Chapter 41 The Brazen Serpent

The LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live (Numbers 21:8).

The wickedness of Israel in the wilderness is almost unbelievable to us did we not know the innate vileness of our own hearts. The rebellion recorded here is not the first but, rather, the eighth. Their souls loathed the manna from Heaven which was a sweet type of Christ to come (verse 5). And as in previous times, God’s wrath is revealed against such ingratitude and ungodliness. “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died” (verse 6). There is poison in the bite, and death is a certain consequence. Multitudes fall and are buried in the desert wastes.

The Brazen Serpent

The plan of healing, following their cry to God for mercy, was a God-given plan. Moses was commanded to make “a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass that, if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (verse 9). There was life for a look. All that God required was a look of faith. This applied to all, no matter whether they were learned or unlearned, rich or poor, old or young. There was no other means of healing. It mattered not who they were, or how far or near they were to the lifted-up serpent, there was perfect and instantaneous cure when they trustfully looked to what was God’s plan for saving them.

This is yet another glorious type of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord, in speaking to Nicodemus, took up this type and said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). This is the remedy of God.

The Need of Man

Our lives are in peril. We all have been bitten by “that old serpent, the devil.” His poison has been injected into our veins. Its venom is fatal. We cannot help or heal ourselves. We cannot be healed by looking at some religious leader, or by believing time and nature have some healing balm, or that we may be healed if we deny self and work sacrificially to help others, or if we try to fight our own battles and slay the serpents before they bite.

The law can only diagnose the disease. It tells us that we surely have been poisoned. It traces the venom’s course in our blood stream. But it has no cure. It must leave us to perish. Nor can another of Adam’s race afford help, for all have been bitten and have the same affliction. Nor can religious rites and ceremonies and performances suck out the deadly poison. Unless God helps us, we must surely perish in this world’s wilderness.

The God-Given Remedy

God’s remedy is in His lifted-up and crucified Son on Calvary’s cross. Only God could provide relief, and He sent it in His beloved Son. Never let us forget to praise the Father for sending His Son, and to bless His name for the instant relief provided in His Son. But the price of the healing balm is too vast for us to comprehend.

It meant that the Son of God must descend from Heaven’s glory to assume “the likeness of men.” In that new Humanity of His, He would have to stoop into the mystery of death and be lifted up on a cruel cross to hang as the antitype of Moses’ brazen serpent. He was to be lifted up so that He would be conspicuous in His death, and so to be seen by all men everywhere. It is because of who He is that a remedy could be prepared. In Him every divine attribute and every human virtue combine and work together, so that from those wounds of the cross there is merit to expiate all man’s transgressions and heal all his wounds.

All that remains for man to do is to look at Him—Christ and Him crucified. It is no more than that—but no less than that. The look must be one of wholehearted faith and trust, believing that this is God’s remedy, that it is sure and certain, that it is effectual for every person regardless of how far the poison may have progressed in its course.

There is no other means of healing. The rich must look, for riches cannot save. The poor must look, for poverty cannot pity a poisoned state. The intellectual must look, for the human intellect cannot devise a means of help. The ignorant and unlearned must look, for ignorance cannot write a prescription for so deadly an affliction. The Word of God is very clear to all—“Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22).

We are here gathered around this remembrance feast to remember His being lifted up, and that we might renew our gaze, and feel again the gratitude of His healing power.

No, not despairingly
Come I to Thee;
No, not distrustingly
Bend I the knee:
Sin hath gone over me,
Yet this is still my plea—
Jesus hath died.

Ah! mine iniquity
Crimson hath been,
Infinite, infinite,
Sin upon sin:
Sin of not loving Thee,
Sin of not trusting Thee,
Infinite sin.

Faithful and just art Thou,
Forgiving all;
Loving and kind art Thou
When poor ones call:
Lord, let the cleansing blood,
Blood of the Lamb of God,
Pass o’er my soul.

Horatius Bonar