In Numbers 21 after the LORD gives them victory over their enemies the people of Israel become impatient and complain. We read:
5 The people spoke against God and 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 miserable food." 6 The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us." And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Num. 21:5-9 NAU).
Looking upon this snake saved their lives. Later in the OT we read that when Hezekiah was reforming he had to break the bronze serpent to pieces because the people were burning incense to it (2 Kings 18:4)! It was supposed to be shadow of a lifted up one to come. Instead the people were worshiping it! They mistook the shadow for the substance. They had been influenced perhaps by the Canaanites around them who viewed snakes as symbols of fertility. Something that had probably been preserved as a symbol of God’s mercy to the people had turned into idolatry.
In John 3:14 we see this story referred to. Jesus must be lifted up. Look to Christ the One who was lifted up on the cross and you will be saved spiritually and eternally. John 8:28 and 12:32-35 again speaks of Jesus the Son of Man being lifted up on the cross. The cross is the first part of His ultimate exaltation. His glorification is also in view. He will be lifted up to the right hand of the Father.
As the bronze snake, was a representation of the poisonous snake, was lifted up, so the Son of Man, born in the likeness of sinful flesh, (Rom 8:3) will be lifted up. The Israelites had no other means of healing. We have no other means of salvation. Look to Christ alone.
Our handling of Scripture has an effect on how we see the gospel. Our understanding of what the Word of God is will change how we read Scripture. We must read the Bible redemptively. We must see it as the authoritative, inspired, inerrant, infallible, sufficient, clear Word of God because that is what it claims to be. Let us handle Scripture better than the Israelites handled the bronze snake in 2 Kings 18. May we not try the Lord (1 Co 10:9). Let us look to Jesus and keep our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith.
Jay Wipf is a former student of Coalt Robinson and attended Grace University where he earned his degree in Christian Education. Jay is currently studying at Reformed Baptist Seminary in the comfort of his home in Huron, SD. By grace and at Grace he met his beautiful wife Rachel, and they now have three young children. Jay and his family live in Huron where he works in facilities at a local credit union and serves within the local church.