In a letter to Governor Dinwiddie on May 29, 1754, George Washington wrote, "Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude."
Washington understood the destructive power of ingratitude, which the Israelites experienced in our passage today. This was not the first time they had complained (see Num. 20:3). But this instance occurred right after the Lord had given them a great military victory over a group of Canaanites, a direct response to their prayer request (vv. 1–3). Despite the reality that they did have manna, the people complained that they had no bread—and they were sick of manna (v. 5; see Ex. 16:35).
The people had bread from heaven six days a week, but they were ungrateful. They wanted something else, including a change in their circumstances. God responded by sending poisonous snakes among the people, causing many deaths (v. 6). The dramatic loss of life provoked repentance and a plea for mercy from God. Moses interceded, and the Lord provided a way of salvation.
The bronze snake on a pole would heal all those who were bit by a snake if they would look at it. The Gospel of John reveals how this bronze snake symbolized the salvation provided through Jesus, who would also be lifted up on a cross (John 3:14). All those afflicted by sin would find salvation by turning to Him and trusting in who He is and what He has done.
In a literal way, the ingratitude of the Israelites led to death. They had bread from heaven to meet their needs, but they rejected it. In a spiritual way, the rejection of the true Bread from Heaven leads to death. We must embrace God’s saving gift in order to have life.
Apply the Word
If you are unsure whether you have salvation and eternal life, you can trust in Jesus Christ today. He suffered death and was raised from the dead to pay the penalty for our sins of ingratitude and rebellion against God. Study these verses: Acts 16:31, Romans 6:23, and Romans 10:9–10. If you’d like to talk to someone about this decision, call 1-888-NEED HIM.