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. They complained against Moses and God for lack of food and water and the quality of food they got by the grace of God. In response, God punished them by sending fiery serpents.
The snakes were called “fiery” because the bite by these snakes caused great fever and inflammation leading to death. Another interpretation is that these snakes had the color of fire. People asked Moses to intercede for them to God to take away the serpents that caused death. 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 that the Israelites could see it from all parts of the camp. The snake bitten people could look at the bronze serpent to save their lives.
God, who had prohibited making any image, had ordered to create the image of a fiery serpent on a pole because it was a foreshadow of the crucified Messiah in the future. Looking at the bronze serpent did not mean to worship it but to remember their sin like the original sin Eve committed at the temptation of the serpent and ask God’s mercy. It was not the bronze serpent that saved them, but God who asked to look at it to remember God. However, the bronze serpent later became an object of worship. People were burning incense to it during the time of 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 with Jesus’ body to look at it with faith and repentance for our salvation. The bronze serpent Moses raised on a pole was not enough to save the lives of the people. The snake bitten victims had to look at it with repentance and seek the mercy of God rather than relying on medical remedies of the time.
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.