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, he lived. Numbers 21:9
Snakes kill in lots of ways. Some inject a poison that quickly or slowly paralyzes its victim. Some use constriction, squeezing the life out of its prey. Others just swallow their victim whole, headfirst to immobilize them and lessen the chance of resistance and escape. Sounds like sin to me, especially the headfirst part. So often sin starts with wrong thinking.
In the Bible snakes are symbols of both sin and the consequences of sin. Numbers 21:5-9 the people grumbled against the Lord and he sent poisonous snakes among them. They cried out to Moses and God instructed him to make a snake image (or substitute) and raise it up on a pole for the Israelites to look at. If they looked at the snake, they would be healed/delivered. By looking at the snake in obedience to the command they were putting their faith, not in the snake, but in God who provided this way of salvation.
Pointing to this event, Jesus said, “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). Moses’ snake was a foreshadowing or picture of Jesus on the cross. The snakes were what was killing the people – a snake was lifted up on the pole. Sin is/was what is killings us – Jesus became that sin and was lifted up on the cross. When we look to him in faith we are healed and saved. A.W. Tozer commented on these verses.
Our plain man, in reading this, would make an important discovery. He would notice that look and believe are synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” in the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. And he would understand that, while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.–A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
It is hard to think of Jesus as a poisonous snake, but that is what he did for us. He became that poisonous snake of sin. He did this so that sin could receive its righteous and just consequence from God in Jesus’ body. The consequence of sin – death and separation from the God who loves us. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried (Matthew 27:46). He was separated from God hanging there on the pole. He became our sin; he took our consequence. The people in Moses day were healed/saved temporarily – we are healed/saved eternally.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2
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
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” Galatians 3:13
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2
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.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:14-17
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn, but to save.
The Snake is also available as a Bible study which you are free to print and use at The Snake Bible Study
Image Death in the Afternoon, Common/Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) swallowing an American toad (Bufo americanus), by Sarunas Burdulis, https://flic.kr/p/chmx5S