When Israel left Egypt, they faced inhospitable deserts and wildernesses on their way to Canaan. Whether the people realized it or not, their survival depended on God’s gracious protection of and provision for them. In fact, Deuteronomy 8:2 speaks not only of God’s proving them throughout this journey but of the hearts of the people being revealed. Would they trust God? Would they depend on Him or on themselves?
Numbers 21 chronicles an occasion when the people questioned God’s love and care for them. He had fed them, preserved them, supplied them with water, and given them victory over their foes. Yet they accused God of having brought them that far merely to let them die in the desert.
We, similarly, live in a world made harsh and chaotic by sin. Far from residing in the paradise God intended for mankind, we live in mortal bodies in a world of death. Just as a desert has very little provision to meet our physical needs, this fallen world has no ability to meet the deep needs and longings of our spirits. And the enemy of our souls often insinuates to people that God is to blame for our condition.
The remedy for those dying Israelites centuries ago – and for us today – must come from God. The Lord Jesus expressed the situation best: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Joh 3:14-15 KJV).
Bitten Israelites, dying from the injected venom of the “fiery serpents,” were told to look to God’s provision – the uplifted copper serpent, hanging on a pole in the midst of the camp. There was nothing mystical, magical or miraculous about that serpent. New life came the moment an Israelite, depending on the promise of God, looked to God’s appointed remedy.
The Lord Jesus draws at least three parallels in His words; they involve Moses, the serpent and the life received. Though Moses had been harshly criticized and blamed by the people for their condition, he, nonetheless, following God’s instructions, provided the needed remedy. God, who was under no obligation to meet the need of rebellious sinners, has graciously provided the remedy we need. The uplifted serpent on a pole foreshadowed the moment when God’s beloved Son would be lifted up on a cross to bear our sins in His own body on the tree. And just as a dying Israelite needed to look to the divinely provided remedy in order to live, so, today, dying sinners are called to look to Christ for salvation – to trust in, depend on, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
But the comparisons lead our thoughts to the great contrasts. It was greater love on God’s part – love for the world – that led Him to give His Son. It was a greater gift involving greater suffering when Christ was lifted up to die for our sins. And how much greater is the life we obtain by looking to Him! They lived only to die again. The life that God offers to you today, through the death and resurrection of His Son, is not temporary, fleeting or tenuous but eternal, everlasting. You can depend on Christ today. You can depend on God. You can depend on His Word. And if you do, “you will be saved.”