Themes in Numbers (05): Fiery Serpents
In the Wilderness: Themes from Numbers (05) - Fiery Serpents
Num 21:4–9 “Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” 6 The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”
Numbers 21 provides the unusual episode of the, “brazen serpent.” Once again the Israelites became impatient, began complaining, and venting their fears (v4). Judgment came in “fiery serpents” (v6). This new generation responded better. “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you” (v7). Moses intercedes and is told to raise up a metallic serpent on a pole. All who look upon it will live and not die (v9). Jesus specifically identifies Himself in this: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Lessons in Lent
Fiery Wounds - One of the repeated themes in Numbers is holy “fire” (9:15) and this altar fire consumes the disobedient (3:4, 11:1, 16:35, 21:28, 26:10, 31:10). Here the “burning” or “fiery” serpents are the fire. They bite and create a fiery wound with their poison.The color of death-wounds is red.
Fiery Serpent - “Fiery” is the word “seraph,” just as is used for angelic Seraphim (Is. 6). God told Moses (literally), “Make a seraph (figure) and mount it” (v8). Isaiah speaks of a viper as a “flying fiery serpent [seraph]” (Is. 14:29 and 30:6). A fiery red serpent with wings is none other than a dragon (Rev. 12:3, 9, Gen. 3). The color of the dragon is red.
Fiery Red - The metal serpent is “copper” (nechoshet). The color of the uplifted symbol, like the serpents and the wounds they cause, is thus reddish. Red ceremonially saves. Besides all the sacrificial blood, there is also a red symbolic detergent. The ashes of a red cow, along with cedar and scarlet make a purifying baptism (19:6). The color of salvation is red.
What is the venom of the Satanic Seraph and Dragon in your veins pushing you to do? To have secret life. To emotionally shut down to those who need you the most? To plan an escape from your current life? To continue to lie about who you are and what you are doing? "I more fear what is within me than what comes from without." (Martin Luther)
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more