Every story in Scripture teaches us what to do or what not to do. These history lessons were recorded so we can glean wisdom from them. Why fall into the same trap everyone else falls into? The story of the venomous vipers invading Israel’s camp is mentioned five times in Scripture by four different authors (Num. 21:4-9, Dt. 8:15, 2 Kgs. 18:4, Jn. 3:14, 1 Cor. 10:9).
Paul explained why these stories are still relevant, “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not . . . tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents . . . Now all these things . . . were written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:6, 9-11).
Notice “The soul of the people became very discouraged on the way” (Num. 21:4). Discouragement is one of the biggest tools of the devil. To discourage means “to deprive of courage, hope, or confidence, to dishearten, or to dissuade.” We all battle discouragement when we feel like we’re not making progress. When the future seems hopeless, we start feeling helpless. Remember, “Life without Jesus is a hopeless end; life with Jesus is endless hope!” Keep fighting the good fight of faith. Press on and pray through negative thoughts and emotions. Feed your faith and starve your doubts.
Israel used their same old playbook when they faced problems: 1. Complain 2. Talk favorably about Egypt 3. Blame Moses. They fondly remembered the plentiful food of Egypt, but forgot the downside (slavery). When we speak negativity and unbelief, we open the door to demonic influences (Rom. 14:23). The snakes crawled into the camp on the heels of their complaining.
• The Crisis: God sent fiery serpents to chasten His people. Like a scene in a horror movie, snakes bit people, victims convulsed in pain, and slowly died in agony. Imagine the chaos when these slithery critters crawled into people’s tents. Numerous graves were dug, bodies were buried, and funerals were held. Serpents are symbolic of demons and venom represents the poison of sin with which we’ve all been infected (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The people begged Moses to pray for God to “take away” the serpents. Notice God didn’t remove them immediately but He did provide a way of salvation.
• The Cure: God told Moses to “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live” (Num. 21:8). Brass speaks of judgment in Scripture. The altars and lavers of Moses’ Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple were made of brass. They were placed in the outer courts where sin was dealt with before the priests entered the Holy Place. When the bitten Israelites looked at the brazen serpent, the venom lost its potency.
• Christ’s Comment: Jesus told Nicodemus 1400 years later, “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.” Why did Jesus compare Himself to a vile snake—the symbol of evil? Because He became sin on the cross for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Like a sponge, He absorbed our lust, pride, greed, hate, selfishness, jealousy, and bitterness. The poison of sin has infected us all but Jesus provided the antidote! When we look with faith to the cross, the venom of sin loses its power.
A hiker was bitten by a rattlesnake. Fortunately, he had an antivenom kit in his backpack. It saved his life. A doctor estimated by the fang marks that it was a mature snake. He would have never survived without the antivenom. The blood of Jesus is our antivenom to sin! Keep your focus on the cross—your source of salvation and victory!
• Hezekiah’s Crusade: King Hezekiah led a crusade against idolatry about 680 years after Moses made the brazen serpent. People started worshipping the old relic as an idol. Hezekiah “broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan” (2 Kgs. 18:4). Nehushtan means “a piece of brass.” Lesson: Don’t worship the instruments God uses; worship the God who uses the instruments. He has the real power! If you look to things and people, you will be disappointed. Keep your focus on Christ (Heb. 12:2).
A sculpture of a brazen serpent and a cross by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni stands on Mount Nebo, the site where Moses viewed Canaan Land. The cross is our passport to the Promised Land. There are also two icons used for medicine: the Caduceus symbol (two snakes intertwined on a winged pole, used on pins for medical school graduations) and the Rod of Asclepius (one snake wrapped around a pole, used as logos on ambulances). While they originate in Greek mythology, they still point back to Moses’ brazen serpent, which points us to the cross. Now, we don’t look to a fake snake on a stake for help and healing, we look to the living Son of God.
Ben Godwin is the author of five books and pastors the Goodsprings Full Gospel Church. You can read more articles or order his books @ bengodwin.org.