My mother, wife, and daughter hate snakes. My Mom used to say she was theologically correct in her abhorrence of serpents. One day my wife was looking out the window and spotted a snake on one of our Globe Evergreens. She yelled the news to me and ran into the other room.
I got a machete while my daughter became a “spotter” from the porch. I nonchalantly walked into position and struck it. At first, I could not find it and then realized it was wrapped around the blade. I threw it to the ground and proceeded to finish my project, when my daughter yelled, “You missed it, it is right there.” There were two snakes. As I continued to fillet this menace to our family, little snakes proceeded from it. There must have been three dozen of them. I became an instant household hero for at least 42 seconds.
Do you like snakes? Have you ever owned one?
I believe the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Most Christians do not know the two verses that set the stage for verse 16. John 3:14-15 say, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
John takes his readers back to Numbers chapter 21. Surprise, the people are complaining again. God does not take complaining lightly. When we complain, we say, “God does not care, love us, or is not strong enough.” We criticize God. It is not good.
Numbers 21:4-5 record the scenario, “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’”
What did the people complain about?
Who did the people speak against?
The people complain of no food, yet they say, “We loathe this worthless food.” Sounds like every American teen I know, “There is nothing in the house to eat.” Okay, sounds like we adults, too.
Verses 6-9 show God’s response, “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
What did God do to the people for complaining?
What was the means of salvation?
Why do you think He used a snake?
There could be several good answers to this question. First, God may have wanted to use the symbol sarcastically to make a point of their sin. Second, He may have wanted them to think of the serpent in the garden and how their complaining brought that serpent glory. Third, He may have used the serpent to take them back to their roots in Egypt when He did many signs (including turning the staff into a serpent), so He could rescue them.
Either way, those who were bitten had a choice to make.
What could someone do if they were bitten by a snake?
C.S. Lewis has said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” It is important to put yourself in the scenario to fully appreciate the impact.
There were probably about 2,000,000 people wandering. They took up a lot of space. When someone was bitten by a snake, they would have had to be told about the means of salvation (looking upon the golden serpent), take the time and energy to find it, and then behold it. Believing implies action. They had a choice. They could say their good-byes, or they could trust the message, travel a distance, and be healed.
How does Numbers chapter 21 and John 3:14-15 relate to John 3:16?
John F. Walvoord has said, “Believing is accepting as a fact and making a commitment of your own future to the promises of God to save you -- simply by believing in Christ.”
What does it mean to believe in Christ?
“We have a right to believe whatever we want,
but not everything we believe is right.”