Look and Live – Numbers 21:5-9
The Israelites had been traveling in the wilderness almost forty years. This group of two to three million Jewish people with Moses as their leader, had some advantages that we can only envy. Even though God takes care of us, we don’t usually see His care in such a visible manner as they did. For these traveling Israelites, God was leading them each step of the way from Egypt to the Promised Land with signs and wonders.
Gods’ Presence in the form of a pillar of cloud moved ahead of them each day to guide them and His Presence each night became a pillar of fire in the middle of their camp to keep them safe. The Lord opened up a path in the Red Sea for them and stopped their enemies from harming them. And the Lord kept their clothes from wearing out and personally fed them manna the whole forty years they were on the journey. God gave them water from hidden springs when they were thirsty and He gave them Moses and Aaron to teach them with accompanying signs and miracles.
Scripture describes Gods’ tender parenting on this journey in Hosea 11:1-3 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. ---I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms, but they did not know that I was the One healing them.”
Since God hovered over them in such a visible way; hand feeding them and taking care of their every need, the trip through the wilderness should not have taken more than a year to make. But even though these traveling Israelites were given deliverances and miracles they still doubted and rebelled against God. When they crossed the desert and arrived at their destination they refused to go in and take the land God had promised them. And so it was that because they refused to believe God and go into their land, they were left to wander in the wilderness for forty year. Their disobedience kept them in the desert, and their unbelief stopped them from getting the land God had promised them.
Nearly forty years had passed by now and the Israelites were nearing their Promised Land once more. And it didn’t seem like they had learned their lessons. Once again they were grumbling and speaking lies against God and against Moses. Numbers 21:.5. Scripture tells us that because of their grumbling, God stopped protecting them from the poisonous snakes that were there in the wilderness. Many Israelites were bitten by these snakes and died.
So the people came crying to Moses and begged him to pray to God to save them from the snakes. “We have sinned, for we have spoken against God and against you” vs. 7 they cried. Moses prayed and God as always answered. Then God 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 he shall live.” Vs 8.
And so Moses did as God instructed and made a bronze serpent and put it up high on a pole in the middle of the camp. And Scripture records that every person who suffered from a poisonous snake bite only had to look up at the bronze serpent on the pole. Just one look at the snake and they were healed and saved from death!
These stories of the children of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness leave so many rich lessons for us. The doting Father God who led this group and took care of their needs in the wilderness promises to lead us too and take care of our needs. The Israelites back then could see God in their midst as a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud. And today we can know that God is with us by the witness of the Holy Spirit that He gives to each one of us when we believe. Our disobedience can keep us in the wilderness just like theirs did. And our unbelief can stop us from receiving the blessings God wants for our lives, just as theirs did. God has a promised land waiting for us, but we have to go in and take it.
God allowed the Israelites to be bitten by the snakes because they had murmured against Him. Does that mean that God only wants us to say nice up-beat things and never complain? I don’t think so. Jesus railed against the church leaders of His day, the scribes and the Pharisees. In love we are supposed to speak up against something that isn’t right. But the children of Israel were not murmuring against something wrong. They were lying and rebelling against God. Let’s make sure we have the facts, before we spread negative rumors or use scare tactics.
In our story, just one look at the bronze snake held up on the pole by Moses acted as an anti venom. The person didn’t have to take medicine, or be especially privileged by God. Whoever looked at the bronze snake would live. John 3:14-15 says,” And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
So there it is. The bronze serpent lifted up back then to save the Israelites from death is a picture of our Savior, who must be lifted up to save us all from eternal death. The serpent was held up for the benefit of everyone in the camp and Jesus’ sacrifice is also there for everyone. Salvation is never limited, -whosoever will may come. One look at the bronze serpent was the only way a person dying from the poisonous snake bite could be healed and live. And looking to Jesus is the only way we who are dying in sin can be forgiven and live eternally. - John 14:6 God has made it so simple for all of us. Let’s hold up Jesus for everyone to see; and let’s look to Him and live.