THE SERPENT ON THE POLE

 

Numbers 21:4-9 speaks of the difficulties that the Israelites faced in the wilderness during their journey from Egypt to the land promised by God. By this time the people had grown tired of eating manna and were beginning to hate it. The way was dangerous as well. Among the hazards were deadly serpents, which had killed a number of people. Moses responded to this threat by having a replica of a snake fashioned in bronze and mounted on a pole, such that those who looked upon the serpent would be healed of snakebite.

“And they journeyed from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul hates this light manna.

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned; for we have spoken against the Lord, and against you; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

“And Moses made a serpent of bronze, 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 bronze, he lived.”

The serpent on the pole, as representing the serpent of Genesis 3 who deceived Adam and Even in the Garden, also represented sin. This episode suggests that in some way a representative of sin can heal people.

The third chapter of John begins with Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the night, probably because he could get away then from the other Pharisees and speak privately to Jesus. Jesus responds with a discourse on spiritual birth, proclaiming that while a person is born in the material world through a natural mother, the Holy Spirit gives birth to a person in the spiritual realm, a necessity for those who are destined for heaven. Jesus continues in verses 14-18 to explain to Nicodemus that He is come in the flesh to point the way to a person’s spiritual rebirth through faith in Him.

“And, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. That whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He that believes on him is not condemned, but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

In this discourse Jesus refers back to the serpent on the pole, through which people who were snakebitten would be healed through fastening their eyes on the brass serpent held up by Moses.

The obvious connection is that the serpent on the pole actually represented Jesus Himself, who indeed became sin on the cross for the purpose of healing mankind from its sinful nature.

Jesus actually became sin, having taken on Himself the sins of every person who ever lived and ever shall live. That is exactly why, in His agony during crucifixion, Jesus uttered the words recorded in the Gospels, as in Matthew 27:46:

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lamasabachthani? That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Unable to look upon sin, the Father, in the grief that was represented by Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac, had to forsake Jesus, covered as He was in the filth of mankind’s sin.

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