4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died. 7 The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that He will take the snakes away from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered. —Numbers 21:9
Many times we think the solution to a problem is much more difficult than it really is. Perhaps you heard of the engineer who was given the task of calculating the volume of an egg. With all his mathematical skills, he set about using the most advanced geometry calculations he knew.
Quite pleased with himself, he returned after several hours with his answer along with pages of calculations. His boss asked, “Why didn’t you simply fill the egg with water and measure the water?”
In John chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus he needed to be born again to see and enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus kept asking, “How can this be?”
The Pharisees and Nicodemus’ whole life was dedicated to being right with God. The Pharisees had developed an elaborate system of rules and regulation all designed to bring a person into right relation with God. Nicodemus' problem with the answer Jesus gave on how to be right with God was too simple for him to understand.
In today’s vernacular, Jesus basically told Nicodemus, “Look you guys are making being forgiven and right with God way too complicated.”
In an effort to help Nicodemus, Jesus referred to a story of the Israel nations wandering in the wilderness that Nicodemus knew quite well—the story of the Brazen serpent.
Being a Jew, Nicodemus was familiar with the story, but here’s a recap for you. God sent the poisonous serpents because the nation of Israel was guilty of two sins: 1) murmuring or complaining against Moses and God for their circumstances and 2) grumbling about the manna which was a symbol of Christ.
These are two very serious sins. As a punishment or correction, God sent poisonous snakes among the people to teach them not to complain or despise the provision He provided for them.
The people confessed their sins and cried out to God to be delivered from the poisonous snakes. God instructed Moses to make a brazen serpent and put it on a pole. Anyone who looked at the brazen snake would be healed.
How simple can it be? No doubt there were some who were looking for a more complicated solution than just look and be healed. I imagine there were some bitten who refused to look at the serpent on the staff, saying it was too simple.
“How can looking at a serpent on a pole cure me? When I understand why looking at the serpent will heal, then I will look.”
There are many symbols and comparisons between the story of the brazen serpent in Numbers 21 and Christ, but the most important is the simplicity of the cure. This is the central teaching point Jesus was trying to convey to Nicodemus.
If you’re waiting until you understand how Jesus can save and forgive, you’ll never come to Christ. The mystery of faith is that understanding, forgiveness, and healing always come after obedience—never before.
- Why do you think we make being right with God so complicated?
- How did Nicodemus’s religion prevent him from receiving what Jesus was saying to him?
- What other comparisons do you see in the story of the brazen serpent and Jesus?
- How are you lifting up Jesus in your life?
- Do you know someone who is make being right with God too complicated?. Use this story to help simplify the process.
- Can you think of a time when your own preconceived ideas prevented you from seeing a rather simple solution to a problem you were facing?