Summary: Exploration of the typology of the bronze snake of Numbers 21 and what it means to believe.
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Unless otherwise indicated all scripture is quoted from the New Living Translation of the Bible.
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Some of you have perhaps heard of the US Government’s directive on dealing with an Anaconda attack.
Anaconda’s, as everyone knows are large semi-aquatic snakes of the boa family that live in the tropical regions of S. America. They can grow to 35 feet long and weigh between 300 and 400 pounds.
The government prepared the following instructions that were included in a Peace Corp training manual.
1. If you are attacked my an anaconda, do not run. The snake is faster than you are.
2. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.
3. Tuck your chin in.
4. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body. Do not panic.
5. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet end--always from the feet end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and your ankles.
6. Do not panic.
7. The snake will begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.
8. When the snake reaches your knees, slowly, and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snake’s mouth between the edge of the mouth and your leg.
Then suddenly rip upwards, severing the snake’s head.
9. Be sure you have your knife.
10. Make sure your knife is sharp.
Just think, if the Israelites had such a manual in their hands they may have not been so devastated by the snakes they encountered in the desert.
Of course, they didn’t. As a matter of fact the Israelites didn’t have much with them when they fled Egypt – crossing the Red Sea into the relative safety of the desert. Which, as you remember, was not a pleasant place to be. You’ve seen pictures this week of desert sandstorms in the Middle East.
And it brought out the worst in the Israelites. The people were given to impatience with Moses and God. We see that in Numbers 21 where the Israelites begin to utter their collective whine.
"Why have you brought us out into the wilderness to die? There’s no food out here! No McBaggels. Just manna burgers. No water! What’s the story here Moses?"
Verse 6 says that God responded by sending poisonous snakes which bite the people and many Israelites died.
By verse 7 they change their story and go to Moses saying "’We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”
And in vseres 8-9 God tells Moses to make replica of a snake and to put it on a pole.
So he makes one out of bronze and "Whenever those who were bitten looked at the bronze snake, they recovered!" says verse 9.
Now, please don’t ask me how this worked. I have no idea! Although, snakes were often equated in the ancient world with healing. Even today the insignia for a physician, the Caduceus is a staff with two entwined snakes.
Numbers, however, isn’t really interested in explaining the connection between snakes and healing -- or how looking at a bronze snake healed people of their snake bites. No, the emphasis is on the fact that God in his love and mercy saved the very people who had bad mouthed him. God says: "Look up and live!"