Here is today's devotional reading from my book: STRENGTH FOR TODAY.
“And the people spoke against God and against Moses: Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread. So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and many of the people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses and said, We have sinned. Pray to the Lord that He may take away the serpents from us. So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Num. 21:5-8)
Here we see a beautiful illustration of God’s grace in spite of Israel’s sinful shortcomings, and constant complaining. This text before us is one of the premier salvation-truth passages of the Old Testament. There are three important practical insights we can glean from this judgment:
First, the Cause. The reason for this judgment was, once again, their complaining. Does it ever stop? This is the 10th time Israel complains to Moses and here they are accusing Moses (as in times past) of deliberately leading them into the desert to die—a false accusation on several counts. First, God led them out of Egypt. Where they were was where God led them, not to die, but to journey to the Promised Land. And second, it was because of their unbelief at Kadesh-Barnea that they were dying in the desert—it was their own fault! But that’s the way it is with complaining Christians. They are quick to blame God and their spiritual leaders for the sufferings they encounter as a result of their own sinful actions.
Second, the Curse. And what a curse it was—fiery (poisonous) serpents! The very sight of snakes inside their tents was terrifying. And the pain they endured from the venom must’ve been excruciating. The severity of God’s judgment served its purpose, for they came to Moses in repentance and asked him to pray that the Lord would take away the serpents.
Third, the Cure. The serpent on the pole, by its very appearance, perfectly identified with that which was the curse. The means of salvation looked like the source of the problem. And so it is with Christ, who took on flesh to identify with mankind. “He was made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:7) “Inasmuch as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death.” (Heb. 2:14) But the identification goes even farther than taking on a human body. When He died on the cross, “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” (II Cor. 5:21)
Jesus, in his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, made this Old Testament figure apply to Himself: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” The brazen serpent on the pole was fulfilled by the death of Christ, the only cure for the sting of death that plagues the human race.