Snakes and serpents in the Scriptures

2. Serpents for Death and Healing – Numbers 21

Following the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness, and as the people grew weary, they began to question God and Moses:

“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 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 take 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)

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Jesus refers to this key moment in Israel’s history in John 3:14 in the New Testament before what is considered to be the Bible’s most famous verse: “For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up….”

Chris Hulshof, an associate professor and department chair for Liberty University’s School of Divinity, says the account in Numbers provides deep insight into the rebellious heart of not just Israel, but all mankind.

“As you read through the book of Numbers, recognize you’re reading a series of rebellion stories. These are the stories of a generation that chose to reject God’s promise of a homeland and consequently wandered in the wilderness until all those who were over 20 years old had died (barring Joshua and Caleb)," Hulshof said.

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