By Henry Mahan
Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:14-18
There is no better type nor picture of Christ, our Redeemer, and the way that sinners are saved to be found in the Old Testament than the one before us; for our Lord, himself, chose this Old Testament picture to illustrate the gospel to Nicodemus, the religious Pharisee (John 3:14-18). Would you learn the way of mercy and life? Then follow this story prayerfully and carefully.
1. The people rebelled against God. (vv. 4-5)
They were discouraged because of the way! It was away from Canaan instead of toward Canaan, but it was the way they had chosen at Kadesh-Barnea. They could and should have entered the land of milk and honey, but their unbelief turned them away from God (Heb. 3:19).
Our wanderings in the wilderness are of our own choosing.
In our father, Adam, we chose not to believe God (Rom. 5:12).
We wanted to be our own god and to have our own way, and the consequence was death for the whole race.
The people spoke against God. Paul, in 1 Cor. 10:9, said they spoke against Christ. They murmured against Moses, God's prophet and leader. Nothing that the Lord or Moses, his servant, had done pleased them. They spoke against the way of God and the word of God.
Our generation is no different. Instead of recognizing that our condition and troubles in the spirit and the flesh are of our own making and justifying God in his judgments, we murmur against the Lord, his way, his word, and his servants. The lust for our own way (Isa. 53:6; Isa. 55:8) got us in the mess we are in, yet we still reject God's way and desire our own.
The people found fault with the bread from heaven (manna) and the water from the rock. 'Our soul loatheth this light bread.' What a horrible, condemning statement, especially in the light of the fact that 'that rock was Christ' and the manna a picture of Christ, God's gift of life.
How many in the world or religion today are content with Christ, the bread of life and the water of life? (John 5:40; John 6:51-52; John 6:55-60.) Like Israel of old and the Jews of apostolic days, we will not have this man reign over us nor rejoice in his way of life.
2. The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people. (vv. 6-7)
Because of their sin of murmuring and rebellion, God judged the people, sent deadly poisonous serpents among them, and the people bitten by the serpents died.
Our sin has separated us and our God. The serpent of sin has left its poison in every son of Adam; and death, the wages of sin, is upon us (Rom. 5: 17-19). 'In Adam all die.' There was no human cure for the fiery serpents' bite, as there is no human cure for the guilt and condemnation of sin.
Spiritual death is in us, physical death is upon us, and eternal death awaits us. 'Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.' The people entreated Moses to intercede for them with God.
Only the great mercy of God could deliver them. Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve, and mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.
3. God provided the remedy--a picture of Christ, our redeemer. (vv. 8-9)
A serpent was made in the likeness of the fiery serpents. So Christ, our Lord, was made in the likeness of flesh (Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7). He was made of a woman, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh (Luke 24:39). He was numbered with the transgressors (Isa. 53:12).
The serpent of brass had no venom, as Christ had no sin.
He was tempted as we are, yet without sin.
The serpent of brass was lifted up on a pole. So Christ was lifted upon a cross (John 3:14-15). Bearing our sins, he was nailed to a cross (Isa. 53:4-6; 1 Peter 3:18).
There was but one remedy--the serpent on the pole. There is but one Saviour, one Redeemer, one deliverer--the Lord Jesus Christ, our substitute (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; John 3:35- 36).
All that the people were required to do was look. God provided the remedy, fully and completely, and commanded them to look. Our command is the same, 'Look and live' (1 John 5:11-13; Rom. 3:28). The remedy was sufficient and effectual for dying sinners. No matter how severe the case, it was 'look and live.' The common notion is that salvation is for good people, church workers, and those who are examples and moral specimens. But how different is the word of God and how different this example! God's grace is for the guilty; Christ the Saviour is for sinners (Rom. 5:6-8; Matt. 9:10-13). God's mercy is for the miserable who cannot help themselves. We have no gospel for sham sinners nor pretended professors. Our gospel is for the lost, as Moses' serpent was for the hopelessly bitten Israelites.
An interesting commentary on human nature is found in 2 Kings 18:1-4. The people saved the serpent of brass and began to worship it, so Hezekiah, King of Judah, had to destroy it, calling it 'only a piece of brass.' Do not people today tend to worship the land where Christ lived, calling it the Holy Land? Do they not worship the place where he died and lay buried? Is not the cross itself an object of worship? What idolatry! It is not the cross that saves but the Christ of the cross.