“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.”Numbers 21:9 (NIV)
In this verse, the people of Israel traveling from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea to go around Edom (Numbers 21:4). Unfortunately, they started to speak against Moses, God, and the miracle food which God had supplied them and then 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!”Numbers 21:5 (NIV)
Then God sends venomous snakes among the people and many Israelites got bitten and died. The people then confessed their sins to Moses (as he was their mediator) and God responded with,
“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.”Numbers 21:8 (NIV)
So here is the problem: To some, this seems like idol worship (which is many times found in Scripture to be very detestable to God).
There is another verse that mentions the bronze snake in John 3:14,
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,”
The problem to some is why would our Savior be compared to a snake when he is the lamb? And also, weren’t snakes considered devil-like creatures?
Okay, so let’s first deal with the first issue – idol worship. So, the bronze snake was not at all meant for idol worship. After all, God was the One who told Moses to make the snake…why would He force them to sin? What is more, in 2 Kings 18:4, King Hezekiah destroys the bronze serpent because it had become an object of worship. So no, it wasn’t idol worship.
So what was it?
In John 3:14 our Savior is speaking to Nicodemus (Nicodemus was a Pharisee) and is telling him how He knows about the heavenly things and how, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” Think about the similarities between the bronze snake and Jesus (His Aramaic name being Yeshua). For one, the snake was lifted up on a pole – so was Jesus. For another, anyone who looked at the snake would live – and anyone who believes in Jesus will not die and instead has eternal life through Him (John 3:16).
Alright, to answer the question about why God used a snake instead of a lamb; well, it was snakes that bit them. And as far as them being devil-like creatures; God made them too. Just because the serpent is the one who deceived Eve, it doesn’t mean that they no longer should be considered an animal made by God; interesting and beautiful in its own way.