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.” 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. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)
It is astonishing just how quickly the people still go to this place of complaining and speaking against Yahweh. It shows clearly that what we’re dealing with as sinners is not some accident of upbringing or a few bad hearts here and there, but rather an overriding inborn inability to submit to the Law of God. We are just in trouble but perishing without a rescue. But God keeps offering a rescue.
Jesus refers to this incident saying that as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes might have eternal life (John 3:14,15). The serpent on the pole was symbolic of the very thing that was killing Israelites. Jesus took our killer, sin, on himself. Looking to the serpent brought life. Looking to Jesus in faith brings life. There is no working for the cure, simply believing.
But I must know that I am dying or I will not look to the cure. I must know that the poison of sin is not something I can overcome myself. And I must know that God has not abandoned me to hopelessness but is still there to offer rescue if I am willing to receive it.
“Isaac’s Storm” is a very interesting book about the hurricane that wiped out Galveston in 1900. One of the main plot lines of the book is about how everyone was convinced that a hurricane could never strike Galveston, even as one approached. The author vividly describes how as the streets began to flood people went about their business as if nothing was wrong. Children played in the water, men gathered for breakfast at the local diner, and no one fled from the storm that was about to strike.
Some didn’t worry because Issac Cline, the national weather service officer in Galveston, assured them it would not be a severe storm. Other’s simply believed that Galveston was invincible. Some thought that since they had never seen a hurricane strike Galveston one never would. So for a number of reasons, people assured themselves nothing bad would happen. And as a result over 6,000 people died one September day in 1900.