The Israelites left Mount Hor and went on the road toward the Red Sea, in order to go around the country of Edom. But the people became impatient on the way and grumbled at God and Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this desert? There is no bread and no water, and we hate this terrible food!”
So the Lord sent them poisonous snakes; they bit the people, and many of the Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we grumbled at you and the Lord. Pray that the Lord will take away these snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a bronze snake, and put it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, that person will live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then when a snake bit anyone, that person looked at the bronze snake and lived. (New Century Version)
Impatience and irritability. Grumbling and complaining. Show me a person with ants-in-their-pants and I will show you a person who bellyaches and squawks like an old chicken. The antsy person sticks their hand in the glove of criticism, loudly griping about missed expectations for all to hear. Little do they realize that venomous snakes are slithering toward them, attracted by the continual vibrations of complaint.
The ancient Israelites were miraculously delivered from Egyptian bondage by the mighty hand of God. But the celebration soon turned sour. Millions of people were out in the desert, discovering they had no food or water.
There is no account of the people using their spiritual connection with God to ask for help. Instead, their reflexive response was to grumble against God and God’s appointed leader Moses.
God had enough of their constant complaints. The Lord had repeatedly shown mercy and committed love to the people over-and-over again. Yet, they kept putting on their grumpy faces any time something didn’t go their way.
God kept showing patience toward the people, but the people kept demonstrating impatience toward God.
If you stop and think about the pathology of our own impatience and complaining (which we all do – come on, admit it) you’ll likely discover that at the heart of it all is a picture in your mind of how you think circumstances ought to go for you to be happy.
The Israelites expected a nice clean break from Egypt with a smooth transition into the Promised Land. They didn’t sign up for hard circumstances and a bunch of adversity and trouble getting there.
We aren’t so different. Believers go to faith gatherings expecting to be fed and encouraged. Students expect that school will be enjoyable and that they’ll get a good paying job after graduation. Employees expect to go to work and have healthy working relationships and a good boss. Parents expect their kids to listen and obey. You expect your friend or spouse to give you focused attention, the weather to be better, the drivers on the road to be respectful, the little plastic things on the end of your shoelaces to last for the life of your shoes….
And it doesn’t happen, or at least fails to go as planned. So, what happens when all those expectations aren’t realized?
In a perfect world, we would always respond in a reasoned, wise, and healthy manner. But if we’re feeling like we’re in an emotional place of insecurity out in the desert, our response is more likely to be an impatient and complaint-filled litany about how things are all screwed up.
A great deal of disobedience, bad behavior, angry speech, and poor decision-making has its origins in impatience.
The minute you become impatient, take a long deep breath before you make your next mental decision. Check-in with yourself. Be mindful of what your real expectations are for the circumstance or person in the present moment of becoming upset. Make the decision, from the very beginning, not to complain or argue. Instead, choose to say what you want without grumbling.
It is truly possible to stand for holiness, live for righteousness, and uphold the words and ways of Jesus without being a jerk about it through impatient sighs, annoying facial expressions, and terse words of carping at another person who is made in God’s image.
Monitor yourself throughout the day today. Notice the times you become annoyed. Stop and take a minute to analyze what you are expecting to unfold throughout the day. Instead of grumbling, ask God to strengthen your faith through your upcoming events and encounters.
God is there to help you, and not to pick on you. If you find yourself having made a poor decision and are suffering the consequences of it, the way of dealing with it isn’t to avoid it. One of the reasons God instructed Moses to make a snake is to clearly demonstrate to the people that they must go through their problems and not try and get around them.
Fortunately, in Christianity, Jesus becomes our bronze snake of deliverance:
In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life. (John 3:14-15, MSG)
Holy God, your patience is incredible in the face of human impatience. Yet, your boundaries are firm, and you will not put up with our petulant ways forever. Help me to live into the model of your Son, the Lord Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit are attentive to come alongside me to your own glory and honor. Amen.