THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF MOSES AND THE BRAZEN SERPENT
Through Moses, God led the children of Israel out of bondage and oppression from under the hand of Pharaoh. They were bound for the glorious promised land; “…a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee” (Deuteronomy 27:3). However, as they travel toward that great land that God has set before them their mood soon changes from one of gratitude and trust to one of complete ungratefulness to God for having delivered them from Pharaoh. In fact, theirs becomes an attitude of distrust toward God Himself. They chose to forget that God had lovingly fed them with manna from Heaven when they had been hungry. Instead they complained that it was only fit for children to eat. They did not care that every step of the way God had protected them from the many dangers that surrounded them. Instead they complained about their journey saying that it would have been safer for them if they had just stayed in Egypt, the very place of which for so long they had prayed and sought God’s divine hand to deliver them from. They were hypocrites with incredibly ungrateful hearts who had become consumed with self-pity and unbelief. But when the children of Israel looked back and saw Pharaoh’s army pursuing them, the Bible states that “they became sore afraid” (Exodus 14:10). They all quickly ran to Moses and cried out “why have you and God brought us out of Egypt just to die in this wilderness?” Their attitude had completely digressed from one of faith and trust to one of complete discouragement and hopelessness. In their minds they saw the journey as an impossible one, and now their hearts were filled only with doubt. Moses however knew that true unfettered, boundless, soaked through and through faith must be completely dead to doubt, dumb to discouragement, and blind to impossibilities. He knew that faith is the certainty that what God has promised us IS waiting for us even though we cannot see it up ahead. Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13). Often times in life we say that we have faith in God and that we trust Him completely. But the moment we see that things are not going the way “WE” think they should we suddenly stop trusting God and we begin to doubt Him and His promises. True faith demands complete, unwavering, unquestioning trust, loyalty, and confidence in God. When those elements cease to exist – so then does our faith.
Here we see that what the children of Israel were experiencing was “spiritual snake bite.” They had been bitten by a lack of faith and their hearts were poisoned with its venom of doubt and unbelief. Now as their faith is tested they no longer trust God to protect and preserve them. They had lost faith and the only thing they anticipated now was death. They had no faith that God would fulfill His promise and lead them safely to the promised land. And so as a result of their doubt God allowed death to come upon them; “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died” ( Numbers 21:6). No sooner does this judgment of God fall upon them when they all run back to Moses once again. This time their attitude suddenly changes from one of grumbling and complaining to one of humility and remorse – “Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us” (Numbers 21:7). (God promises that “if we confess our sin He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin” (1 John 1:9). Moses goes to God on behalf of the people and in His great mercy God provides a way of escape for them from the judgment that they had brought upon themselves. God tells Moses to make the “representation” of one of the fiery serpents out of brass and to set it on the top of a very long pole. He then tells Moses to lift up the pole so that it could be seen from all parts of the camp: and anyone who had been bitten by one of the fiery serpents, if they simply looked up to the serpent of brass, they were completely healed (Numbers 21: 4-9). It was not the act of raising the brazen serpent up that cured the people it was the act of turning their eyes upward and “looking up” to it – it had to be “looked upon.” But if any who had been bitten by one of the fiery serpents chose not look up to the brazen serpent of brass, they died. It’s the same for you and me. When we sin God is faithful to forgive us if we look up to Him (through that blood-stained Cross) and go to Him in true repentance. You see, when the Israelites confessed their sin God made a provision for their relief. A provision has been made for you and me too. The Bible tells us that even though you and I stand accused and guilty of our sin that if we believe on Christ then we are not condemned with the world. In the New Testament Jesus Himself uses this story of Moses and the brazen serpent as a picture of His own approaching sacrificial death upon the Cross as a means of “healing” for man’s sin. In fact, Jesus considers this example so powerful that He uses it in conjunction with, and as an introduction to, the most well known and most often quoted verse of Scripture in all the Bible – “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3: 14-16). In these verses of scripture Christ is talking about the great and Heavenly design of His own coming into the world. In those verses we have the pure embodiment of the entire gospel message – the message that Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save His children from death and recover them to life. The story of the brazen serpent being lifted up was a foreshadowing of the Son of God being lifted up and nailed to the Cross, thus providing the only means of spiritual healing to all who would look up to and place their faith in Him alone. When you and I look up to the Cross and we accept Christ into our heart as our personal Lord and Saviour (with a solid faith that believes in his atoning sacrifice on our behalf) then we are healed and saved from the deadly bite of sin. It is the awesome and staggering event of Jesus’ coming into the world, giving His life upon the Cross, and conquering the grave that provides the one and ONLY way of healing for you and me.
