Archbishop Nicholas Okoh




 AS we join Nigeria and Nigerians to celebrate the 55th Independent anniversary, it is important we draw the attention of all to the urgent call given out recently by the Primate of All Nigeria, Most Rev. Nicholas D. Okoh, to all Christians and in particular, Anglican faithful at the just concluded Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion Standing Committee Meeting held at Saint James’ Cathedral, Akure, from September 21 to 25, 2015. The theme of his message was based on ‘Look And Live.’ This call was made to enable believers avoid the mistakes of the Israelites that resulted in the death of 23,000 persons in a day during their wilderness journey.

Unarguably, it was God that took the initiative to liberate Israel from Egypt after their sojourn there for 450 years. As slaves, they were maltreated. And when they cried unto God for liberation, He sent Moses to lead them out of slavery. It is important to note that the journey could have taken just 40 days, but Israel’s stubbornness and disobedience made it last 40 years.

But more worrisome in the journey was the fact that they murmured and complained of lack of food and water. They forgot how God provided them quails, when they needed food and water to quench their thirst. It is true that Moses in providing the water out of annoyance struck the rock instead of speaking to it. However, water was made available to them. Therefore, Israel’s greatest mistake was that it became impatient and so spoke harshly against God and Moses. The Bible records thus: ‘And the people spoke against God and against Moses: why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water and our soul loathes this worthless bread,’ Num. 21v5.

It is not surprising, however, that God quickly reacted against their impatience: ‘So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people and many of the people of Israel died,’ Num. 21v6. To this type of attitude, Primate Okoh noted, ‘it is a dangerous thing for man to receive the grace of God in vain or treat the patience of God with disdain.’ On the other hand, Carson et al (1995) in reaction to the poor behaviour of the Israelites, too, notes that: ‘the fiery snakes may have been a kind of adder, which is known in the sandy wastes of Sinai and which is very poisonous. So, the wilderness through which they had passed was all along infested with those fiery serpents (as appears in Deuteronomy 8v15), but hitherto God had wonderfully preserved His people from being hurt by them, till now that they murmured, to chastise them for which these reptiles, now invade it. Justly are those made to feel God’s judgments that are not thankful for His mercies.’ Here, we can also juxtapose the disappointment in Shakespeare’s King Lear, where Lear angrily spoke against one of his daughters, Goneril principally by appealing to nature through the gods to make her sterile for being a thankless child. What a judgment!

Let it be noted that God is good, kind and merciful; but at the same time, does not overlook sin. For Him, no sin should go unpunished. The case of Adam, Eve and the serpent is highly illustrative, Gen. 3. This, therefore, should serve as a note of warning to all believers not to take God for a ride.

Yes, the fiery serpent was a direct punishment to Israel’s misdeeds, but God in His mercy provided a solution. God now spoke to Moses: ‘… make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live … and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived,’ Num. 21v8-9. To preserve life therefore, all those who looked at the bronze serpent lived. Unfortunately though, there may be some who may not have looked at the bronze serpent and so may not have survived.

Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre,
Delta State.


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