No, I’m not going to blog about Indiana Jones. But I am going to talk about snakes. And it’s my husband’s favorite movie, so there you go 🙂
What do you think of when you think of snakes? I actually don’t have the typical reaction to snakes as most people. I blame that on my 5th grade teacher who basically had a wall of assorted amphibians and reptiles in aquariums, which we were allowed to play with and bring to our desk as a reward. It was amazing!
Hey, it was many years ago. Scrunchies and slap bracelets were also a thing, so just go with it.
Anyway, typically folks don’t have the most positive reaction to seeing or hearing about a snake. But if you had been headed into the Promised Land with Moses you certainly would have had some strong feelings about the creatures.
After coming across the story of the bronze snake in Numbers, I was struck by the parallels between this story and our own redemptive story.
Those fickle Israelites
If you know anything about the Israelites, you know they were notorious for diving in and whole-heartedly following God only to decide the next day that they didn’t like His plan and would prefer to do things their own way.
Kinda like us.
And God would graciously forgive them time and time again, and would continue to provide for them.
Kinda like us.
The story in Numbers 21 is no different. The people had been traveling and at this point they had already crossed the Red Sea, already received manna from Heaven, already been led by the cloud by day, already witnessed the water come pouring out of the rock from Moses’ staff, and had just recently had the Canaanites handed over to them by the Lord as an answer to their pleas.
And yet they still found fault with God and with Moses. They complained about their circumstances, they whined about how detestable the manna had become. They questioned Moses’ decision to bring them out of Egypt (you know, that place where they were in slavery??).
I know. We would never, right?
Here come the snakes
In response, the Lord sent snakes. Poisonous snakes. Poisonous snakes that would bite the people and the people would die.
So the people came to Moses, repented, and asked that he pray the Lord would take away the snakes. Naturally.
And the Lord, again, graciously forgave them and provided a way out…by way of a snake. He instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it up on a pole, and tell the people to look up at the snake when they were bitten and they would be healed.
Did you catch that?
When they were bitten.
God didn’t take away the snakes. He didn’t close their mouths. He didn’t turn them into friendly garden snakes. He didn’t suggest the people look upon the bronze serpent to prevent them from being bitten. He simply gave the people a way to be healed after being bitten.
Admittedly, when I first read this passage I thought, “why would God use the symbol for the devil in the garden to become the avenue of healing for the Israelites?” Which led me to some commentaries, many of which had the same thing to say.
The bronze serpent was not symbolic of the devil, necessarily. But it was probably symbolic of the very thing that was bringing death to the people. And Moses was to raise it up that the people might be able to look upon it in faith that God would heal them. (spoiler alert…that’s gonna be important later on!)
This is the part that just makes me want to devour the Word. God is so amazingly detail-oriented and has given us so many pictures of Jesus and the Gospel throughout the Old Testament, it blows my mind.
Keep the bronze serpent in the back of your mind as we venture to John chapter 3. Here we are privy to a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus is a whole other story for another time, but a fascinating one for sure! Let’s just say, in spite of some skepticism here in chapter 3, he seems to come around in a big way!
So Nicodemus is asking Jesus for clarification on this whole “born again” thing, and is having some trouble wrapping his head around it. I can’t really fault him for that. Jesus expounds upon His teaching that no one would see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again by reminding Nicodemus of a story he would have been very familiar with. Yep…Moses and the bronze serpent. Jesus says,
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:14-15
That phrase, “lifted up”, is the same one used later to portray Christ’s crucifixion and again later to describe His resurrection and ascension.
So much symbolism!
We look to Jesus just as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent. And we are healed!
Jesus took on the very thing that was bringing us death, our sin. He didn’t become a sinner, He became sin. He took on our sin. He bore our sin. Jesus…fully God…came to earth wrapped in flesh, and then took on all the sins of the world as the final sacrifice and attonement for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake, he made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God”.
You see, the snakes were killing the Israelites (as a result of their disobedience and rebellion), so God had Moses lift up the very thing bringing about their death that they could look upon in faith and be healed.
Our flesh, our sin, was killing us and separating us from God, so God had Jesus become flesh and lifted Him up that we might look upon Him in faith and be healed! Ultimately. Entirely. Eternally.
Are we so different from the Israelites?
If that were it, it would be enough! But God gave us an even deeper glimpse into our human frailty and self-sufficient tendencies through the Israelites. Do you wonder whatever happened to that bronze serpent? I mean, people weren’t looking to the serpent for healing all the way up until Jesus came along. And I imagine the number of snakes was diminishing over time, making the feelings of desperation fade. Not unlike the complacency most people feel over their sin when things in life are pretty much just moving right along.
Well, the Israelites began to worship the serpent. Not the God who provided the serpent, but the image of the serpent itself. They forgot that it was in the looking to the serpent in faith that God brought about their healing. Instead, they began to burn incense and offered sacrifices to it. It became their idol. And in 2 Kings, Hezekiah destroyed it along with many other shrines and idols.
So what about us?
If you have decided that Jesus is who He says He is, and you have made the decision to look upon Him as your Lord and Savior, how has that changed your life? Do you actually believe, in faith, that the day you looked to Jesus you were fully restored to God? I don’t mean made perfect, we will continue to grow in sanctification as we learn to yield our will and bend in submission to Christ’s Lordship…which means we will continue to sin, though presumedly less and less. I mean, do you and I truly believe that God provided ALL that we needed to be brought back into a right relationship with Him when He had Jesus lifted up on the Cross? Or are we still burning incense and making offerings thinking we can “fix things” on our own? Are we worshipping God, or the things of God?
A thought definitely worth taking captive.
…His gift of grace our heart betrays
With urge to merit or repay
We need not live to pay the cost
For it was finished on the cross
It was finished on the cross.
“It was Finished on the Cross” by Kristie Braselton