We have been going through a large section of the book of Exodus in bible class for some time now and we are almost at the end of our study. There are so many moments that we do not have time to discuss, but are so rich in application and lessons for us today. One such event from which we can learn a great deal is the situation involving a large bronze or copper snake lifted up to save the Israelites from poisonous serpents. This is not a common occurrence, to be sure.
“Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged 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 our soul loathes this worthless bread.” So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. Therefore 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. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” Numbers 21:4-9
This is an interesting situation to be sure. One of the most interesting things however from this is shown later in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 18:1-4, “Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.”
So not only was the people of Israel punished for their complaining against God’s providential care, but also their ancestors actually revered the object used to save the people more than God Himself. This is a great warning to all of us to be mindful not to place our faith in the object of God’s saving grace more than God Himself too.