I don’t like snakes. I don’t like the slithering, hissing, cold-blooded, beady-eyed creatures. They give me the willeys, the creeps, the shivers and quivers. How about you?
The Israelites didn’t like snakes either.
As the million-man-march made its way through Sinai’s wilderness, they grumbled. I can almost hear their whining. “Moses! Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!” (Numbers 21:5, CSB). They griped and groaned incessantly.
God had brought the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity where they had lived as slaves for generations. God had set them free and was leading them to a land of their own, but Israel complained. In the Arabian dessert, God had provided life-sustaining water that gushed from a broken boulder, and still the Israelites grumbled. And where do you get a truck-load of food in the wilderness? The multitudes couldn’t drive-through at McDonalds, so God rained bread from heaven. The ungrateful nation pitched a hissy-fit.
I have two brothers. I think that the three Martin boys threw a conniption-fit once... at least once. That’s when my dad took steps to teach us a lesson. We learned more quickly than the Israelites. God didn’t turn the Israelite over His knee. Rather, “the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died” (Number 21:6, CSB).
Having learned God’s disciplinary lesson, the Israelites frantically appealed to Moses. “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us” (Numbers 21:7, CSB).
God justly punished His disobedient children. But God is gracious and provides a way for redemption and restoration. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered” (Numbers 21:8-9, CSB).
Do what? Make a snake, put it on a pole, and lifted high above the people? Really? That’s how you cure a venomous snake bite?
Can you picture the bronze snake, lashed to a long pole? It must have been approximately the shape of a cross... A cross just like the one on which Jesus was crucified.
When the desperate and dying people looked up at the snake, believing God’s promise of healing and restoration... when they looked to the cross, they were saved!
Hundreds of years later, Jesus explained the symbolism. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:14-17, CSB).
South Georgia Baptist Church
Mike Martin, Pastor