Summary: In God's dealings with Israel, the atoning work of Jesus Christ was always in mind. The symbol of the snake was intended for later use by Jesus as an illustration of his death.
A Look of Faith
1. In the world of medicine and nutritional supplements, do we really know what we are doing? People seem so sure about their claims, but we need to remind ourselves: we don't know what we don't know.
2. This AFP article broke this last week:
"Ordinary calcium supplements taken by the elderly to strengthen bones may boost the risk of heart attacks, according to a study released Friday. The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, suggest that the role of calcium in the treatment of osteoporosis should be reconsidered, the researchers said.
"They found that calcium supplements were associated with about a 30 percent jump in heart attack risk. The chances of stroke and mortality also increased to a lesser extent."
3. One of the strangest medicinal events of all time occurred in the Arabian Dessert over 3,400 years ago.
4. How many of you are familiar with the Biblical account of the brass or copper serpent Moses made in the wilderness?
5. This event was so spectacular that it was probably famed region wide. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
"With the decline of Egyptian control of the region in the middle of the 12th century BCE, the mines at Timna and the Hathor temple were abandoned. However, cultic activities in the temple were restored by the Midianites, who remained in Timna for a short period after the Egyptians left. They cleared most traces of the Egyptian cult and effaced the images of Hathor and the Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions …
"Remains of woolen cloth found along the courtyard walls provide evidence that the Midianites turned the Egyptian temple into a tented desert shrine. Among the finds in this Midianite shrine was a large number of votive gifts brought especially from Midian, including beautifully decorated Midianite pottery and metal jewelry. Of particular significance is the find of a copper snake with gilded head. It is reminiscent of the copper serpent described in Numbers 21:6-9. (From the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.mfa.gov .il/MFA/History/Early%20History%20-%20Archaeology/Archaeological% 20Sites%20in%20Israel%20-%20Timna-20Valley%20of)
6. This event was more than historically significant; it foreshadowed the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Main Idea: In God's dealings with Israel, the atoning work of Jesus Christ was always in mind. The symbol of the snake was intended for later use by Jesus as an illustration of his death.
I. The Serpent on a POLE (Numbers 21:4-9)
A. They had to BACKTRACK (4-5)
1. We humans experience an unreasonable phenomenon called "loss aversion." When we have something, we do not like it taken away. It colors our thinking.
2. Who likes detours? Now redoing Dixon…but reasonable
3. Edom would not let them through; related
4. Back to the Red Sea, rugged wilderness, miserable
5. They complain about their hardship
6. They call God's provision "detestable, miserable food"
7. Probably the survivors of the older generation instigating
B. God Sends POISONOUS SNAKES to Bite Them (6)
Perhaps those who died were mostly the older, complaining generation.
This is the last "complaining incident."
C. The People CONFESS Their Sin and Submit to Moses (7)
D. God's UNUSUAL Response (8)
1. A COPPER or bronze serpent
2. LIFTED on a pole
• This was the original, "See you at the pole" event!
3. LOOK and live
From the Apocryphal book, "The Wisdom of Solomon," written in about 100 B.C. (not really by Solomon, which is why it is apocryphal), we read the Jewish understanding of this event:
"For when the horrible fierceness of beasts came upon these, and they perished with the stings of crooked serpents, your wrath endured not for ever: But they were troubled for a short time, that they might be corrected, having a sign of salvation. This put them in remembrance of the commandment of your law.
For he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by You, You who are the Savior of all. And in this you made your enemies confess, that it is you who delivers from all evil…" [KJV, altered]
The Talmud states,
Now, can a snake kill or can it keep alive? Of course, it cannot. The Torah wants to tell you that when Israel looked upward and humbled themselves to their Father in heaven and repented, they were healed; otherwise, they perished…. Rosh Hashanhah 29a.
"In anti-idolatry reforms, King Hezekiah destroyed Moses' bronze serpent, because it had become an object of veneration (2 Kings 18:4)." Etz Hayim, p. 889.
II. Jesus' Midrash: He Would Be LIFTED on A Pole for Us (John 3:13-16)
We are snake-bitten people, in the process of dying because of the venom of sin. But many of us have looked to Jesus as our copper serpent, as the cure for our condition.