40. THE COPPER SNAKE
Let us have a quick review of the journey from Kadesh Barnea to the south.
They trevelled down the Araba, the driest and ugliest part of their entire journey through the desert.
Araba. The root is rb, which means dry, “burned up” and therefore “wasteland”. It is so ugly that it actually becomes beautiful. I have often looked at Araba which separates Israel from Jordan and marveled at this wasteland
Sometime we are very hard on the way we react to people, but once you get more detail, your attitude becomes a little kinder.
Soon after leaving Mount Hor the Israelites suffered defeat in
an engagement with Arad, one of the Canaanite kings. But as they earnestly sought help from God, divine aid was granted them, and their enemies were routed.
This victory, instead of inspiring gratitude and leading the people to feel their dependence upon God, made them boastful and self-confident.
Soon they fell into the old habit of murmuring. They were now dissatisfied because the armies of Israel had not been permitted to advance upon Canaan immediately after their rebellion at the report of the spies nearly forty years before.
They pronounced their long sojourn in the wilderness an unnecessary delay, reasoning that they might have conquered their enemies as easily heretofore as now.
As they continued their journey toward the south, their route lay through a hot, sandy valley, destitute of shade or vegetation. (This is the Araba.)
The way seemed long and difficult, and they suffered from weariness and thirst. Again they failed to endure the test of their faith and patience.
By continually dwelling on the dark side of their experiences, they separated themselves farther and farther from God.
Where are we looking? By beholding we become changed into the same image.
They lost sight of the fact that but for their murmuring when the water ceased at Kadesh, they would have been spared the journey around Edom.
God had purposed better things for them. Their hearts should have been filled with gratitude to Him that He had punished their sin so lightly.
But instead of this, they flattered themselves that if God and Moses had not interfered, they might now have been in possession of the Promised Land.
After bringing trouble upon themselves, making their lot altogether harder than God designed, they charged all their misfortunes upon Him.
Thus they cherished bitter thoughts concerning His dealings with them, and finally they became discontented with everything. Egypt looked brighter and more desirable than liberty and the land to which God was leading them.
As the Israelites indulged the spirit of discontent, they were disposed to find fault even with their blessings.
“Verse 5 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.”
Moses faithfully set before the people their great sin. It was God’s power alone that had preserved them in “that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpians, and drought, where there was no water.” Deuteronomy 8:15.
Every day of their travels they had been kept by a miracle of divine mercy. In all the way of God’s leading they had found water to refresh the thirsty, bread from heaven to satisfy their hunger, and peace and safety under the shadowy cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
Angels had ministered to them as they climbed the rocky heights or threaded the rugged paths of the wilderness. Notwithstanding the hardships they had endured, there was not a feeble one in all their ranks.
Their feet had not swollen in their long journeys, neither had their clothes grown old. God had subdued before them the fierce beasts of prey and the venomous reptiles of the forest and the desert.
If with all these tokens of His love the people still continued to complain, the Lord would withdraw His protection until they should be led to appreciate His merciful care, and return to Him with repentance and humiliation.
Because they had been shielded by divine power they had not realized the countless dangers by which they were continually surrounded.
In their ingratitude and unbelief they had anticipated death, and now the Lord permitted death to come upon them. The poisonous serpents that infested the wilderness were called fiery serpents, on account of the terrible effects produced by their sting, it causing violent inflammation and speedy death.
As the protecting hand of God was removed from Israel, great numbers of the people were attacked by these venomous creatures.
Verse 7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The people became humble before God, knowing that their accusations against Him were false.
Verse 8 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.”
A replica of the kind of serpent that was plaguing the people.
On a pole. The word translated “pole” is the one used of a military standard. It occurs in Ex. 17:15, Jehovah-nissi, “Jehovah, my standard.” Also as “banner” (Ps. 60:4), “ensign” (Isa. 11:10), and “standard” (Jer. 51:27). Whatever it was, the pole was high enough to be seen throughout the camp.
Verse 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
The people knew that the serpent was a symbol of the coming Saviour. They also realized that it was not sufficient simply to look at the serpent, but that the looking must be accompanied by faith, since there was no healing in the serpent itself.
It was possible to gaze at the image without being healed, if there was no exercise of faith in God as the divine Healer. Similarly, offerings unaccompanied by faith were unavailing (see John 3:14, 15).
Let us slowly relook the situation. May we prayerfully look at our own lives as we listen to the following words:
Now there was terror and confusion throughout the encampment. In almost every tent were the dying or the dead. None were secure.
Often the silence of night was broken by piercing cries that told of fresh victims. All were busy in ministering to the sufferers, or with agonizing care endeavoring to protect those who were not yet stricken.
No murmuring now escaped their lips. When compared with the present suffering, their former difficulties and trials seemed unworthy of a thought.
The people now humbled themselves before God. They came to Moses with their confessions and entreaties. “We have sinned,” they said, “for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee.”
Only a little before, they had accused him of being their worst enemy, the cause of all their distress and afflictions. But even when the words were upon their lips, they knew that the charge was false; and as soon as real trouble came they
fled to him as the only one who could intercede with God for them.
“Pray unto the Lord,” was their cry, “that He take away the serpents from us.”
Moses was divinely commanded to make a serpent of brass resembling the living ones, and to elevate it among the people.
