From: Drew Alexander
Just before we see the impatience of the Israelites, and their complaint against God and Moses, we see them make a vow to the Lord, to which the Lord listens and responds by providing victory at Hormah. But immediately they forget—they stop trusting in the Lord’s provision. They say not only that there is no food and no water, but also that they hate this miserable food. That is, the Israelites complain against God and Moses with claims that they have been given nothing, and then follow up that complaint with hatred for “this miserable food,” for the food that they have been given. Only once the Lord provides something else, poisonous serpents, do the Israelites recognize their former sin, and entreat the Lord with the prayer. That is, the Israelites now remember, they recognize yet again, that the Lord is the one who gives and takes away, and they are certainly no longer saying that they have been given nothing, but are instead asking to be given less, asking for the serpents to be removed.
God, interestingly, does not fulfill their request as they ask. Rather than take away the serpents, God provides healing and safety for the effects of the snake bites. The Israelites are left with a dual reminder of their sin—they may still get bitten, but they will not die, so long as they look at the serpent of bronze. The snake bites remind them of the effects of their sin, and the bronze serpent reminds them of God’s provision—both of the snakes and the healing. God knows how easily they might forget, as they just had at Hormah, and so he provides them means to remember.
Similarly, in the passage from John, Jesus tries to teach Nicodemus that he will be lifted up like the serpent. When Jesus says that the Son of Man must be lifted up, he seems to imply that he will ascend, as is mentioned in the prior verse. But the Son of Man, like the serpent put on a pole, was also to be lifted up onto a cross—a visage which shows us both our sin and our salvation. We look then to the cross as the Israelites did to the serpent, knowing our sin and forgetfulness, but also knowing our hope and salvation.
I am a husband to Hannah, a student, and a teacher.