If I Be Lifted Up

Snakes are not my favorite creature. How about you? On some level, they just seem evil. This is no coincidence. From the first appearance of a snake in the garden, we read that they are accursed. In Genesis 3:15, God says, “Because you have done this (tempted Adam and Eve to sin), cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” Whether this applies to Satan or all snakes is, perhaps, a matter for debate. But, after several encounters with snakes, I have my opinion! 

In today’s devotion we read of an unlikely typology. We will discover that snakes in the Exodus were actually a foreshadowing of Jesus in the New Exodus. How can this be? Read on…

Read Numbers 21:4-9

As the Children of Israel continued their pilgrimage through the wilderness, something occurred that is quite familiar and far too predictable! Once again, the Israelites complained about their provisions. They whined that there was no bread, no water, and that they abhorred the manna that God provided for them. Beyond their incessant grumbling, they said something far more insidious. Verse five tells us that they spoke against God and Moses. And what was their accusation? They claimed that God had brought them out into the wilderness to die. What a statement. Clearly, the people assign to God the intent to kill them! Imagine, charging God with attempted murder. This is nothing less than ascribing to God the works of Satan – that murderous and slimy old snake.

How did God respond to this affront? If the people believed God to be Satan, then it stands to reason they preferred to have Satan as their travelling companion through the wilderness. So, God gave them exactly what they wanted. He sent snakes among them. These venomous snakes did what snakes are quite capable of doing. They bit the people and many of the people perished.

After the unleashing of the snakes, the people had a dramatic change of heart. They approached Moses and confessed that they had sinned when they leveled their accusations against Moses and God. The people asked Moses to add them to his prayer list! They wanted Moses to plead their case before God so that God would take away the deadly snakes. God’s Prophet acquiesced to their request and prayed to the Lord on their behalf.

God’s response offers a stunning, almost jarring “type” or foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus. Moses was instructed to fashion a bronze snake and place it on a pole. As an antidote to the snake bites, the people were instructed to look to the snake and be healed. Moses lifted up the snake and the people who were bitten were healed from the bites that would have surely killed them. Could this be God’s way of humbling the people? Since the Garden, snakes had been associated with evil. Now, they were looking to the image of evil for their healing. In order to live, they had to follow God’s prescription, no matter how distasteful they found it! Suddenly, their complaints were replaced by their compliance.

Read John 3:14-15

John 3:14-15 connects the lifting up of the snake to bring physical healing, and the lifting up of Jesus, to bring spiritual healing. John quotes Jesus as saying, “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.” The analogy is quite compelling, at least concerning the shared outcomes. Looking to the bronze serpent and to Jesus brings healing. But, how can Jesus be compared to a snake? Consider that when Jesus was on the cross, He was, as John the Baptist describes, “…the Lamb of God, who takes upon Himself the sins of the world (John 1:29). Jesus took upon Himself our sins. Paul wrote of this, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So, it is no stretch to say that when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, He appeared as a snake – because He took the sin of humanity upon Himself. Through this act of self-sacrifice, Jesus offers us hope of healing. When we look to Jesus, we are healed spiritually!

Just as the Children of Israel were humbled by looking to a snake for their healing, so we are humbled and broken by looking at the Son of God who took the form of a snake for us. How horrible that our sins are responsible for this atrocity! And yet, when Jesus was lifted up, when “He became sin for us,” this was done to express God’s love to sin sick humanity. This is the love that ultimately brings our healing. For God so loved the world…

All of us have turned our backs on God and His provisions for us. Therefore, all of us are infected with the venomous sting of sin. Only through the sacrifice of Jesus and His glorious resurrection are we offered forgiveness and restoration. When we are “in Him,” we, “become the righteousness of God.”  That is, we are made “right” with God. As we draw nearer to Jerusalem on the Pathway to the Passion, may we recognize that Jesus is the only antidote for the poison within us. Therefore, we should, “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

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