What a frightful thing, to speak against God! When I read this passage, I wonder how I have committed this same offense.
How often do we complain and grumble? How often are we impatient, as if God owes it to us to act on our timing? How often do we reject the words of His servants? How often do we reject His provision, and call it worthless food?
This final image of worthless food is particularly potent. Just this evening, as I set a fine dinner before my children, it was met with looks of disgust and complaint. This was the same recipe they had tasted many times before and had eaten with great relish, but this evening, I only heard grumbling.
Too often, we act exactly as Israel did, and we do not awaken to our sin until the fiery serpents are on the loose. All through the wilderness, Moses constantly interceded for Israel, suing for mercy before the throne of God. In this way, he is a foreshadowing of Christ, who intercedes for us.
Yet here in Numbers 21, we see a clear picture of Christ Himself, offering forgiveness and life to a stubborn and impatient people. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” So here, God calls Moses to direct Israel to Christ. The fiery serpents, sent as a curse against wicked Israel, are represented in bronze and lifted up, hung upon a tree.
It is this same image which Christ used to unfold the Gospel to Nicodemus: “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” (John 3:14-15).
Nicodemus first came to Jesus at night, and like Israel, he came in spiritual darkness. Though he professed knowledge, he knew little. He stood guilty of rejecting the testimony of God (John 3:2,10-11). The message of Moses to Israel, and the message of Christ to Nicodemus, was the same: God so loves the world that He sends a rescuer, and if we but fix our eyes on Him in faith, we will live (John 3:16)!
Israel could not see the kingdom of God unless God Himself gave them the eyes of faith to see it (John 3:3). We, too, often fail to see God’s provision until He wakes us from our stupor. Christ, the Light that has come into the world, comes to us even in our darkness, and exposes our darkness for what it is (John 3:19-20).
As Moses lifted up the serpent, so Christ was lifted up for us. As Christ shows us His rich mercy, may we continually look to Him. Christ is our rich provision, our feast in the wilderness. He alone brings us healing and life.
Written By Caleb Faires