“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 takes 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)
Oh the depravity of man! Consider the ungratefulness, the callousness and the wickedness of humanity as exemplified in this text. What more could God have done in showing His steadfast love, His mighty hand and His divine wisdom than what He had done for His people. Had He not redeemed them out of slavery? Had He not rescued them from the army of the Egyptians? Had He not provided food, water and all that the people needed? Yet, the people persist in shameful unbelief. “Why have you brought us to die?” “We loathe this food.” Sadly we find in ourselves the same ungratefulness and unbelief whenever we hear our own voices complaining about our food, our situation, our lot in life. For this lack of faith and appalling ungratefulness there is only one just sentence – the sentence of death.
Through the snakes God carries out this sentence of death. Many died. Upon recognizing their sin, the people’s immediate solution to the crisis is that God removes the snakes. Instead God does something better – he provided a means of grace, a way for those bitten sinners to live. God would preserve the people’s lives through the means of a bronze snake on a pole. Those bitten could look upon it and live. God’s solution did not drive away the snakes; instead it drove the bitten to gaze upon a bronze serpent and beyond it to the words of Him who said, “Those bitten who look upon the serpent shall live.”
God’s final solution to the ingratitude and unbelief of our hearts has been revealed through His Son Jesus Christ. As scripture says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15 ESV).” In Christ the sentence of death was carried out to finality. Those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. In Him and through Him you now have eternal life. Because of Him, your sins are forgiven.