Love everyone and everything. Surrender your will, which calls for suspicion, hatred, and despair. And, instead, accept the will of all things with patience, mercy, and forgiveness.

This is your covenant, your agreement, your peace treaty with life: You will stop hating it, and it will stop hating you; you will love it, and it will love you. When one of you should falter (and it will happen, at least 490 times), then you must forgive them and yourself.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? / Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21, 22.

It helps me to have a symbol, a keepsake to remind me of my covenant with life. This is what I think of when life overwhelms me:

“And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but [Jesus] was asleep. / And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. / And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”—Matthew 8:24-26.

For Nicodemus, Jesus offered another story, one that a Pharisee would know.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—John 3:14.

Jesus concluded his dialogue with Nicodemus by referencing this bizarre, but strangely typical Old Testament story. Occurring in the fourth book of Moses, well into the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, the weirdest thing happened.

“And when King Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners.”—Numbers 21:1.

So the Canaanites busted the Jewish spies, and imprisoned them. God had kept the Israelites wandering in circles, in the wilderness, waiting for them to learn what they needed to be reborn in the Promised Land.

What’s funny and tragic about their time in God’s school is this: They learned the lesson, only to immediately forget it.

“And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.”—Numbers 21:2.

As with all my essays, whether or not this really happened is beside the point.

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other….”—Luke 16:13.

We can’t focus on the infinite reality of divinity, or treasure hunt through history and geography, while also paying attention to the lessons we need to enter the light, our land of milk and honey.

And there are two crucial lessons here: what happened to the Israelites, and Jesus’ larger point. To grasp the latter, we must first understand the former. No small feat, since, according to the gospels, most of the Jews never learned to live in God, in love, or to recognize their Messiah when he came.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”—Matthew 23:37.

Again, please don’t take this literally, as a slight against the Jewish people. I interpret the Bible as stories so that I can get to the point easier. And, whether we’re talking Old or New Testament, the Israelites represent us. We must be mindful of the warning that we tend to not recognize our good fortune, our personal messiahs.

Since the Jews symbolize us, and our struggle to follow God’s will, their time in the wilderness is our time on earth, as we learn and then forget, in times of trouble, the lessons we need to be born again.

The Canaanites, then, symbolize sin. As God’s people fought one army after another (sometimes winning, sometimes losing), so do we struggle with the benefits of loving one another, versus the self-gratification of following our own will.

“And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities….”—Numbers 21:3.

It was as if the Jews prayed, “Give us the strength, and, with your love, we will conquer our sins.” No matter how many times they asked for help, and got it, they were immediately ungrateful, and went right back to sinning. That’s why they were kept in the wilderness for so long.

Even after God, through Moses, parted the Red Sea, allowing them to pass, and then destroyed Pharaoh’s army with that same water, the Israelites complained right away. They had the nerve to mutter against God and Moses, even after singing a happy song about the miracle and their deliverance.

“And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”–Exodus 15:24.

Ungrateful punks! I would’ve left them in the wilderness right then and there. But, where everything about us is finite, everything about God is infinite, including patience.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”—Luke 21:19.

That’s not to say a loving father won’t spank his wayward child.

“And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.”—Numbers 21:5.

God just delivered the Canaanites into their hands, giving the Jews strength to overcome their sins. It was a miracle: divine intervention. By the way, that “light bread” they complained about was manna. Yes, that miracle food from God, which fed them when there was no other food in the desert. They whined about that. It wasn’t the first time, either.

“We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely: the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: / But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.”—Numbers 11:5, 6.

Isn’t their reaction almost comical? I think it’s hilarious. Then I remember that they represent us. That is how we react after being blessed.

Here’s where the heavenly Father spanks His ungrateful child.

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”—Numbers 21:6.

I can’t stop laughing as I write this. God didn’t just send venomous snakes to punish the Israelites. That would’ve been bad enough. No, he sent “fiery serpents.”

What does that even mean? Were the snakes on fire, but not burning up, like the bush?

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.”—Exodus 3:2.

I think that’s it, exactly. What an image, one of my favorites in all my Bible studies. Just imagine, hundreds and maybe thousands of fiery serpents…slithering at top speed, God speed…biting, and injecting not venom (perhaps), but fire!

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”—Matthew 3:11.

It’s all a big joke until a bunch of people die from fiery serpent venom. That’s enough to humble anyone. Humility brings about repentance. To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must admit we were wrong to be selfish, weak in our greed, foolish to think we could take on the whole world.

That’s what John the Baptist preached.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, / And saying, Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 3:1, 2.

Jesus began his ministry by teaching about repentance.

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, / And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”—Mark 1:14, 15.

Unfortunately, we arrive at repentance the hard way. We are so hard-headed and willful, that we require utter failure and ruin before bending our knee to God, as learned from the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”—Luke 15:21.

