By Ron English, Editor
TEXT: Numbers 21:4-9
4-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. 5-And the people spake 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. 6-And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 7-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. 8-And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9-And Moses made a serpent of brass, 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 brass, he lived.
I. Their COURSE — V. 4 It would have been much simpler and very much closer to attack the borders of Edom at this point. But it would not have been the wise thing to do. Had they penetrated the borders at that time (it would have been a straight shot to the Promised Land) there is a good chance Moses would never have persuaded those stubborn Israelites to leave Edom and return to that rough wilderness that they had already tired of. There’s more history with God’s people that had to be experienced in the wilderness. So Moses led them the long way around Edom. This would soon anger the people, frustrate them and tax their patience and cause them to question both God and Moses.
II. Their COMPLAINING — V. 5 This unthankful crowd, and it was a large body of people, perhaps 2-4 million people, and they had to totally depend on God for their food, their drink and their protection. There were no Walmarts, Targets or 7-11’s on this route. Nothing but wilderness–almost desert. Each step they took added to their pouting, their murmurings, their constant complaining. I’m certain when they bedded down for the night the men would gather together for a pity party and they compared thoughts of how stupid Moses was to take this long way around Edom. They did so much complaining that it reached the ear of God. “And the people spake 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 (God’s Manna).”-V 5.
III. Their CURSE — V.6 Just when the Children of Israel thought it can’t get any worse than what they were experiencing each day…it did get worse and worse in a big, bad way. “And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”
Fiery Snakes proved to be worse than the journey. Those stinging, deadly serpents hurt so badly, killed so many that now the Children wanted only relief from them.
There is always a price tag on bitter complaining.
Sin offers pleasures for a short time (a season), but there are no free rides on Sin’s Merry Go Round. And sadly, after you pay the fare and take the ride you are let off pretty much in the same place only worse off. But now the price is extracted and you did not benefit in the least. Most likely your complaining becomes more pronounced and you hurt worse than before.
IV. Their CONFESSION — V.7 Outward circumstances have a way of crowding out the previous misery and discomfort.
Those snakes were so dangerous and so painful that the people in unison wanted relief.
They realized their sin.
The very people who had been so critical of Moses and God were now seeking a meeting with Moses.
They repented–“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.” V. 7
WE HAVE SINNED — That’s the first step in true repentance. When you can say, “This is my fault. I have done this. It is me that has sinned.”
WE HAVE SPOKEN AGAINST THE LORD. The sooner you realize your sin is directly against the Lord, the better.
WE HAVE SPOKEN AGAINST THEE–THAT IS THEY SPOKE AGAINST MOSES: That had to have been a bitter pill to swallow. Moses, in their mind was the dumb leader and now they confess to him. Perhaps Moses looked a little more intelligent now as opposed to earlier when he was leading them in the wilderness.
PRAY UNTO THE LORD –They knew whom they had offended–they knew their sin was against God. They wanted God’s help.
PLEASE TAKE AWAY THE SERPENTS FROM US — They needed relief and quick.
V. Their CONTRITION V. 7b — They asked Moses to pray to God for them. “And Moses prayed for the people.” V. 7b
DEFINITION OF CONTRITION:
1. Sincere penitence or remorse.
2. Theology . sorrow for and detestation of sin with a true purpose of amendment, arising from a love of god for His own perfections (perfect contrition), or from some inferior motive, as fear of divine punishment (imperfect contrition).
VI. God’s CHARGE to Moses — V. 8 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: ” V. 8a
The Lord spoke to Moses
Make thee a fiery serpent — Mold one out of brass, make it in the image of one of those dangerous snakes
and set it upon a pole. Remember the words of Jesus in John 3:14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:”
This whole matter is a picture of man’s sinful condition. We have all sinned…we have all been bitten by a fiery serpent
No doubt the people wondered why Moses was placing that brass serpent on that tall pole. We don’t need a reminder, we need relief.
VII. Moses’ CALL — How did the people know they were to look on the serpent to be healed? (Probably well over two million people had to be informed).
*Moses had to call a quick meeting of the greatest importance. His instructions would have to be communicated to each person. That word was:
*You see the pole with the image of the serpent?…
*Pass the word to each man, woman and child…
*If you are bitten by the serpent you are to LOOK UP! Look at the serpent.
*When you look up you will be healed–you will live.
VIII. God’s CURE — The cure for sin is always from God. He uses human instruments–but the cure is from God. “When he (whomever was bitten) beheld the serpent of brass, HE LIVED.” V. 9
Remember again the words spoken by Jesus in John 3: 14–16, ” 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Conclusion: All men are in the first Adam and are of the world–they are sinful–Thanks to the First Adam the whole world has been serpent bit–“We have all sinned” but thank God the Second Adam has been lifted up on that pole — the Old Rugged Cross and Jesus became the Serpent that each of us must look to in faith to have our serpent bite healed. Look and live! (Here are words to that old Hymn, Look and Live.)
