A Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21:9)

And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

Numbers 21:9

The story of the bronze serpent is familiar to most believers. It’s a Sunday school classic due, I think, to the imagery of snakes and poles and such. This may even be the first recorded instance of something resembling a caduceus.

But this story always gets me. The serpents were sent as judgment. So the likeness of the serpents was made and put on a pole and raised up and anyone who looked to the snake-on-a-stick lived. The bronze serpent had no special ability; no magical properties. It was just a metal snake on a stick. But this whole account becomes a metaphor for the condition of every human being who would ever live.

We have all complained against God in some fashion. Some have complained directly while others have complained simply by refusing to believe or choosing other gods (who are no gods at all). But we have all complained. Into our lives has come sin, paralleling the fiery serpents. Sin looks fascinating, as I’m sure those serpents did. But sin hurts and eventually kills, as those serpents absolutely did. Bronze, I’m told, is symbolic of judgment. So judgment was on that pole. Fast forward to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and he says that God made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Moses had to make a likeness of the judgment; the sin; the serpents and lift it up. Jesus was made sin for us and nailed to a cross and lifted up. The Israelites who looked to the bronze serpent and believed God’s promise to save through it lived. Anyone who comes to the cross and believes God’s promise to save through Christ will have everlasting life.

The account does not say how many times people looked to that bronze serpent. But I can say with certainty that I need frequently to look to the cross and be reminded that He Who knew no sin became sin so that He might put sin to death in me. And I need to live in that reality.


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