The first two words people use to describe my wife are typically “sweet” and “quiet.” And though that quietness wears away with familiarity, those initial adjectives are fairly accurate. Often, this is the way I look at this bride of mine.
This was the case the other night. Feeling particularly tired, Hannah went up to bed by herself. Normally, we make this trek together, but since it was scarcely past nine, I just couldn’t do it. She’d snooze delicately next to me for hours, while I, more the night owl, would toss and turn like I was covered in bed bugs. No, my waiting was better for both of us.
After a few hours of reading, I crept upstairs to our bedroom. A soft lamp had been left on, but mostly the room was dark. I tiptoed to the bathroom and quietly did my business: daintily I scrubbed my teeth, changed my clothes, and put my things in place. I decided to leave my socks on—though wearing socks to bed is an accursed thing—figuring their extra padding would aid my effort at stealth as I slinked across the floor toward the bed. My wife is so sweet after all, how could I live with waking her from her tender dreams?
I got to my side of the bed and gently readied the covers for my entrance. I reached my right hand up to the bedside lamp and pinched the on-off lever.
As I slowly turned that lever, trying to soften the lamp’s ‘click,’ suddenly the lump on my bed was uncovered, crazy hands and fearsome face flying at me screaming: AAARRRRRR!
I yelled and jumped back from the bed as this monster that strangely resembled my wife came lunging. She then morphed back into my wife, a laughing version no less, and returned to her side of the bed. I stood aghast against the second-story window next to the bed wondering how close I had been to backing right out of it. She was so proud of her scare tactic that, in that moment, I almost wished I had fallen out the window just to make her feel bad every time she looked at me in my back brace: yeah, not so funny now, eh?
I was thinking about this trauma and reading the Bible: a scary combination. I was trying to focus, but as I finished up the Book of Numbers, my wife’s attack continued to be on my mind. How long had she lain there in wait? Where did this surprise scare come from? Why wasn’t I ready for it!
Rather than answers, I was left with a picture of sin.
So often in my life I tuck my sin away in my heart. I make a nice little bed for it, and cover it up snug as can be. And then, if not in bed with the wicked ways of my flesh, I tiptoe around the sin: if I don’t bother it, it won’t bother me. And then, just in case I ever need it, I can wake it gently in the night; no one will have to know. But that way of living assumes that I have control of my sin (or control at all, for that matter).
Like my wife that night, the hidden-away sin lies in wait, waiting to devour us as soon as our guard is down. The Israelites dealt with this. Wandering about the wilderness, they were continually oppressed by lingering sin. They’d grumble. Get called out. Swear to never grumble again. But then instead of solidifying that oath with truth and vanquishing it through the power of the Lord (and His power alone), they’d tote it around in their hearts, all covered up, but still lumpy and present beneath the surface. And then, of course, the going would get tough, and low and behold, more grumbling. Where did that come from? They probably thought. Well, it was right there where they had left it.
And then I went back to Numbers 21. I love that. That sinful lump jumps up again. The Lord delivers the people and a few verses later, BAM, they complain against God and His leadership. They wish they were back in Egypt … again. It is a shame they didn’t have blogs or fancy phones with voice recorders back then. That way, they could have gone back to one of their entries from Egypt and read or heard the report: Egypt is awful. They treat us bad. They make us work too long and too hard. They increase our work without increasing our supplies. They are cruel. It is hot. This is the worst. I wish we could leave. Boy, I’d rather be any place than here. Wish God would free us. Man, Egypt stinks.
But they didn’t have anything like this, and they apparently didn’t have very good memories because again they were complaining: the very thing they had been busted on so many times. This time, though, God decides to go with a method known as “Direct Intervention.” This wasn’t the passive aggressive technique of reality TV or the political correct manner of the modern world: You guys (and girls) all of you are trying really hard and doing really, really super. I’m so proud of so much that you (and you) bring to the table (or chair if you prefer that). The only thing that needs changing, if you (and you and you) want to … and again this is totally up to all of you to decide for yourselves and … No. God chose a different course. Verse 6 reads: “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many of the people of Israel died.”
Yikes! I’m not glad that people died or anything, but they had been warned and warned and warned. And, come on, it is kind of cool. Think of this in your own life: One minute you are complaining that your steak is too chewy and the next your dining room is swimming with snakes; yeah, I think we’d change some of our attitudes if snakes were in the forecast. After complaint after complaint, finally I think God was just like, (Sigh) Gabriel, send in the snakes . . .
As the Israelites are running around in a scene right out of a Super Mario Bros. desert level, the people find Moses and beg him to intercede for them. I’m sure Moses played it coy, too. He was probably like, “I don’t know, guys. You have been complaining a lot …”
But Moses, like a good leader, follows God’s command even though it seems a ridiculous remedy to the situation: “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard …”
Really, Lord? That is the solution here?
Moses did this and instructed that anyone bitten by the serpents needed only to look to the snake on the standard to be spared. I’m sure some of these jokers still didn’t get it. They’d writhe around proudly refusing to submit, and they’d die. But for those who’d look, life awaited.
The fact is this, we are sinful. Even the best among our race have moments of selfishness and pride. Really, the distinguishing factor between our evaluation of the best of us and worst of us is merely the expression of sin: the worst commits murder in the streets; the best murders only in his heart.
Constantly, we will be bitten by sin, but the answer isn’t to dwell on the snake that bit us, nor is it to pretend the bite never happened. We aren’t to adopt the serpent or cover it up. The instruction then is the same as it is now: Look to the serpent on the standard. Christ became sin for us. Daily we are to look to Him despite the stinging bites of the world and our tendency to wallow about in the snake pit. The bites can only kill us if we let them.
The question isn’t if we sin. We do. The question is what we focus on.
My wife can stay in the bed. She can share our home and continue to get kicks from scaring me out the second-floor window. My sin can’t. It is not quiet or sweet, no matter how much it tries to convince me otherwise. It can’t win my attention or affection. I won’t coddle it and keep it, knowing it only waits to attack. Instead, I will keep my eyes fixed on the serpent on the standard, for there is my hope, my life.