Introduction: We marveled at God’s changing the rod of Moses into a “serpent” which swallowed the rods of the Egyptian magicians in Exodus 7:12. We also saw God many years later change the cursed serpent into a symbol of life by transferring the deadly effects of sin from the dying bodies of the Israelites onto the serpent which Moses held up in Numbers 21. A mere look to that bronze serpent was enough to bring forgiveness, removal of the curse and new life! May this week’s notes further amplify the forgiving grace of the Lord, as illustrated in places such as Numbers 21. May we be encouraged to look unto the Lord to be saved. Let us be thankful for the many pictures of salvation by which God persuades us that even when all we can do is look unto Him by faith, we will indeed be saved.
Mon/Tues: read Numbers 21:1-9 and John 14:1-4. Our greatest need, along with Israel of old, is not to have our various hungers and thirsts satisfied. The dangers we face in the desert are far greater, namely, the poison and curse of sin. We begin again with Israel’s astounding demand to die, (even after forty years of God’s care), as they complain to Moses, “We wish we had died with our brethren in the desert” (Numbers 20:3). This rebellious wish leads in turn to wicked reviling of God and rejection of His leadership in Numbers 21:4-5. The result is that God sends poisonous snakes so that their sinful wish to die in rebellion against God is fulfilled: “Many Israelites died” by virtue of the poisonous bite of these snakes, (Numbers 21:6).
Lest we think that this judgment is harsh, remember that the end result is that for the first time in a long time, Israel asked Moses to “pray to God” for them in Numbers 21:7 and learned in their extremity to “look by faith” up to the sign of healing which Moses set up on a pole in the form of a serpent in Number 21:8-9. In this way we are reminded that God’s chastisements are in the end full of saving purposes of grace. Would Israel have looked to God for life without the impending danger of death due to poisonous serpents? Surely not. Only when other hopes of support left them did Israel turn to God as their Savior. So it is with us. We only learn to embrace Jesus Christ as our “Way, Truth and Life” when other forms of support begin to fail us, and we have nowhere else to turn.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that He is in the business of removing all idolatrous forms of support in our lives so that we only have Him to lean upon in our day of trial and deadly danger. How wonderful when we, even in our dying moments, can find new life in Him! As C.S. Lewis put it:
The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort – it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us.
Wednesday: read Numbers 21:8-9. God directed Moses to make a bronze serpent on a pole in view of the whole Israelite camp, (Num. 21:8-9), so that “when anyone bitten by a snake looked at the bronze serpent he lived.” In this way God demonstrated His power to lift the curse off Israel after forty years of unbelief. Make no mistake: those poisonous snakes were symbols of the curse which forty years’ unbelief brought down on the heads of Israel. Only God Himself could transfer the curse of Israel’s sin to the serpent lifted up by Moses. How amazing that God specializes so often in Scripture in ‘reversing the curse’ due to us for our years of sinful rebellion! Of course, as we will see more tomorrow, we know that no mere animal could be the sins of mankind. God sent His Son to be cursed in our place. Looking to Him, we can find real forgiveness and healing from the curse and poison of sin.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God by singing of His power to reverse the curses on our lives, using the words of hymn # 242 to help you see Jesus Christ lifted up for your sake:
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.
My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine,
While, like a penitent, I stand,
And there confess my sin.
My soul looks back to see
The burdens Thou didst bear
When hanging on the cursèd tree,
And knows her guilt was there.
Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love.
Thurs/Fri: read Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:13-14 and 12:32. Being lifted up on a pole was a well-known curse in the ancient world. In Ezra 6:3-12, for example, Darius King of Persia declares that if anyone disobeys his decree to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, then that individual would be “fastened” or “impaled” upon a beam pulled from his own house in Ezra 6:11. The language is exactly parallel to what Jesus says of Himself being “lifted up” in John 3:14 and John 12:32. We know He is referring to His crucifixion because in John 8:28 He again speaks of Himself as being “lifted up as the Son of Man”. This time He says that it is the Jews who will “lift Him up” – which they did when they handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified in John 19:13-16. The lesson is clear: Jesus views Himself as fulfilling the Old Testament picture of becoming a curse for us by being “lifted up”. Death as the curse of sin is extinguished because Christ Himself was lifted up on the Cross that we might look to Him by faith and be cured of sin’s poisonous death.
Meditate and Pray: What joy can be ours knowing that Christ’s Cross does even more than provide forgiveness of sins. It transfers the curse of sin to Christ, as He actively absorbs the poison of our sin on our behalf. For Jesus, the Cross stands for our curse imputed to Him. For us, though, the Cross stands for life – by looking there and seeing the bite and curse of sin absorbed in the flesh of our Savior, we come to have a new life, reconciled to God with the guilt and curse of sin removed! Hallelujah!