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God Heals Israel with a bronze snake


Faith instead of Complaint

Read Numbers 21:1-3

The next generation is beginning to emerge from the wilderness.  They encounter a Canaanite King named Arad.  He will be their first challenge and first conquest.  Fatefully, it was Arad who picked the fight.  See how people who hurt others ultimately hurt themselves in the end.  Being the aggressor, he took some of the Israelites as prisoners. But they wouldn’t be prisoners long. It is worth noting that the people, when attacked, didn’t complain. Instead, they cried out to the Lord and promised to destroy Arad and his cities if God would give them victory. The Lord heard their prayer. 


See Christ here: He was taken prisoner and was ultimately kept sure in a tomb. But God had the last word. His resurrection was not only His liberation but ours too!  


It has been said, “We may lose a battle, but we finally will triumph.”  

Like Christ, his people, under God’s hand, would gain the total victory. 


Moving forward, one would think that complaint was finally far from their hearts. Coming along the edge of the Red Sea by way of Mount Hor, the desolate land got the best of them. “They became discouraged along the way.”  Complaint would come to the forefront, yet again, and the Lord would send snakes to bite them.  Humbled, they would cry out.  In this story, we will see a remarkable yet curious picture of Christ in the lifting of the bronze snake.  

Tuesday: from faith to discouragement

Read Numbers 21:4

Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.” (Numbers 21:4, NKJV) 


The story is told that the devil once advertised his tools for sale at public auction. When the prospective buyers assembled, there was one oddly shaped tool, which was labeled: “Not for sale.”Asked to explain why this was, the devil answered:

“I can spare my other tools, but I cannot spare this one. It is the most useful implement that I have. It is called Discouragement, and with it I can work my way into hearts otherwise inaccessible. When I get this tool into a man’s heart, the way is open to plant anything there I may desire.”   


We shouldn’t be surprised that the people became discouraged along the way.  Discouragement is a very real thing. 

“A Christian’s chief occupational hazards are depression and discouragement.” 

John Stott


On tough ground, fatigue set in.  When fatigue sets in, discouragement is not far behind.  In that place, the devil was able to plant wicked thoughts, essentially that the Lord had abandoned them.   We must note that discouragement isn’t sin, but how we react in discouragement may certainly bring us into great sin.     


My wife and I were talking about discouragement and fatigue once.  Some trials had been long and tiring.  Long-awaited turns had not come. In times like this, the inward man feels death at work in him. Know this: The enemy is right there to extinguish life if he can.


Suzie said to me: “I’m seeking the Lord.”  Looking to encourage me, she said, 

“Are you?”


My answer was less than assuring but it was honest. “Seek sounds like a word with too much effort. Honestly? I’m ‘too gassed’ to seek. All I can do is look to the Lord. And that, I am doing.”    

That is something you will say when you are so weak, that God himself must do the heavy lifting. God himself must raise you. We are wise to look to the Lord in such times.  


When discouragement comes, as it will, we must be like David, who “encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”  1 Samuel 30:6   The Israelites didn’t take courage from all that God had done. Instead, they turned on him with complaint. 


Hear Christ here: These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”” (John 16:33, NKJV) 


the portrait of a rebel

Read Numbers 21:5-6

They allowed their discouragement to turn to indignation with God. Here we see the making of a rebel.  What hateful things to say against Moses and God.

 “Why have brought us out to die?”  “Our soul loathes this worthless bread.”  

The rebel curses God and those who speak on behalf of Him.   They had passed; it seemed, by the same rock, the same shrub and the same lizard a thousand times. Nothing ever seemed to change.  Things weren’t going their way.  Their passions took over and they grew more and more bitter inside, then at others, and finally bitter toward God.   


They became like Lieutenant Dan in Forest Gump, who cursed God and blamed him for things not going his way. 

Instead of remembering his mercies, they imagined him a tyrant.  


They hated the manna. That is: they hated Christ and they hated the Word. Those that are hungry for the Lord are hungry to hear from Him. Those that are not hungry for the Lord, have no appetite for it.   

If you will rebuke a rebel, you will feel his bite.  The Lord would interrupt any rebuke from Moses and immediately sent fiery snakes to bite them.  

They were either fiery by color, fiery by the pain of the bite or fiery with fever that preceded their death. It is likely that the serpents were fiery for all three reasons.  

