Read Numbers 21:1-9.
The Lord had provided for the community of Israel throughout their journey in the wilderness, even when they grumbled and complained. At this point in the narrative, their journey took them near the southern edge of the Promised Land. It was here that they encountered the Canaanites, who engaged them in battle and captured some prisoners. The Israelites did an uncharacteristic thing after this battle. They made a vow to God, asking for a victory. This was actually a step of faith for them instead of their usual pattern. God did give them a victory against the Canaanites at a place which they named Hormah.
As they turned to make a strategic move around the Edomite territory, near the Red Sea, they reached into their playlist and began the “Back to Egypt Blues” albeit with some updated lyrics about the long journey and lack of good food. It is significant that they began another round of complaining near the Red Sea, the site of one of God’s most spectacular miracles and rescues for His people. But, the people assumed that to be enslaved in Egypt was preferable to obedience to God.
God’s punishment took the form of poisonous snakes, whose bites caused inflammation and a burning sensation. The people went back to Moses and confessed their sin and asked him to intercede with God for them. God’s orders to Moses were unique in fashioning an image of a snake and elevating it on a pole. If a person looked up at the snake, then he would be healed. Jesus Himself used this account to foretell His coming death on the cross so that one who place his faith in Jesus’s sacrifice could be saved.
Just as the Israelites had a heart problem with their self-centered complaining and disobedience, we have a heart problem with our sin nature. Thankfully, God has also provided a solution to our sin problem which requires us to place our faith in His provision of the cross and the sacrificial death of Jesus.