Because they had been protected they were unaware of the danger all around them. Just as we don’t, they didn’t see the dangers that were unseen and not yet felt, so they didn’t know what was there. Rather than be thankful for protection received and their many blessings, they instead, yet again, began to grumble and murmur about perceived unjustness; the extension of this being cursing and murmuring against the very one who was protecting and providing for them.
To teach them a very important lesson, the one who has long provided for and protected them, lifted that hand of protection. All a sudden the people realized that in this desert environment they were surrounded by deadly poisonous snakes.
The effects were swift and immediate. “Now there was terror and confusion throughout the encampment. In almost every tent were the dying or the dead. None were secure.”
The murmuring of past perceived trials completely ceased as what they previously complained couldn’t compare to the trial they now faced. How often do we do this in our lives; lack gratitude only to find ourselves in even less desirable circumstances only to wish we’d only recognized the blessings we once had .
The people were now, again, humbled. They approached their leader and pleaded with him to intercede for them and call upon the hand that had once protected them to do so again.
Their leader was instructed to make a serpent of brass resembling the poisonous snakes. He was then to raise this brass snake high in the air and let the people know that anyone who had been bitten by one of the poisonous snakes need only to look upon the brass snake and they would be healed.
Some refused to look believing it impossible to look upon a snake of brass and find healing. Others chose to look upon the brass snake.
Those who refused to look upon the replica died. Those who chose exercise faith in looking upon the brass snake were restored to health.
There was a time, in my life, when I thought stories like this sounded like science fiction. Stories of this nature do not get reported in our modern times, to my knowledge, so I was very skeptical, thinking perhaps such stories were created for the purpose of teaching allegorically.
As of this writing I have a deeper and thus vastly different understanding of this tale. I am no longer skeptical.
This is a story of an experience of the Israelites during the time they were being led by Moses to the Promised Land.
“The lifting up of the brazen serpent was to teach Israel…they could not save themselves from the fatal effect of the poison in their wounds. God alone was able to heal them. Yet they were required to show their faith in the provision which He had made. They must look in order to live. It was their faith that was acceptable with God and by looking upon the serpent their faith was shown. “
There was no power in the brass serpent; it significance was in that it was a symbol of Christ.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so was the Son of man ‘lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ John 3:14, 15. All who have ever lived upon the earth have felt the deadly sting of ‘that old serpent called the devil, and Satan.’ Revelation 12:9. The fatal effects of sin can be removed only by the provision that God has made. The Israelites saved their lives by looking upon the uplifted serpent. That look implied faith. They lived because they believed God’s word, and trusted in the means provided for their recovery.
Jesus came to earth and took on a human body and then allowed his blood to be sacrificed for mankind so that now we can look to Him, Jesus Christ for salvation. Thus it is He is our “Savior”. Only through Him can we be saved from the poison that is in our lives, called “sin”. The wages of sin is death. Without a savior to save us, our fate is to die because of our sin. But if we trust in the merits of Jesus Christ, and thus we look upon Him in faith, just like the Israelites, who looked upon the symbol of their salvation from mortal death, we can be saved from eternal death.
I have come to recognize, in my study, that the Old Testament is full of stories that ultimately point to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. What once sounded like fantastical stories, so vastly different than the reality we experience in our time, I now recognize as God’s way for a time long before the arrival of The Son of God, who came to earth to redeem mankind.
For those who are skeptical, I appreciate how E.G. White summed it up:
“Many are unwilling to accept of Christ until the whole mystery of the plan of salvation shall be made plain to them. They refuse the look of faith, although they see that thousands have looked, and have felt the efficacy of looking, to the cross of Christ. Many wander in the mazes of philosophy, in search of reasons and evidence which they will never find, while they reject the evidence which God has been pleased to give. They refuse to walk in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, until the reason of its shining shall be explained. All who persist in this course will fail to come to a knowledge of the truth. God will never remove every occasion for doubt. He gives sufficient evidence on which to base faith, and if this is not accepted, the mind is left in darkness. If those who were bitten by the serpents had stopped to doubt and question before they would consent to look, they would have perished. It is our duty, first, to look; and the look of faith will give us life.”
Quotes taken from Patriarchs and Prophets Volume 2 by E.G. White