Many people are scared of snakes. Not me, I just hate them. I really, really hate snakes. In my book the only good snake is a dead snake. Therefore, Numbers 21.4-9 makes a real impression on the psyche. Just picturing thousands of poisonous snakes slithering around and biting with their venomous fangs sends chills up my spine. That’s the scene in our text this morning. On the heels of a great victory of the Canaanite king of Arab (Numbers 21.1-3), the children of Israel once again complain to Moses. They hate everything about their existence and they blamed Moses and God. Fed up with their insolence, the Lord sent poisonous snakes into the camp to kill the complainers. Yet, in His mercy God provided a way for them to be healed and to live. We should pay attention to this story because it mirrors our own attack from a fiery serpent the devil (cf. Revelation 12.9) and the healing and salvation God offers us.
Overview of Numbers 21.4-9
- 4-5 | The people complained
- 6 | God sent “fiery serpents”
- 7 | The people repented
- 8 | God provided the people a way to be healed
- 9 | Those who followed God’s plan were healed and lived
This Old Testament provision for Israel’s healing was a foreshadowing of the salvation the Father provides to us in the cross of Jesus Christ. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus gives us a richer meaning to this story, “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).
Three Parallels Between Israel’s Situation and Our Own:
- THE SERPENT’S BITE KILLS
- 6 | Just as the serpent’s bite was deadly to Israel the great Serpent’s bite is deadly to us. Through different images, Paul, Peter and James describes Satan’s desire to kill us.
- Ephesian 6.16 | Satan attacks us with flaming darts (arrows).
- 1 Peter 5.8 | Satan is like a roaring lion seeking to maul and kill us.
- Jams 1.14-15 | Satan is like hunter seeking to lure us in with temptation.
- The serpent’s bite kills, it’s deadly but God has left us to die He’s provided a remedy.
- GOD PROVIDED A REMEDY
- 7-8 | God didn’t take away the serpents, but instead, He provided a remedy for the bites, the bronze serpent*.
- Genesis 3.15 | It’s no different with us. From the “first bite” of sin, God has promised a remedy would one day come.
- John 3:14; 12.32 | Jesus is that remedy. Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up, so to Jesus was lifted up on a cross to take our place and die for our sins.
- Romans 3.22a-26 | We’ve all been bitten by sin. We can only be saved by God’s grace.
- The Remedy Was Unmerited But Conditional
- 9 | Moses fashioned the bronze serpent and lifted it up for all of Israel to see. The nation had sinned, yet God graciously gave them a remedy. But, to receive the healing they had to look by faith at the bronze serpent. The same is true for us.
- Ephesians 2.1-10 | Our salvation follows the same order. It’s unmerited but conditional. We’ve all sinned, yet God graciously give us salvation, yet we must receive it by faith. How do we express that faith? Baptism.
- Mark 16.15-16 | God’s grace is available to all, yet we must believe and unite ourselves to Jesus through baptism. Baptism is not a work (no more than looking on the bronze serpent would have been a work), rather it’s an act of faith just as looking at the serpent was an act of faith.
Just as God gave the Israelites the ability to overcome the fiery serpents of the desert, He has given us the ability to overcome Satan, the serpent of old. The question is, will we obey God or will you argue or complain about God’s ways? Do you want to be healed from the serpent’s bite and live? If yes, then here’s what you do… Look to Jesus! He is our remedy. He is our salvation. He is our hope. Look at Him lifted up on the cross dying for our sins. See Him overcoming death rising from the tomb. He’s calling for you to come and be healed and live for Him. But maybe you don’t want to be healed and live. Maybe you don’t think you’re sick but that doesn’t change the diagnosis. Maybe you don’t like the cure, it doesn’t matter. We’ve all been bitten by the serpent. I beg you, look to Jesus and live. If not, then you’ll die in your sins.
- PowerPoint: Overcoming Serpents
- Jackson Heights Church of Christ – www.thebibleway.org
- My other website – www.claygentry.com
* According to 2 Kings 18:4, the bronze serpent became an idol, “[Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”