Bitten By Serpents

Have you ever been bitten by serpents?  Today, we’ll look at why the Israelites were bitten by them.

In Numbers 21, the people left Mount Hor after mourning over Aaron’s death and traveled around the land of Edom by way of the Sea of Suf (Red Sea, Reed Sea).  The people became discouraged on the way and began complaining again about the lack of food and water in the wilderness.  In addition, they asked Moses why he had brought them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness.  You would think that the Israelites wouldn’t have done that considering the punishment that took place the last time they did so. 

Unfortunately, the Lord heard their complaints and sent fiery serpents among the people.  Poisonous serpents bit the people and they began to die.  The people realized they had sinned so they pleaded with Moses to pray for them so the Lord would take away the serpents.

When Moses interceded for the people, the Lord told him to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole so that anyone who had been bitten by a serpent could look at it and live.  Moses did as the Lord commanded by making a serpent out of bronze and raising it up on a pole.  Moses told the people to look at the bronze serpent if they had been bitten in order to live.  The people obeyed Moses and trusted the Lord for their healing.   If there were any doubters, the people being healed around them probably turned their doubt into belief.

This incident has more than one meaning.  Many have come to understand the primary meaning because in John 3:14-15, Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  (NKJV)

Jesus’ statement was important to understand in His day and it still has great meaning for us today because everyone has sinned just like those who traveled in the wilderness.  When we realize our sinful condition, we can seek Jesus who was crucified on the cross and trust that He will forgive us and heal us so we can have eternal life.

Today, there are many people like the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness.  They often speak against God and Jesus just like the Israelites spoke against God and Moses.  The souls of many people today loathe Jesus who they consider to be worthless (Num. 21:5).  They do not realize He was the manna in the wilderness that the Israelites loathed and that He is the Bread of Life.

There are additional meanings of the bronze serpent that we should consider.  The fiery serpents represent the spiritual forces of evil mentioned in Ephesians 6—specifically, Satan who was the serpent that deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden and his demons that often tempt people to give in to the desires of their flesh.  We must remember that Satan is a thief who desires to steal, kill, and destroy us.  He doesn’t want us to experience the abundant life Jesus desires to give us.  Instead of focusing on the desires of the flesh, we need to set our eyes on Jesus so we can have life (Rom. 8:13).  In a way, the Lord gave the people the ability to see these spiritual forces of darkness in the form of physical serpents that were biting them in order to kill them.

Have you ever wondered what happened to the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness?  Second Kings 18 indicates that Hezekiah broke it into pieces because the children of Israel had been burning incense to it.   In other words, the bronze serpent (Nehushtan) had become an object of idolatry.  This shows us that it is not proper to bow down before religious relics or icons, pray to them, or venerate them in any way—even “Christian” ones.  Please understand that worshipping or venerating religious items is idolatry no matter what form they take.

Beloved, we must not be deceived.  We must not commit idolatry, we must only look to Jesus who was lifted up and died for us on the cross.  Isaiah 53:5 says, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.”  (NKJV)  Because of Christ’s death on the cross, we can be healed of the deadly bites of the spiritual serpents we’ve already experienced or will encounter in our lives.

As we look to the future, we must also ponder the words of Isaiah.  He prophesied that a viper will come in the future from out of the serpent’s roots.  Its offspring will be a fiery flying serpent (Isaiah 14:29).  Surely this is a reference to the descendant of the serpent from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15), the serpent of Amos 9, and the sea serpent called Leviathan in Isaiah 27.  The dragon of Revelation 12 is the serpent from the Garden of Eden.  He will give power to his offspring which is known as the Beast of the Sea (Revelation 13) and the Scarlet Beast (Revelation 17).

During the tribulation, there will be an unholy trinity:  the Dragon (Satan), the Beast of the Sea (Antichrist), and the Beast of the Earth (False Prophet).  Their goal is for the world to fall down and worship the image of the Beast which is the abomination of desolation that will stand in the holy temple.  Don’t forget that those who worship the Beast instead of the true Jesus will not live but die separated from the one true God.

John 3:36 gives us a choice.  It says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (NKJV) 

If you are bitten by the serpents of this world by drinking their poison you will experience eternal death unless you look to Jesus who was represented by the bronze serpent in order to live! 