There are three attributes that these two events (the serpent of brass being lifted up on a pole, and the Son of God being lifted up on the Cross) “share” with one another. The first common attribute between the two is the very costly deadly and destructive nature of our sin. Sin is like the pain from the deadly bite of a “fiery Serpent”. The second common attribute between the two is in the powerful remedy for the penalty of our sin. As the serpent of brass was lifted up by Moses on a long pole Jesus Christ Himself was lifted up on the Cross. The brazen serpent was made in the “likeness” of a fiery serpent, but it had no poison or sting in it. Jesus Christ was made into the likeness of sinful flesh, and yet there was no sin in Him at all. The third common attribute these two events share is that the only way of applying the remedy for our sin is by “taking action.” We must believe in and look only to God as our sole means of redemption. Only Jesus Christ has the authority and power to wash away our sins. From the first person of Adam to every person in the world today each has felt the deadly bite of what John describes in the book of Revelation as “that old serpent, called the devil, and satan”. The deadly effects of our sin can be removed ONLY by the provision that God has made and that provision is through His Son Jesus Christ. When the Israelites saved their lives by looking up to the brazen serpent that look implied “faith.” Their lives were saved because they believed God’s promise and they followed His directions to the letter. They knew that it was their only means for healing and recovery from the penalty of the sin they had committed. Likewise, when you and I look up to Christ and that old rugged blood-stained Cross in total repentance the “guilty” verdict against us is then replaced with complete pardon through faith in His finished work upon the Cross.
Are you one who has pushed God off to the side because you feel that your ways are better than His? Have you taken your eyes off of God in order to pursue the things of the world? It’s true that you can work yourself to death and get all the toys that you ever wanted, but it’s also true that he who dies with the most toys – is still dead. And what did all those years of “serving self” in the pursuit of worldly desires get you? Nothing more than a few fleeting moments of self-indulgent pleasure! True happiness will never come to anyone who fails to appreciate what they already have. While all of us have our own problems and heartaches in life and we sometimes face circumstances that are not necessarily to our liking we must remember that the answer is not to ask God to make our life easier but rather in asking Him to make us a stronger person. We have His promise that He will always see us safely through. He might not always take us on the route that we expected but He gives His Word that He WILL get us safely through. The tremendous and ugly gulf of sin that separates God and man is bridged only when we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. No other way exists. Nothing else can save us. The Bible says that Christ came into the world so that “the world THROUGH HIM might be saved” (John 3:17). It’s not by anything that we can do, it’s THROUGH HIM and Him Alone that we are saved.
Don’t ever feel that you are not worth loving or that you are not worth saving. The unfathomable love that Jesus has in His heart for you took Him through such incredible and torturous levels of pain and suffering that you and I cannot comprehend its depth and its vastness. It was and is a love that ultimately took Him all the way to the Cross where the sins of the entire world were laid upon Him. That is something that is beyond the understanding of the human mind. Just imagine, the weight of the sins of the entire world laid upon one person. Yet Jesus Christ willingly took all of our sins upon Himself in the form of a Cross. And it is only through that Cross that we find assurance of eternal life. You may be asking “But how do I do that? How do I receive that assurance? First, you must repent of your sins. The word “repent” means to change, to change your mind, to change your whole way of living. It means that you come to God and say “Lord, I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. I am willing to turn from my sins.”- Second, you must “by faith” receive Christ. The word “faith” means to trust, to put all of your confidence in Christ Who died, and arose, and is coming again. – And then third, you must learn to follow Him and obey Him each and every day of your life. – Are you willing to make that commitment? Are you willing to take up YOUR cross and follow Him? Try as we might we could spend every waking moment of our life searching the world for an “anti-venom” to the world’s deadly bite of sin and separation from Jesus Christ, but that fact is that “THE CROSS” is the only cure in all the world for “Spiritual Snake Bite!”
God bless you,