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Serpent in the Desert and Jesus


The Israelites had been wandering in the desert for 40 years since they left Egypt. It took such a long time because of their sins. Meanwhile, many died in the desert. They had no immediate hope of entering the promised land because the Edomites denied them passage through their land to proceed to Canaan. Though the Israelites were close to the promised land, Moses led the people in the opposite direction to travel around the land of Edom. That made the people upset.

The Israelites complained against Moses and God for lack of food and water in the desert. Later they criticized Moses on the distaste of the miraculous food they had been receiving daily by God’s grace. In response, God punished them by sending fiery serpents.

The Bible qualifies the snakes “fiery” because the snake bites caused high fever and inflammation leading to death. Some others interpret that these snakes had the colour of fire. The people requested Moses to intercede to God for them to take away the serpents. Instead of eliminating the serpents, God asked Moses to make an image of the fiery serpent made of bronze and raise it on a pole so the people could see it from all parts of the camp. Moses asked the snake-bitten people to look at the bronze snake so they could save their lives from death.

God, who had forbidden making any image, ordered to create the image of a fiery serpent on a pole as a foreshadow of the crucified Jesus. Looking at the bronze serpent did not mean to worship it. The serpent is a symbol of the original sin the first parents committed. By looking at the image, they had to remember their sins and seek God’s mercy. It was not the bronze serpent that saved them, but God who asked to look at it. Later, people worshipped the bronze serpent and burnt incense to it during the time of King Hezekiah. So, the king destroyed it to regain proper worship of the Lord (2 Kgs 18:4).

Instead of the pole and the bronze serpent of the Old Testament, now we have the cross and Jesus’ body on the cross to look at with faith and repentance, to save our lives from eternal death. Though Moses raised the bronze serpent on a pole alone could not save the lives of the people. The snake-bitten people had to look at it with repentance and seek God’s mercy. Likewise, the death of Jesus on the cross is the symbol of our salvation. We need to look at the cross with faith and repentance for our salvation.

The cross of Jesus was also the way to Jesus’ glory. Our sufferings for Christ and his church will lead us also to partake in Jesus’ glory. The bronze serpent on the pole was instrumental for freeing the people from poison. So also, Jesus raised on the cross freed us from spiritual poison or sin.


The bronze serpent Moses raised was free of poison. So also, Jesus, raised on the cross, was free of sin. His death on the cross brought us salvation. However, we need to look at him with faith for our redemption. The cross of Jesus was also the way to his glory. Our sufferings for Christ and his church also will lead us to partake in the glory of Jesus.


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