LOOK AND LIVE (The Old Hymn by William Ogden)
I’ve a message from the Lord, hallelujah!
This message unto you I’ll give,
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”
“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”
I’ve a message full of love, hallelujah!
A message, O my friend, for you,
’Tis a message from above, hallelujah!
Jesus said it, and I know ’tis true.
Life is offered unto you, hallelujah!
Eternal life thy soul shall have,
If you’ll only look to Him, hallelujah!
Look to Jesus who alone can save.
This info will add much flavor to your understanding and appreciation of this important Bible study.
This part of our background is taken from Matthew Henry’s Commentary.
God can bring about his purposes by contrary means. The Jews themselves say that it was not the sight of the brazen serpent that cured them, but, in looking up to it, they looked up to God as the Lord that healed them. But there was much of gospel in this appointment.
Our Saviour has told us so (Jn. 3:14, 15), that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so the Son of man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish. Observe then a resemblance,1. Between their disease and ours. The devil is the old serpent, a fiery serpent, hence he appears (Rev. 12:3) as a great red dragon. Sin is the biting of this fiery serpent; it is painful to the startled conscience, and poisonous to the seared conscience.
Satan’s temptations are called his fiery darts, Eph. 6:16. Lust and passion inflame the soul, so do the terrors of the Almighty, when they set themselves in array. At the last, sin bites like a serpent and stings like an adder; and even its sweets are turned into the gall of asps.2. Between their remedy and ours.
(1.) It was God himself that devised and prescribed this antidote against the fiery serpents; so our salvation by Christ was the contrivance of Infinite Wisdom; God himself has found the ransom.
(2.) It was a very unlikely method of cure; so our salvation by the death of Christ is to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness. It was Moses that lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, and Moses wrote of him, John v. 4-6. Christ was lifted up by the rulers of the Jews, who were the successors of Moses.
(3.) That which cured was shaped in the likeness of that which wounded. So Christ, though perfectly free from sin himself, yet was made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3), so like that it was taken for granted that this man was a sinner, Jn. 9:24.
(4.) The brazen serpent was lifted up; so was Christ. He was lifted up upon the cross (Jn. 12:33, 34), for his was made a spectacle to the world. He was lifted up by the preaching of the gospel. The word here used for a pole signifies a banner, or ensign, for Christ crucified stands for an ensign of the people, Isa. 11:10.
Some make the lifting up of the serpent to be a figure of Christ’s triumphing over Satan, the old serpent, whose head he bruised, when in his cross he made an open show of the principalities and powers which he had spoiled and destroyed, Col. 2:15.3. Between the application of their remedy and ours. They looked and lived, and we, if we believe, shall not perish; it is by faith that we look unto Jesus, Heb. 12:2. Look unto me, and be you saved, Isa. 45:22. We must be sensible of our wound and of our danger by it, receive the record which God has given concerning his Son, and rely upon the assurance he has given us that we shall be healed and saved by him if we resign ourselves to his direction.
The brazen serpent’s being lifted up would not cure if it was not looked upon. If any pored on their wound, and would not look up to the brazen serpent, they inevitably died. If they slighted this method of cure, and had recourse to natural medicines, and trusted to them, they justly perished; so if sinners either despise Christ’s righteousness or despair of benefit by it their wound will, without doubt, be fatal. But whoever looked up to this healing sign, though from the outmost part of the camp, though with a weak and weeping eye, was certainly healed; so whosoever believes in Christ, though as yet but weak in faith, shall not perish.
New John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (the following text from this edition and gives further background)
And they journeyed from Mount Hor…
After the battle with the king of Arad, and the defeat of him:
by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom;
which lay by it, and from whence it had the name of the Red sea, Edom signifying red; and by the way of that the Israelites must needs go, to go round that country:
and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way;
because it was going back instead of going forward to Canaan’s land, and because of the length of the way; it was a round about way they were going; when, could they have been admitted to have passed through the country of Edom, the way would have been short; or had they pursued their victory over the Canaanite, they would have gone directly into the land; and this perhaps was what fretted, vexed, and discouraged them, that they were obliged to go back, and take such a circuit, when they had such an opportunity of entering; and they might be distressed also with the badness and the roughness of the way, the borders of Edom being rocky and craggy: it is in the original text, “their soul or breath was short” F16; they fetched their breath short, being weary and faint with travelling, or through anger, as angry persons do, when in a great passion: so the people of God travelling through the wilderness of this world are often discouraged, because of the difficulties, trials, and troubles they meet with in the way, from sin, Satan, and the world, and are fretful and impatient; but though they are led about and walk in a round about way, and in a rough way, yet in a right way to the city of their habitation, (Psalms 107:7) .
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