But consider one more:


A man who was once used of God had left off the path to follow his lusts said later: 

“Everything this world promised me made me happy for a short time, but now every one of those things bite and gnaw on me like a burning worm.”  See Hebrews 11:25


Let us see Christ: Christians, we were all hostile toward God as these were. There is not a one of us that didn’t reject Him, His word and His will for our lives.   


For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7–8) 


As we will see in the bronze snake story, Christ was uplifted in death not only to heal rebels like them—but also rebels like us!  


Repentance in affliction

Read Numbers 21:7

See how they turn from their ways as they begin to see and feel the judgment of God. Affliction may drive the rebel to the Lord.  Psalm 78:34, Isaiah 26:16


O Lord, in distress they sought you; they poured out a whispered prayer when your discipline was upon them.” (Isaiah 26:16, ESV) 


They beg for intercession. They sense their own unworthiness to be heard.  They know Moses is lives closer to heaven and that they have been living closer to hell. 

It is often true that those who scorn you for holding their feet to good conscience are those who will seek you first when the Lord has broken them.  

“We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and we spoken against you.”  

The rebels are repenting. Repent means to have “have a change of mind”.  It means to “turn around and go the other way.” In my day it was called, “going straight.” Whatever you call it, it is going back to the one whom you have offended in heaven and saying, 

“It was me. It is me. I am the problem. Nobody else but me.”  


Let’s get this right: repentance is going back to God.  And even more so, it is the only way forward. 


There is hope for the one who will confess his sins:  “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13, NLT) 


See Christ here: He lives for our intercession.  We are always doing right when we turn to Christ for his holy intercession. We don’t turn to Mary to intercede. We don’t turn to the priest to mediate. We can and should directly appeal to Christ.


Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” (Hebrews 7:25, NLT) 


He will never turn away those who come to him for help.  He will receive you: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) 


The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56–57, ESV) 


They certainly felt the sting of their sin. But the victory of Christ comes their way.


christ, the bronze snake

Read Numbers 21:8-9

One of Israel’s teachers came to Jesus in the middle of the night.  Nicodemus didn’t want to openly associate with this controversial Rabbi, at least not yet.  But the ministry of Christ was drawing his hungry soul.  At one point, Jesus directed the reputable teacher to eternal life in God’s “only begotten son.” We all know the verse as John 3:16. What some of us might not know are the verses that immediately precede it:


“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–15, NKJV).


Nicodemus knew the story well. 


Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery (Bronze) serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”” (Numbers 21:8, NKJV) 


Jesus reveals to him that Christ is that serpent and source of salvation. What does this mean?

  • In the Bible, bronze is typically understood to represent man
  • The snake represents the devil and his work, which is sin.
  • Christ, the son of God, becomes both man and sin in order to save. 

The Holy Spirit sums this up that any of us can understand: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV) 


Jesus says the son of man must be lifted up as this bronze snake was for the entire world to see.  He was speaking of his crucifixion.


There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.” (John 19:18) 


 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”” (John 12:32, ESV) 


Moses was instructed to make a bronze snake, to place it upon a pole and to lift it high into view. Whoever looked to it was saved --- spared the venom’s fatal effects.  This is what Christ has done for the whole world of rebels like us.   

Sinner, stung by sin and heading for death, Jesus is your uplifted Savior. Look to Him and believe. You will be healed.


The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56–57, ESV) 


Saturday: PUnishing Evil and Gathering the True

Read Exodus 32:25-35

There is a bloody consequence in the aftermath of the people’s great sin.  The Lord commands Moses to gather those who "are on the Lord’s side" to himself.  The Levites rally to him. He commands them to strap a sword upon their side and to turn upon their brothers who have committed this rebellion.  Three thousand people fell that day. And it would have been more had Moses not entered into an extraordinary intercession that is Christ-like in its essence:  


Then Moses returned to the Lordand said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”” (Exodus 32:31–32, NKJV) 


This was not light request. He would, like Christ, give his own life for the atonement of his people.  Paul, in Christ-like zeal prayed similarly for his Jewish brethren: 


For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,” (Romans 9:3, NKJV) 


These extraordinary men sound like the extraordinary Christ, willing to trade their lives for sinners. The only difference is that Christ actually gave His life. 


A footnote to us on a different topic:

Are you willing to take a stand with the Lord’s name and turn from fellowship with one who is called by the name of Christ yet lives contrary to His testimony? 


The Levites distinguished themselves by siding with the Lord and against their brothers: 

And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”” (Exodus 32:29, ESV)  


Some verses for consideration on this topic: 

1 Corinthians 5:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

1 Timothy 5:20, Luke 18:29-30, Matthew 18:7 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5