A Whimsical Dictionary: B is for Bronze Serpent

A Whimsical Dictionary: B is for Bronze Serpent

A Whimsical Dictionary of Surprising Influences.

B is for Bronze Serpent

How did Moses do it? How did he continue putting up with all the grumbling and complaining of the wandering Israelites? Although, I imagine I would have been one of those malcontents too if I was stuck in the desert with no water. It was a sign of his singular leadership, though, that he went so far as to intercede, to  pray to the Lord earnestly for these disgruntled ones. Numbers 21 shows us another time of bitter complaint. Well, evidently God wanted to show them who’s boss, and He sent poisonous snakes, “fiery serpents,” to reveal God’s displeasure with their attitude. Many Israelites died from snake bites, and finally their hearts were struck, and the people repented.

So during Moses’ intercession, asking God to forgive them, the Lord told Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and put it on a pole, high up in the air where all could see it. Whoever is snake-bit, all they have to do is look. That’s it, just look at the bronze serpent, and they will be healed.

Quite an unlikely source of healing, but there it is. What a dramatic image. So dramatic that Jesus Himself took this episode and, in his night-time talk with Nicodemus, made the bronze serpent a type, a picture of Jesus and His ministry. He told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” The mercy of God for Israelite whiners, a picture of God’s mercy for us through Jesus. Sure enough, this wasn’t the last time Jesus hinted at the bronze serpent. “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.’  (John 12:31-33). The bronze serpent on Moses’ pole is a picture of Jesus on the cross. Jesus, lifted up, brings healing and life to those bit by the serpent. And all we have to do is look and believe.