They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 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. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it upon a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (Numbers 21:4-9)
Several years ago, an acquaintance of mine was replacing the gutters and downspouts on a building located on his property. He stepped down from his ladder and – without looking – reached for a piece of gutter material. Little did he know a copperhead was coiled and ready to strike. The snake bit his hand only once. Before it was over his hand swelled terribly and even turned black from the venom. Antivenom and antibiotics were used as an antidote to save his hand and his life.
The building material on the ground, the season of the year, and my friend’s actions left the door open for the copperhead to strike. In Numbers 21, the weariness, frustration, and complaining of the Israelites opened the door for the snakes to attack them. It is necessary to understand that the incidents in the wilderness were not just physical – there was always spiritual warfare involved.
Consider this! The door was opened for the serpent’s bite all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Through subtlety, Satan had the door opened when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. According to Romans 5:12, by one man’s disobedience sin and death entered the world. Satan’s true colors became very clear in the Garden of Eden.
Jesus further exposed Satan for the serpent that he really is and also revealed the sharp contrast between Satan and himself. The words of John 10:10 ring so true – “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might live, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Now, let us go back to the wilderness scene.
As people died all around Moses, God told him to put a snake up on a pole. Notice, this was not something else for the Israelites to worship. This snake and pole represented something. The snake symbolized sin and Satan – the reason for there to be a cross. The pole symbolized the cross upon which the antidote for the snake’s bite – the bite of sin – was provided. Once the pole and the brazen snake were in place, everyone who was bitten, and looked upon it, was able to live. Now we fast forward to Jesus’ time upon this earth.
In John 3: 14-15, Jesus referred back to the incident recorded in Numbers. “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.” Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” All of us have experienced the bite of sin!
All of us have been bitten; all of us have an antidote that destroys the effects of the bite. The message of Numbers 21 and John 3 is the same – look to Jesus and live!
Dave Snyder is an Ordained Bishop with the Church of God – Cleveland, Tennessee. Before entering the ministry on a full-time basis, he was a school teacher. He also coached middle school basketball for eight years.
Dave and his wife, Sara, have two children — Craig and Karen. They also have one ten year old granddaughter — Breanna.
Dave and Sara pastored in West Virginia for thirty-six years. Sara is now retired from the banking industry, and Dave is retired from pastoring. However, Dave currently serves as prison Chaplain for the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Writing essays, articles, and devotionals is a real passion for Dave. He also enjoys playing musical instruments and singing.