We think that we can’t possibly be forgiven. After all, we wasted our prodigal inheritance, rejected our father’s love, and crucified him, and complained about the miraculous manna, that nourished us when we were lost in the wilderness. But we forget that we are finite, with limited patience, rushed into hasty reactions, due to our short, painful lives. However, God is infinite.

“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.”—Numbers 21:7.

God’s love is infinite; God’s patience is infinite; God’s ability to feel everything we feel is also infinite.

“And the Lord said [to Moses, from the burning bush], I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.”—Exodus 3:7.

That’s one of the most touching lines about God from the Old Testament. God knows our sorrows: hence, the infinite patience. When it says that God knows our sorrows, keep in mind how the Old Testament normally uses the word know.

“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.”—Genesis 4:1.

As loving couples know each other, so God knows our sorrows: intimately, personally. Far from judging us, God empathizes with us.

After the Israelites repented, and Moses prayed to Him, God devised a fascinating cure for the plague of fiery serpents.

Keep in mind, Nicodemus pictured this whole story, as Jesus concluded his lesson on being born again.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”—Numbers 21:8.

For easy reference, here’s what Jesus said, to give Nicodemus a keepsake, a symbol to help his faith during troubled times, to strengthen him with God’s love, and be reborn.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—John 3:14.

With symbols, as with the Bible’s poetry (and most everything in life), there is an obvious, surface-level meaning; and there is the deeper, more thoughtful meaning. Our imaginations work on an involuntary level, as well as voluntarily.

A Christian sees a cross, and their imagination pictures Christ’s crucifixion, ascension, and rebirth. A musician sees a note on staff paper, and their imagination pictures middle-C, defining, relatively, every other note, and all the possible music. Married couples have their wedding rings; patriots, their flags; mathematicians, their operators; and on, and on.

Everything stands for a greater idea, even us, even Jesus.

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:15.

God’s empathy shows us how we should relate to each other. Jesus’ selfless, courageous love shows us how we can find peace: both within, and without.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace….”—John 16:33.

So Moses followed God’s will, and made a symbol that cured those poor, hard-headed Israelites.

“And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”—Numbers 21:9.

The hardcore literalist might think this was idol worship, violating one of God’s commandments.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image….”—Exodus 20:4.

However, God told told them to do this. Plus, it’s not the image that is important, but what it represents. The brass serpent symbolized God’s love: That’s what cured the people.

God sent the fiery serpents because the Israelites were thinking selfishly, instead of thanking God for their victory over the Canaanites, the conquering of their sins. They panicked during a crisis. Recall the Parable of the Sower.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; / Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”—Matthew 13:20, 21.

We all get tired, hungry, and weak form enduring the trials of our days. But that’s when we tend to sin. So stay mindful, even when you’re exhausted, and needing rest.

At such times, if we raise Jesus’ lessons in our hearts, when we picture him washing his disciples’ feet, calming the storm at sea, raising Lazarus from the dead, being lifted up on the cross, and lifted into the imaginations of people throughout the millennia…those of us who were lost, become found; those who can’t see how to love or forgive, see once more; those who can’t walk in the light, find renewed energy in their limbs; our blood, our thoughts are purified; we conquer the unbeatable Goliath, the powerful Canaanites, our habitual sins.

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:26.

We must plan ahead. We will panic; it will happen. At the worst possible moment, we forsake love, compassion, and forgiveness.

“And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”—Luke 22:34.

We declare war on each other, instead of fighting our sins.

“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite….”—Luke 6:42.

This is a natural projection of our weakness and fearful imaginations, involuntarily done, unless we stay mindful of God.

To remain aware, we need a symbol of God’s love, so that we remember to love each other as Jesus loves us, as God loves Jesus, as God loves the world.

“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”—John 14:20.

Choose an image, and make it a part of your personal covenant. Keep it close. Pray for this symbol to be revealed to you. Meditate on it. Be mindful of it. Chances are that you already know what it is: whatever makes you smile, feel safe, warm, and secure, whatever makes you feel loved, and feel like sharing love.

Find your heaven. It’s there, your land of milk and honey, waiting to welcome you home. Find it now, because your greatest trial is still to come: your revelation, your apocalypse, your day of judgment.

“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”—The Revelation 1:3.

Learn to call on your symbol. Learn to call on love, now, before you panic and sink into despair.

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”—Matthew 14:30.

Humble yourself. Admit your weakness, your insufficient will. Make every day the first day of school. Learn like a wide-eyed child. Love and accept everything around you. There is no separation. We are all of God, born of love.

This time of thoughtful light is Jesus’ gift. Embrace it. Listen to the Holy Spirit within you, as it guides you towards mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, and away from temptation.

Be born again.