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Complaining and God’s Provision Led to Greed for Meat

Numbers 11 begins with the mixed multitude complaining in the wilderness.  This made the Lord so angry that His fire burned some of them in the outskirts of the camp until Moses interceded for them.  Moses then named the place “Taberah” which means burning.

About that time, the people were giving in to their intense longing (greed, lust) for the food in Egypt.  The desert did not supply them with the endless supply of fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic that they longed for.  There was not much variety in their diets and they ate manna each day.  They desired meat to eat despite the fact there was plenty of animals from their flocks and herds that were used for sacrifices.  Certainly, they could have occasionally eaten the meat of peace offerings.  Moses was definitely frustrated by their complaining and brought this burden to the Lord because he couldn’t do anything about their situation. 

Before the Lord addressed the people’s lust for meat, He commanded Moses to select 70 of the elders of Israel and bring them to the temple of meeting so He could take some of the Spirit from Moses and distribute it to the 70 elders.  Moses did as the Lord commanded but 2 of the 70 were not at the tent of meeting.  When the Spirit came to rest on them they all prophesied at that time—even on the 2 who were somewhere else in the camp.  Joshua did not think this was right but Moses desired that all of God’s people were prophets.

Many believe this is prophetic of the Holy Spirit being poured out on both Jews and Gentiles and I have to agree but there could also be another explanation for this being inserted into this particular historical account.

God also told Moses to tell the people to consecrate themselves because He was going to bring them enough meat to eat for a whole month.  They would eat so much meat that they would hate it.  The Lord said this would happen because they had rejected Him and distressed Him with their grumbling.

After Moses and the elders went back into the camp, the Lord sent out a wind that brought many quails from across the sea into the camp.  Considering the enormous size of this multitude (600,000 men including their families), this was an incredible miracle.  The people collected quails for two days and the night in between.  It must have been quite tiring to catch as many quails as possible during that time and keep them contained all over the camp.  Some people were so greedy the Lord struck them with a plague before they finished eating what was in their mouths.

Strange as it may seem, it reminds me of something that happened in the New Testament.  Acts 6:1-7 says, “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  NKJV

The first thing we notice in this passage is that the Grecian Jews were complaining against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  Could it be that the original elders who had been filled with the Spirit in the wilderness were supposed to help with the distribution of the quails?  I think this is a strong possibility because this would have freed Moses from the complaining of the people so he could devote himself to the Lord and the task of leading the people in the wilderness.  Could it be that the Hebraic Jews mentioned in the book of Acts were being greedy and hoarding all the food for themselves?  There must have been enough food to go around since 7 men filled with the Holy Spirit, one of which was a proselyte were chosen to see that the food was distributed fairly.  Perhaps the people in the wilderness would not have died as a result of the plague if they had simply made their requests known to the Lord and trusted in Him to provide for their needs and desires.

I know it wasn’t always easy for the mixed multitude to live without the things they loved to eat and  took for granted in Egypt because I’ve lived in another country where I couldn’t get everything I liked and was accustomed to either.  There were days I longed for something special from home but I learned to improvise.  I even found things where I was living that were not available in America to enjoy.

I realized that if the mixed multitude had lived in the wilderness all their lives they wouldn’t have missed and longed for what existed in Egypt.  Even though that is not the case, they should have appreciated what they had in Egypt and looked forward to what was going to be in the Promised Land. 

As we consider their situation, we shouldn’t think the people didn’t have any food to eat.  They had their flock and herds as well as manna and other things that traders sold them along the way.  Don’t forget that God miraculously provided water for them too in addition to the manna.    

As we imagine what it was like to live in the wilderness, we should wonder whether or not we may be faced with famine at some point in the future and whether or not we will trust in the Lord to provide for our needs.  Actually, according to prophecy, this is a real possibility for those living in the last days.  Can we trust in the Lord without fear or complaining?  It won’t be easy.  It’s definitely easier said than done.  Just remember, there’s nothing wrong with desiring something or making our petitions known to the Lord because He already knows what we need and He’s the source of all blessings.  Just don’t complain because that gets on everybody’s nerves and it’s just as contagious as a plague.  When you see God’s provision, don’t become greedy.  Be willing to share and trust He will always provide for your needs.