Snakes in the Desert
The people of Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land. Moses realized that the shortest route to the place where they could cross the Jordan River would take them through a nation called Edom. The Edomites were their relatives. They were descendants of Esau—the twin brother of the Israelite’s ancestor, Jacob (see # 19). Moses sent a message to their king asking for permission to pass through their land. He promised that the people he was leading would not disturb any of their fields or vineyards. They wouldn’t even take any water from their wells without paying for it. But the king of Edom refused to let them pass through his land, and he sent his army to guard the borders. So God led His people another way. (Later God punished the Edomites for their negative response.) As the Israelites circled the Edomite territory, they came to Mount Hor. Moses, along with Aaron and his son Eleazar climbed to the top. There, God told Moses to remove the special garments Aaron was wearing and put them on Eleazar. It was time for Aaron to die and Eleazar to take over as the nation’s High Priest. The people of Israel stayed and mourned Aaron’s death for 30 days. When they set off again the Canaanite king of Arad attacked the children of Israel, and several of them were captured. The leaders called out to God, and with His help they completely destroyed the cities of Arad. Everyone in Canaan began to notice that God was fighting for this large group of people He had rescued from Egypt more than 40 years before. The terrain the Hebrews had to travel across to get around Edom was very harsh. Quickly they began to complain that they were thirsty and tired of eating manna. Once more they voiced their desire to be back in Egypt! They not only complained about Moses’ leadership; this time they grumbled against God! As a result, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp. They bit the people and many died. The Israelites rushed to Moses and begged for forgiveness. “We have sinned. We have spoken badly against God and against you. Please pray that God will take the snakes away.” So Moses prayed for the people. God told him to craft a snake and set it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten and looked up at it would not die. Moses immediately did what God told him. He made a snake out of bronze and placed it on top of a pole. Sure enough, everyone who was bitten and looked at it lived. God had provided a cure for their sinfulness, but the people had to believe and accept it if they wanted to have life. This story was significant enough that Jesus later referred to it when he spoke of his death, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).
Why do you think the story of the snake on the pole was significant enough that Jesus chose to repeat it in the New Testament? How is it significant in your life? Have you trusted what Jesus did for you when he was lifted up on the cross? If so, you never have to worry about dying spiritually. You have been given eternal life.