4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
When Israel was suffering in Egypt, God saved them and brought them out to make a nation of them to serve His Purpose. In the desert, when they needed food and water, He provided for them. But again and again, it just wasn’t good enough for them.
And every so often, the incessant griping started to make even the loving God of Israel angry. Worse, His Provision for their needs was now “miserable” to them. God sends poisonous snakes among the people to afflict them, and many die. But God relents, as always, and provides relief to His People when they repent of their sins. But there is something very different about the relief this time. First of all, God doesn’t remove the affliction of venomous reptiles from the camp like they asked (v.7). Instead, Moses is to make an image of one of the snakes out of bronze, and lift it up over the camp on a pole. When anyone is bitten, they can be healed by looking at the bronze snake.
What’s going on here? They most certainly aren’t being asked to worship the image of the snake (Their descendants tried that for a while, and fared badly for it. King Hezekiah had to clean up that mess ( 2 Kings 18:4 ) ). No, they are simply to look at it. What is God trying to tell them, and us?
Later, Jesus says:
14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus has begun to show us the purposes of His death, the reasons for the terrible manner in which He is to die. Like the display commanded to Moses, Jesus is to become a spectacle for all generations to come of the consequences of our sin. People—Jews and Romans— who thought, acted, and made their decisions just like we do today, subjected history’s only truly innocent Man to a humiliating criminal’s death because He insisted on telling the Truth. Jesus is the Indictment against us, our lives, our governments, and the way we live our lives in rejection of God.
Blessedly, however, there’s more. I have always found it easy to remember the first halves of Romans 3:23,24 and 6:23, but for some reason I have a problem remembering the most important part of each:
23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
23For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We deserve to be cast away by God, but He loved us too much to leave us under that curse:
6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus is also our Pardon. If we can be led by His Holy Spirit to acknowledge our crime against God, and to look up and see the inexpressable horror of its consequences, and repent, God will forgive us.
But even that wasn’t all! If we acknowledge our powerlessness against our sin, and place our faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9), He will restore us to God’s Presence, with full rights as the children and heirs of God (John 1:12), so that we may sit at the very feet of the Almighty and learn His Ways (John 14:26).
The unsearchable Miracle which restores us to God is found only in Jesus Christ—the condemning spectacle of His death, the Pardon in His Sacrifice, and the Hope in His conquest over death by His Resurrection—because only in Jesus is the whole Truth found, together with the Power to put it into effect in our lives.
38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.