We are now in our fourth book of the Bible on our journey through the Old Testament looking at prophecies of the Messiah and how Jesus fulfilled them. For previous posts on this series look back at the Messiah tab on my home screen or click the hyperlink. This is post 14 in the series and it begins the book of Numbers. We aren’t starting from the beginning, however. We’ll jump in at chapter 21, with a peculiar story with poisonous snakes.
During the conquest of the promised land, the Israelites faced many challenges. But, the Lord was faithful at every step of the journey. He defeated enemy after enemy as He promised He would. Israel, on the other hand, was anything but faithful. Yes, they had their bright moments. But as a whole, Israel was a very stubborn, impatient, and discontent people. Sound familiar? Looking at Israel is like looking in the mirror. Israel’s sin is often our own.
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.”
Numbers 21:5 (ESV)
After all that God had done for the nation of Israel, they spoke against Him. God had just won a decisive battle for the people of Israel not long before this scene took place. God’s victory on their behalf had less weight on their mindset than their own selfish wants. I’m convinced, that one of the things that displease God the most is being ungrateful and selfish. One reason I believe that is because of how God responded to their lack of faith and contentment.
Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
Numbers 21:6 (ESV)
Pretty extreme right? The apostle Paul would later warn Christ’s followers about repeating the same mistakes as the people of Israel. In 1 Corinthians chapter 10, Paul says that the people put Christ to the test in the wilderness by grumbling and indulging in selfish behaviors. Because of that, they faced very severe punishment.
We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
1 Corinthians 10:9-11 ESV
Christ in this sense is used interchangeably with God. Remember back to the rock that gave forth water for the people to drink? The rock was both God and Christ. The role of the Christ is to save the people. God continually operated in that role throughout the Bible as a picture of when He would do that in human form in the person of Jesus. This story in Numbers 21 is one of those examples. Along with the wrath, God also provided a way to escape. That’s exactly what the Messiah’s mission is all about. The Messiah is God’s loving way of escape.
And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and 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 21:7-9 ESV
Humility is always met with grace. Once the people repented of their sin, they received mercy. This mercy was in the form of a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole for all of the people to see and live. Now of course, this serpent didn’t actually save anyone. Faith in what God did is what saved the people. And this act of God would be a powerful picture of what the Messiah came to do. Jesus Himself used this event in Numbers 21 to tell us why He came.
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. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:14-17 ESV
Where there is wrath, God has made a way for mercy. His name is Jesus.
Peace in Christ brothers and sisters