Summary: Propitiation is the main focus. The symbolism of the connection between the bronze snake made by Moses and the crucifixion of Christ.
A while back, Paula asked me what ‘propitiation’ meant. There may be some of you that don’t know what propitiation is either, but it’s very important to each and every one of us.
To find out what this word really means, we are going to go to the scriptures, and we’ll start in the Old Testament. Let’s look in the book of (Numbers 21:4-9):
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
I remember Bill Gaither once talking about a woman in his church whose personality was so negative that, whenever she came into the room, the lights seemed to go out. Have you ever known anyone like that? I’m sure that none of you are that person, but you probably know someone like that. They have nothing good to say about anything and you don’t dare ask them how they are because they’ll spend the next 15 minutes telling you exactly how they are.
Some years ago, Paula and I went on vacation to Sandpiper, Florida to play some golf. We were really looking forward to it! When we landed, the resort people picked us up in a charter bus. It was a 45 minute bus ride to the resort from the Orlando airport.
It just so happens that there was a large Jewish family on the bus that was having a big family vacation. The patriarch had paid for 30 people or so to take this vacation with them. My original thought upon hearing this was, that is such a great thing to do for your family. That thought quickly left my head!
The matriarch began complaining about the heat and the humidity… Now, being an optimist by nature, I’m thinking, ‘I may lose a few pounds with this heat and humidity. Cool!’
She began complaining about the heat, the humidity, the bus size, the distance from the airport, the flight they had been on, the time they had had to get up, her irregularity, whatever she
could think of. She started this about two minutes after we got on the bus and hadn’t quit when we got off the bus at the resort.
Now you can tell that I grew up in a Bible-believing house because, at one point in this bus ride, I leaned over to Paula and told her “that’s why they were kept out of the land!” I was visualizing this very passage during most of our bus trip. I guess God has a funny way of reminding us of scripture.
Now take the vision of that complaining matriarch in your head and magnify it by thousands. Moses had a whole bunch of those folks!
The Israelites spent much of their time murmuring and complaining. They complained about the lack of food, so God gave them Manna. It not only tasted good, but met all of their dietary needs. God reminds the Israelites in Deuteronomy that their feet never swelled and swelling feet is a symptom of a diet without some much-needed nutrients.
As wonderful as this gift was, they began to complain about it as well, so God gave them meat. They complained about the lack of water. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that we aren’t told about a lot of their complaining because Moses probably became rather numb to it all.
Our passage is the 8th and final time that the Israelites complain to God. God finally got tired of hearing their constant griping and complaining. He sent some snakes to start biting the Israelites. Isn’t it amazing how God can just talk to His creatures and they instantly obey Him? (except for you and me of course) Jesus wants fish in the net? No problem. God wants flies and frogs, yes sir! Here, God wants snakes to start congregating, which by the way does not happen in nature, and they come together for a meeting and start biting people. Now this is so obviously out of character for snakes, and on such a grand scale that the Israelites realize pretty quickly that this is no coincidence. They immediately run to Moses and ask him to talk to God on their behalf.