do things “we wouldn’t do!” We blame the other. What Eve and Adam did by eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil got them thrown out of the state of oneness with God, the Garden of Eden. That one act separated them from God.
Generations later in Exodus we see the obvious rebelliousness of the people throughout the long Israelite sojourn in the wilderness. It is especially clear in the generation that God rescued from Pharaoh –God called them “stiff-necked.” [Exodus 32:9] They complained about the lack of food and water, and God provided water and manna and quail daily. He met all their needs. At every turn, however, they asked why God rescued them only to let them die in the wilderness. That generation of Israelites longs to go back to Egypt, to the way things were, to their lives there, even if they were slaves in Egypt.
In the wilderness while God is visible both by day in a pillar of cloud and by night in a pillar of fire, they still don’t trust God. In incident after incident the rebelliousness plays out with those who rebelled dying by a plague, by fire, by the ground under their feet swallowing them up and more. I take these references to mean that our rebelliousness towards God must die, must be transformed.
Finally, in Numbers 21, when the Israelites were again impatient and complaining, God sent venomous snakes among them and many died from snake bites. The remaining people came to Moses and, confessing that they had sinned against God with their complaints, asked him to “pray that the Lord will take the snakes from us.” [v. 7]
When Moses prayed for them, God said in reply, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole so anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” [v. 8] After Moses made a snake of bronze, anyone who had been bitten could look at it and live. This was pretty much the last of the rebellions of the generation whom God had rescued. Their heirs were not so inclined to be rebels, as they were not attached to life in Egypt.
What is interesting to me about this second snake is that anyone bitten by it has only to look at it and they would be free of the snake’s bite. If we look at the snake, the Devil, Satan, or our own selves and see them for what they are, we are free of their influence—this is what I knew in my “Aha!” moment. Their poison is useless. They have no influence over us. They can no longer harm us.
I had learned this lesson about myself and the parts of me that are inclined to follow anyone-else-but-God: If I look at myself seeking the truth about me, and own who I am and what I have said and done, and all that I have experienced in life, well, then I am freed from whatever guilt and shame I have carried because of these past events. I can let them go and not have them influence what I am doing today. They are definitely apart of who I am and have formed me, influenced me, but they are not me, not the essence of who I am. And so I give up their power over me. And, therefore, I can now see God in my life more clearly; I can name the blessings He has brought me. I can listen to Him in all things and follow what He offers me. All because I have owned the less wonderful parts of myself.
And that is the lesson of these two snakes. Yes, there are influences, Satan and people and parts of ourselves which will pull us out of the arms of God, but if we will face all that we are and own it all, seeing the opposition to God clearly, we can be free of their influence. The underlying lesson is this: to seek an honesty about ourselves before God. After all, He already knows exactly who we are. And here is another echo of Jesus’ First Great Commandment: to love God with all of who we are. To do that we have to bring our whole selves, warts and all, to His altar. And to leave there on the altar the parts of us that don’t serve God. Thus, we have learned the lesson of the two snakes; we no longer are bound to follow anyone else, but God.
Questions to ponder over the week: Have I looked the snake in the eye? Has he lost his power over me? Or do I still tend to heed other influences than God within me? What would it take for me to admit all that is not of God in me, to put the tendency to go off of God’s agenda for me on the altar and let God transform that within me? What would be the first step for me towards admitting all that I am and have been?
Blessings for the week: May we be the people of God who have laid all our mistakes/sin/tendencies to go against God’s wishes on His altar and let Him heal who we are. May we be willing to admit our own sin and to forgive ourselves and others for our errancy. May we embrace ourselves and others for all that we are, and bring our full selves before God in love.
There are archives on this page of By the Waters that go back to 2011. Check them out on this page.
My book, “Exodus: Our Story, Too!” is available on amazon.com under my full name, Patricia Said Adams. One review states: Pat Adams has given herself a big task. Write an entire book about one major biblical story that allows the reader to go deeper and deeper into the twists and turns of his or her own life. Not only has she succeeded, she has knocked the ball out of the park.