BY CHARLES WOODRUFF
“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. 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” (Numbers 21:8,9).
The people of Israel had sinned, and Jehovah sent venomous snakes among them, with a bite like fire, and venom that killed many of them. What was the great sin that caused this? Some of the Hebrew people themselves tell us, as they told Moses. “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”(Numbers 21:7).
It was not then, nor is it now, a light thing to speak against the LORD. Through Moses, Jehovah had led them out of Egypt where they had been in cruel bondage. But in the process of traveling through the wilderness from Mount Hor, they murmured and complained. It was bad enough to complain against Jehovah’s servant, Moses, but to also complain against Jehovah Himself; this was very dangerous. “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 water; and our soul loatheth this light bread” (Numbers 21:5).
What kind of serpents were these? We are not told exactly, but they were possibly of a golden
color. They were native to that wilderness around Arabah as they were going around Edom by
way of the Red Sea. Arabah is a desolate rift that runs from the Gulf of Aquaba in the south for
103 miles up to the Dead Sea, which at 1,368 feet below sea level, is the lowest point on the
earth. There is almost no rain in the Arabah, so it is incredibly dry. In the middle of Moses’
magnificent reminder to Israel of God’s provision for them, he speaks of this wilderness and the
serpents. “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-16).
It was the divine plan of God to bring them through that wilderness. It was their complaining and murmuring that brought about His judgment. They even complained about the manna He
provided for their food, calling it “this light bread”.
This wilderness was a desolate and dangerous place, but until they rebelled God had protected
them from the snakes and scorpions. We know in the Middle East there are, even today, snakes in the desert areas. There are vipers, and asps (cobras). “that the naja haie was the ‘fiery serpent’, or serpent inflicting a burning bite, appears from the name Ras-om-Haye (Cape of the haje serpents) in the locality where the Israelites were bitten. (Numbers 21:6)” According to Fausset, the haje naja is an Egyptian Cobra, very fiery and deadly indeed. (From Robert Fausset‘s Dictionary; online at esword; article on ‘adder‘).
Here in the southern USA, we are used to seeing snakes from time to time. When I lived in the
city of Atlanta, I did not often see snakes, except sometimes a Garter Snake, or in woodsy areas
perhaps an occasional Copperhead. Now, I live in a rural area about 40 miles south of Atlanta,
and we frequently see Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and sometimes Timber Rattlers. That’s three out of the four species of venomous snakes found in North America! We are a little too far north for the other one, the Coral Snake. With all that said, we don’t see them every day menacing us, but be careful in the woods and brush, for they are around, especially in the summer.
I personally think snakes are interesting--from a distance! Up close and personal, they’re not
much fun. Two years ago I was in my back yard and I heard an animal cry (actually more of a
squeak). I looked in the grass to my left in time to see a snake wrapping around a field mouse as
he convulsed in death. I watched him swallow the mouse from my vantage point about three feet
away. This is something I had never before seen, in person, and it was fascinating. I think the
snake was a Copperhead. It was about three feet long. I wasn’t scared. You know why? He had
his mouth full! After he ate the creature, I started to kill him, but I couldn’t. I went away and let
A neighbor released three non-venomous King Snakes in the neighborhood this spring. His
reasoning was that King Snakes eat rats, and also eat Rattlesnakes and Copperheads. When my
grandson first saw one of the King Snakes slithering through our yard, he cried out loudly
“Diamondback! Diamondback!” We got a laugh out of it, for my wife, my son and I knew what it
was. Thankfully, the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (the most deadly, and largest rattler in the south), are not generally found this far north, but usually south of Macon, about 100 miles away.
The wilderness the children of Israel were crossing was much more dangerous, and, of course
Jehovah Himself sent the serpents in large numbers to do His bidding. They did, and many of the people who were bitten and dying, cried out to God. It is said that when the people gazed on the brass serpent that Moses had made, and put on the pole, they were healed of the deadly bites. The medical profession in modern times adopted the serpent on a pole as a symbol. This is from the Bible. You may have seen it at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and on some medical literature. It is still used today. This was a real event in history, but like so much in Israel, it was also a type. It represented something much more far reaching that the localized snake bites.
Jesus Christ Himself tells us what it meant when He said “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). Can you not see immediately what the brass serpent typified? You see all humans have been bitten by the serpents of sin and there is no remedy except the lifting up of Jesus Christ on the cross in His death. You may say “But Christ was not typified in the brass serpent”. Oh yes He was. The Bible says “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:11). That does not mean Christ was a sinner. As it says here, “He knew no sin.” But, God regarded Him as a sinner on our behalf. He wasn’t bitten. He carried none of the deadly poison, yet He died for us. “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). (His name, Jesus, means saviour). “God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:12). So this saviour, Jesus, who is the Christ (the Messiah), who had none of the poison of sin, was treated as if He were the vilest sinner who ever lived. He did that for me! He did that for you! That is, if you have looked at Him on that cross with a God-given faith to believe. Just as the look at the brass serpent took away the poison; a look at the Lamb of God sacrificed for us takes away the poison of sin. In Him we live! Hallelujah!
Charles Haddon Spurgeon of England, was perhaps the most gifted 19th century preacher of all. In his conversion testimony, he tells of being under conviction of sin for quite some time. On a
snowy morning in London, he ducked into a small Primitive Methodist chapel. According to his
own testimony it was January 6, 1850. He was 16 years old. The regular preacher wasn’t even
there. A fill-in preacher was doing his best to declare Christ. He used this text: “Look unto me,
and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22). The words hit the young Mr. Spurgeon like a hammer. I am going to let the great preacher tell us in his own words the rest of the story.
“I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the
goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain
place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little
Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people's heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man,* a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was,—
"LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH."
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a
glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—"My dear friends, this is a very
simple text indeed. It says, 'Look.' Now lookin' don't take a deal of pains. It ain't liftin' your foot
or your finger; it is just, 'Look.' Well, a man needn't go to College to learn to look. You may be
the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn't be worth a thousand a year to be able to
look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, 'Look unto Me.' Ay!" said
he, in broad Essex, "many on ye are lookin' to yourselves, but it's no use lookin' there. You'll
never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, 'Look unto Me.' Some on ye say, 'We must wait for the Spirit's workin'.' You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, 'Look unto Me.'"
Then the good man followed up his text in this way:—"Look unto Me; I am sweatin' great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin' on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin' at the Father's right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!
When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, "Young man, you look very miserable." Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, "and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don't obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved." Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin' to do but to look and live." I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, "Trust Christ, and you shall be saved." Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered, and now I can say,—
"Ever since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die."
HOW C. H. SPURGEON FOUND CHRIST.
“ I looked to Him;
He looked on me;
and we were one for ever.”—C. H. S.
(From Spurgeon’s Autobiography; The Early Years; Banner of Truth edition, 1967. In chapter
seven “The Great Change-Conversion”)
So, can you not see, my sinner friend just what that serpent on the pole that Jesus referred to is all about. It is about your salvation. Like Mr. Spurgeon, you must look! Look my friend! Gaze on
Him, and the poison will be nullified. It is a figure, but so true! Look unto Him spiritually and you
too shall be delivered from your sins, and their just punishment. Oh, please look unto Jesus!
Published by Charles Woodruff- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Snail mail: 90 Raymond Ray Street, Newnan, GA 30265-1611
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