‘And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died.’ Numbers 21:6
‘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’ John 3:14,15
In the last lesson, in the fourth section of the Pentateuch, in the book of Numbers, we saw how the Israelites arrived at the border of Canaan, the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. God planned to drive out the wicked giants which lived in the land and turn everything over to the Israelites. However most of the people of Israel were afraid of the giants and would not believe God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan.
Thus, we read how God judged the Israelites
because of their unbelief.
He said to them,
“doubtless ye shall not come into the land … except Caleb, the son of Jephuneh, and Joshua, the son of Nun. But your little ones, whom you said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness” (Num. 14:30-32)
What we must understand is that God wanted to bless the Israelites abundantly, but He could not bless them
because of their unbelief.
Since they refused to believe what the LORD had promised them, God condemned the Israelites to wander in the desert for forty years, until all those over twenty years old who had not believed Him died.
Now, let us continue in the book of Numbers to see what happened at the end of the forty years which the Israelites wasted in the wilderness due to their unbelief. (Num. 20:1-5) “Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and
the people abode in Kadesh;
and Miriam died there, and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation; and
they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
And the people strove with Moses, and spoke, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! And why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die here? And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto
this evil place?
It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink”
Do you hear what the Israelites were saying? After all that God had done for them and their fathers in Egypt and in the wilderness, were their hearts full of
thankfulness and trust?
No! They were doing exactly as their fathers had done. They were grumbling! Of course, they were weary of the wilderness, but they should have remembered that
it was because of their unbelief
that they had not yet entered the land of Canaan. True, the Israelites did not have water. But why then did they not pray to God? The One who had cared for them for forty years in the parched wilderness–could He not give them water to drink? Of course He could! God wanted to supply all their needs! However,
the Israelites did not yet fully trust the Lord their God.
Let us continue in the chapter to see what happened. The Scripture says: (Num. 20:6-12) “And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces; and
the glory of the Lord appeared unto them.
And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron, thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. And Moses took the rod from before the Lord,
as he commanded him.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his hand he smote the rock twice; and
the water came out abundantly,
and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. And the Lord spoke unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”
What did God command Moses to do so that the multitude of Israel would have water to drink? He said, “Speak to that rock!” Did Moses obey God by speaking to the rock? No! In his anger
Moses hit it twice.
This did not prevent God, in His goodness, from causing the rock to pour forth water, but what Moses did displeased God. That is why God punished him, saying, “Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them”
Perhaps in our thinking, the punishment that God imposed on Moses was too severe. However, we must remember that what pleases God is faith in His word and
obedience to His word.
God cannot accept anything that is against His word–even if it came from the prophet of God, Moses!
God does not show favouritism. Moses was a great prophet, but he was a human like all of us. Therefore, he was a sinner like all of Adam’s offspring. Even the prophet of God, Moses, could not save himself because of his good works. Like all of Adam’s descendants
he had defects
and did not fulfil all that is righteous. The prophet Moses, like all the Israelites, had to come by the way of salvation which God had established, by the way of the blood sacrifice. Through the sin of Moses, God wants to remind us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Everyone has sinned. No one is righteous! There is no one who has not strayed from the way of God–except for the perfectly righteous Redeemer who came from heaven to save sinners!
Continuing with the story of the Israelites, in the end of chapter twenty
Aaron, Moses’ brother, died
on the mountain called Hor, and the Israelites mourned for him there for thirty days.
After that, the Scripture says: (Num. 21:4-9)
“And they journeyed from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people,
and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died. 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. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass that, if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of bronze, he lived”.
Let us think about this amazing story. Why did God send venomous snakes among the Israelites? He sent the snakes because of their sin. We heard how they spoke against God and Moses, and despised the food which God sent down to them. That is why God sent venomous snakes to bite them, causing many to die.
What could the Israelites do to escape death?
Could they save themselves from the plague of snakes? Could they heal themselves of the deadly poison? Impossible! What could they do then? They could cry out to God! And that is what they did. We saw how the Israelites repented and went to Moses, saying to him, “We have sinned! We have transgressed against you and against God! Pray to the LORD for us that He might have mercy on us and take away these snakes!”
He did something even better than that! God told Moses to make a bronze snake and raise it up on a pole so that “anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” This was God’s remedy. If a snake bit someone, all that a person had to do was to look at the bronze snake which was hung on the pole and he would be healed! This was the way of deliverance that God arranged:
Look and live!
God promised to heal whoever looked at the bronze snake which Moses suspended on the pole. What happened then to those who refused to look? They died a painful death. But whoever believed God and looked at the bronze snake was delivered from death, because God had promised them, saying, “Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
Truly, this is a fascinating story, but it is more than fascinating. It was written to instruct us. God wants to show us that we all are like the Israelites.
We too are sinners,
which is why we often grumble against God and man, and offend God in our thoughts, in our words and in our deeds. Satan is like the venomous snakes that were biting the Israelites. And sin is like the poison that was killing them. Satan has bitten all of the children of Adam and the poison of sin will cause us to perish forever, unless God provides for us a remedy! The payment of sin is to perish in the eternal fire and, in ourselves, we have no means of escape! However, we praise God, because just as He designed a plan to save the Israelites from the poison of the snakes, so also He has designed a plan
to save the children of Adam from the poison of sin!
You who are studying today, do you know what God has done to save you from the curse which sin has brought? Read what the holy Redeemer said
fifteen hundred years
after Moses raised the bronze snake in the wilderness. He said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man (the Redeemer of the world), must be lifted up . . . that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life!” (John 3:14,16)
From this verse in the holy Gospel, we learn that the bronze snake, which Moses raised up in the desert, was
a picture of the Redeemer
who was to come and die on a cross so that He might defeat the devil who holds the power of death. (Heb. 2:14) Oh, how wonderful this message is! As we will discover in coming lessons, through the death and resurrection of the Redeemer, God has opened for the children of Adam
a door of salvation, peace and joy forever!
All God wants is for you to admit that you cannot save yourself from the power of sin, and believe in your heart what God has said concerning the Savior who died on the cross to pay for your debt of sin. God says:
Believe on Him and God will heal you, save you from the poison of sin and give you an eternal dwelling place in His presence in heaven!
Old and young, men and women, rich and poor, God is saying to everyone:
Look and live!
Look to the mighty Redeemer whom God has sent and you will be saved! But God is also saying: If you refuse to look, if you do not believe in the Savior through whom God has provided the only cure for sin, then
“you will die in your sins!” (John 8:24)
God’s righteous law declares that whoever does not accept the remedy that He has provided
God has no other remedy by which the sons of Adam can be cured from the poison of sin.
He will cleanse you and give you eternal life if you will simply put your trust in Him alone. Listen again to what the Scripture says: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man (the Redeemer of the world), must be lifted up . . . that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life!” (John 3:14,16)
In the next lesson God willing, we will consider the final words of the prophet Moses, and thus complete our study in the holy Pentateuch. . . .
God bless you as you ponder this promise from Him:
“[Look unto Me, and be ye saved!]” (Isaiah 45:22)
We would invite you to answer the questions attached and send them together with any questions that you might have