From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 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 we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lordand against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Numbers 21:4-9, ESV.
Here we see Israel grumbling once more—they are dissatisfied with God and Moses. God’s judgement comes this time in the form of fiery snakes with deadly venom. The people acknowledge their sin and beg Moses to ask God to take the snakes away. Moses prays and God answers: by looking to a bronze serpent high on a pole, the snake-bit people will live.
It makes no sense, does it? How does looking at a bronze snake on a pole cure snake bite? The answer is simple. It doesn’t. Only God can relieve the sinner from the venomous consequence of their sin. Only as the sinner looks up in repentant obedience and faith will they be saved.
Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). To a world filled with grumbling dissatisfied sinners facing eternal death, sinners like you and me, comes Jesus. He, like the bronze snake, is lifted up—lifted up to die as a sacrificial substitute on a cross. Only those who look to Jesus the crucified One in repentant obedience and faith will be saved from the consequences of their sin.
My prayer for us all today is that, knowing what it is like to gaze at the crucified Christ with eyes of faith and be saved, we will be faithful to keep our own eyes on Him and to point the snake-bit world around us to Him.