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The Bronze Snake

The Bible in Art: The Bronze Snake     

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Verses for Consideration: Numbers 20:4-9

4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

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“Miserable food.” According to the Israelites, that’s what they had to eat. Their diet couldn’t begin to compare to the figs, grapes, pomegranates, and grains their parents had told them about. They had been children when they left Egypt. Now, 40 years later, their rebellious parents had died, but not before teaching their children how to complain.

“Miserable food.” That’s what the Israelites called the manna God gave them every day. What a strange name for the daily miracle that kept them alive.

“Miserable.” The word stung like a slap on a cold day. Such ingratitude! Such selfishness!

God would show them their sin. He sent snakes- thousands of them. They slithered across the Israelite camp, finding their way into the tents. Every pile of clothes and every basket and mat became a hiding place for the angry vipers. “Many Israelites died.”

Then the Israelites thought about the years when God had protected them from such danger. They remembered their ingratitude. “We sinned,” they confessed. “Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away.”

God forgave his people. He does that for everyone who trusts his promise to forgive through his Son. However, he didn’t take the snakes away. He left the snakes, but provided an antidote -a bronze serpent on a pole in the
middle of the camp. The Israelites had chosen not to trust God’s providence when they complained. Now the Lord called on them to demonstrate that they had learned their lesson. To be healed, all they needed to do was look at Moses’ snake.

That’s a picture of how we’re saved from the death bite of sin. Jesus provided the antidote by dying on the cross. Faith, which brings us God’s forgiveness, is nothing more than looking at Jesus -and even the ability to do that must be given by the Spirit. Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14,15).

Prayer: Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned. Draw my eyes to the Savior on the cross and the gift of life he gave me there. Amen.

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Title: Moses and the Brazen Serpent (1620)

Artist: Anthony Van Dyck