Text – Numbers 21:4-9:
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea,[a] to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 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 we detest this miserable food.”
6 Then the Lord sent poisonous[b] serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous[c] serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
One might reasonably wonder what an event in the wilderness wanderings of Israel could possible relate to Lent or the crucifixion of Jesus. But that becomes clear in John 3:14 as Jesus explains to Nicodemus the parallels in O.T. history and his on life.
Jesus explains, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
In both cases, the lifted up serpent and the lifted up Jesus, we have intercession or redemption at work. In the case of Israel, the Israelites were acting their usual recalcitrant, complaining selves. Complaining against God and questioning God’s motives. God sent poisonous snakes to punish them.
It must be remembered that this is a story about humankind as well. Still stubborn. Still reaping the consequences of our lives.
During the time of Moses, a bronze serpent was erected on a pole, and by looking at it when bitten they could be healed. The snakes did not go away, but the bronze serpent worked its healing in spite of that. So also does the Cross exert its redeeming effects to mankind still caught in its snake-bit ways.
God of the Wilderness. We give thanks to you for not abandoning us to ourselves. As Moses raised the serpent for Israel, so you have raised your son to confront and defeat the ultimate cause of mankind’s failure and sin. In this time of Lent we gaze on the Cross and praise you for redeeming us from an awful curse. In Jesus’ name. Amen.