To this, all who had been bitten were to look, and they would find relief. He did so, and the joyful news was sounded throughout the encampment that all who had been bitten might look upon the brazen serpent and live.
Many had already died, and when Moses raised the serpent upon the pole, some would not believe that merely gazing upon that metallic image would heal them; these perished in their unbelief.
Yet there were many who had faith in the provision which God had made. Fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters were anxiously engaged in helping their suffering, dying friends to fix their languid eyes upon the serpent.
If these, though faint and dying, could only once look, they were perfectly restored.
The people well knew that there was no power in the serpent of brass to cause such a change in those who looked upon it. The healing virtue was from God alone.
In His wisdom He chose this way of displaying His power. By this simple means the people were made to realize that this affliction had been brought upon them by their sins.
They were also assured that while obeying God they had no reason to fear, for He would preserve them.
The lifting up of the brazen serpent was to teach Israel an important lesson. They could not save themselves from the fatal effect of the poison in their wounds.
God alone was able to heal them. Yet they were required to show their faith in the provision which He had made. They must look in order to live. It was their faith that was acceptable with God, and by looking upon the serpent their faith was shown.
They knew that there was no virtue in the serpent itself, but it was a symbol of Christ; and the necessity of faith in His merits was thus presented to their minds.
Heretofore many had brought their offerings to God, and had felt that in so doing they made ample atonement for their sins.
They did not rely upon the Redeemer to come, of whom these offerings were only a type. The Lord would now teach them that their sacrifices, in themselves, had no more power or virtue than the serpent of brass, but were, like that, to lead their minds to Christ, the great sin offering.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” even so was the Son of man “lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:14, 15.
All who have ever lived upon the earth have felt the deadly sting of “that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan.” Revelation 12:9. The fatal effects of sin can be removed only by the provision that God has made.
The Israelites saved their lives by looking upon the uplifted serpent. That look implied faith. They lived because they believed God’s word, and trusted in the means provided for their recovery.
So the sinner may look to Christ, and live. He receives pardon through faith in the atoning sacrifice. Unlike the inert and lifeless symbol, Christ has power and virtue in Himself to heal the repenting sinner.
While the sinner cannot save himself, he still has something to do to secure salvation. “Him that cometh to Me,” says Christ, “I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37.
But we must come to Him; and when we repent of our sins, we must believe that He accepts and pardons us. Faith is the gift of God, but the power to exercise it is ours.
Faith is the hand by which the soul takes hold upon the divine offers of grace and mercy.
Nothing but the righteousness of Christ can entitle us to one of the blessings of the covenant of grace.
There are many who have long desired and tried to obtain these blessings, but have not received them, because they have cherished the idea that they could do something to make themselves worthy of them.
They have not looked away from self, believing that Jesus is an all-sufficient Saviour. We must not think that our own merits will save us; Christ is our only hope of salvation. “For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12.
When we trust God fully, when we rely upon the merits of Jesus as a sin-pardoning Saviour, we shall receive all the help that we can desire. Let none look to self, as though they had power to save themselves.
Jesus died for us because we were helpless to do this. In Him is our hope, our justification, our righteousness. When we see our sinfulness we should not despond and fear that we have no Saviour, or that He has no thoughts of mercy toward us.
At this very time He is inviting us to come to Him in our helplessness and be saved.
May I invite you to accept this, the greatest gift of all?
Many of the Israelites saw no help in the remedy which Heaven had appointed.
The dead and dying were all around them, and they knew that, without divine aid, their own fate was certain; but they continued to lament their wounds, their pains, their sure death, until their strength was gone, and their eyes were glazed, when they might have had instant healing.
If we are conscious of our needs, we should not devote all our powers to mourning over them.
While we realize our helpless condition without Christ, we are not to yield to discouragement, but rely upon the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour. Look and live.
Jesus has pledged His word; He will save all who come unto Him. Though millions who need to be healed will reject His offered mercy, not one who trusts in His merits will be left to perish.
Many are unwilling to accept of Christ until the whole mystery of the plan of salvation shall be made plain to them. They refuse the look of faith, although they see that thousands have looked, and have felt the efficacy of looking, to the cross of Christ.
Many wander in the mazes of philosophy, in search of reasons and evidence which they will never find, while they reject the evidence which God has been pleased to give.
They refuse to walk in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, until the reason of its shining shall be explained. All who persist in this course will fail to come to a knowledge of the truth.
God will never remove every occasion for doubt. He gives sufficient evidence on which to base faith, and if this is not accepted, the mind is left in darkness.
If those who were bitten by the serpents had stopped to doubt and question before they would consent to look, they would have perished. It is our duty, first, to look; and the look of faith will give us life.
After the break we will follow the pillar of cloud and fire. As God led His people from Egypt to the promised land, so He wants to lead you and me to the promised land.
As they encountered many challenges, so we too will encounter many challenges.
When they distrusted God, they lost their peace of mind and brought unnessary punishment upon themselves.
At Mount Nebo in Jordan you can look at the huge iron pole with a snake at the top.
Every time I visit there, I am reminded of the cross of Calvary. As long as I keep my eyes and faith and hope fixed on Jesus who died for my sins, I am saved.
There is life in the look at the cross. My dear friend. May I invite you to visit Calvary and look at the price God paid for you in order to saved you and to have you forever close to Him.
Sin is not a bargain, sin is death. Fixing your eye on Christ is the greatest bargain of all. It entails a happy life for all eternity