The LORD said to Moses,
“Make a snake and put it up on a pole;
anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

Numbers 21: 8

No real surprise to see the Israelites, yet again spiral downward to grumbling and complaining in the wilderness. (Lest we criticize them too harshly, invite the Holy Spirit to highlight your own thoughts over the last 24-48 hours. We have much more in common with the whiners than we would like to admit.)

God responds by sending venomous snakes. These snakes bit the people and many of them died. Perhaps regretting the consequences more than their behavior that brought those consequences, the people cried out to Moses, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” Numbers 21: 7

And Moses did what he always did – he fell facedown before God and interceded on behalf of the people.  Just as remarkable is what Moses didn’t do.  He didn’t say, “I told you so!” or “How many times will it take for you to learn…” or, one of my mama’s favorites, “You made your bed, now you can lie in it!”

God’s answer might seem a bit strange if you are reading it for the first time–or even if you are reading it for the 37th time: “…look…and live.” They were to look at the very thing that was causing their problem!

And sure enough, verse 9 confirms that Moses put that bronze snake up on a pole and everyone who looked at it was saved.

The looking up part makes sense to us. But why…a snake of all things?

We can find clues in the New Testament.  Let’s begin with these words of Jesus. We’re all familiar with John 3: 16, but let’s look at the two verses just prior. John 3: 14-15 says this:

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.
John 3: 14-15

Jesus is comparing Himself to the snake?!

The lifting up part makes sense to us:

  • Jesus was lifted up to the Cross in his crucifixion
  • He was lifted up from death in his resurrection, and
  • He was lifted up to heaven in his ascension

But why, oh why, would He compare Himself to a snake?

I believe we find the answer in II Corinthians 5: 21:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God.

When Jesus hung on that cross, He didn’t just take the punishment for sin, He became sin.  Jesus became lust…and rape…and incest…and murder, adultery, idolatry….gossip, lying, cheating, stealing…He became SIN for you and me.  Our sin put him there.

Perhaps that’s why He cried out to the father at the end, “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

Perhaps that’s why God sent darkness upon the earth for those three hours. Perhaps that means all of creation was mourning this separation of Jesus from God the Father.

I Peter 2: 24 says,

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,
so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;
by his wounds you have been healed.

 Let’s connect the dots now from the serpent on the pole to Christ on the cross.

When we look to the cross of Christ for salvation, we have to look directly at our own sin.  We acknowledge the magnitude of our filth and depravity.  We must see ourselves as sinners before we can see our need for a Savior.

The Israelites looked at the serpent on the pole and were delivered from physical death.
You and I look to the cross and are delivered from spiritual death.

No one could do the looking for anyone else.  Each had to cast his own look.  And none of us can confess sin for anyone but ourselves.  And it would do no good to try to find a remedy by looking to anything else.

Jesus said of Himself in John 14: 6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…”

Jesus alone is our way to find freedom from sin and freedom to eternal life.

Just as the Israelites had to look at that awful snake on the pole, we have to look straight at our own sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.  It is only when we acknowledge our sin that we can see we are in need of being saved from its consequences.

Look…and live!


This truth and others is covered in the teaching lecture found here: http://fbcsiloam.podbean.com/e/ladies-bible-study-exodus-lessons-20-23-highlights-laura-macfarlan-3-19-15/


Laura Macfarlan