"The Lord said unto Moses, Make a fiery serpent,
and set it upon a pole--and it shall come to pass that every one who is
bitten, when he looks upon it shall live. So Moses made a serpent out
of bronze and attached it to the top of a pole. Whenever those who
were bitten looked at the bronze snake, they recovered!" Numbers 21:8-9
Alas! what broods of vileness nestle in man's heart! As
wave succeeds to wave, sin presses on the heels of sin. If a brief calm
seems to give peace, a fiercer storm soon rises. The seeds of evil, for a
while concealed, revive as weeds in spring. All human history proves this.
But the recurring murmurs in the wilderness are saddest evidence. Seven
times already has rebellion raged. And now again, because the way is long,
there is revolt, and blasphemies are muttered, "and they began to murmur
against God and Moses. 'Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in
the wilderness?' they complained. 'There is nothing to eat here and nothing
to drink. And we hate this wretched manna!'" Numbers 21:5
Here is another proof, that there is no blindness like
UNBELIEF. Surely the sweetest manna fell with every morning's dawn.
Surely the purest stream flowed closely in their rear. But harsh ingratitude
sees frowns on mercy's loveliest brow. Reader, are not your features in this
picture? By nature this same quarry is your cradle. You spring, a branch of
this sin-bearing tree. And if fretful distrust be not your constant fruit,
free grace has wrought in you a mighty change.
Israel's murmurs soon plunge them into deep waters of
distress. Hence learn to dread this evil. Flee its touch. Bar fast the door
against its entrance. Wrath follows in its rear. The dregs of woe are in its
cup. Whoever sinned and suffered not? See what swift vengeance overtakes
these rebels! "The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and
they bit the people--and many people of Israel died." Numb. 21:6.
The camp is now wide-spread dismay. These messengers
of wrath beset each path. No care can flee them. Their dart is sudden.
Their sting is death. Thus multitudes sink tortured to the grave.
But Israel's sin gives opportunity for grace to smile.
Mercy often uses punishment, as a cure. A scourge is sent to check the
downward course. How many find recovery in suffering's valley! How
many rise, because they were cast down! A rod is often evidence of love. It
is so here. The stricken crowds now feel their guilt. Self-loathingly they
mourn. They beseech Moses, "Pray unto the Lord, that He take away the
serpents from us."
Moses complies. He here appears a type of his
forgiving--mediating--Lord. He gives no railing for their cruel taunts. He
upbraids them not for unbelief. He reminds them not, that this misery was
the due wages of their ways. He quickly flies to God. Can prayer knock
earnestly at heaven's gate and be unheeded? Eternal truth proclaims, "Ask,
and you shall have." Christian experience responds, "This poor man cried,
and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles." Ps. 34:6.
Rejoicing multitudes have proved--are proving--that faithful petition
prospers. Its gains are ever sure and large. When supplication wrestles,
plenteous showers of grace are on the wing.
But it is mercy's way, to give more than our hearts
expect. Behold a proof. The people seek a respite from the plague. This
would, indeed, have been a gracious boon. But it would have left the
bitten to expire. It would, indeed, have checked the flowing tide of
fiery ill. But it would not have eased the pain-racked limb. And what is
more, it would have reared no Gospel-beacon for all ages of the Church. But
the reply exceeds requests. It thus is worthy of a giving God. It is an
ocean of vast love. It is a volume of deep wisdom. It is a flower redolent
of saving truth. God takes occasion from this sin to cheer souls to the end
of time. "The Lord said unto Moses, Make a fiery serpent, and set it upon a
pole--and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he
looks upon it shall live." Numb. 21:8.
Relief for body is conceded. But, so marvelous is the
plan, that human skill is silent in amaze. No mind could have conceived such
mode. Indeed, proud reason would assuredly despise it. But cure for body is
the smallest portion of this mercy. It shows the cross, in form too clear
for doubts--in colors, which no age can fade.
It is instructive to observe, how Moses staggers not here
in unbelief. God speaks. That is enough. Therefore the plan is
wise--therefore it must succeed. So, instantly he executes. "He made a
serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole--and it came to pass, that if a
serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."
Behold God's method--simple, yet mighty; one only, yet
sufficient for each case. The prince, the poor, must seek the selfsame
remedy. The mightiest intellect--the most expanded mind--the most inventive
thought--could find no other rescue. The most illiterate had instant access
to it. The aged raised the eye, and health returned. The youthful gazed, and
malady was gone. In some, the pains were great, and death seemed near, but
one view killed the plague. Others had just felt the sting, and found
the pain to fly. Some were far off in distant borders of the camp--some had
their dwellings around the uplifted pole--but every look--from far--from
near--was full, complete, and instantaneous cure.
Did any scorn the means? If so, neglect was ruin. No
other help could heal the bite. But all, who acted trust in God's appointed
mode, found sure deliverance. There was only one remedy--free--open unto
all--but only one. Look, and be healed. Look, and let life return.
The glory of this type now gloriously breaks. Let minor
thoughts now vanish, as stars before the sun. The Brazen Serpent on the
pole is Christ. The look towards it is faith. This must be granted. The
lips, which cannot err--which cannot lead astray--decide. When Jesus opened
wisdom's volume to Nicodemus, He brought him to this very scene. The words
are as bright as midday. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
even so must the Son of Man be lifted up--that whoever believes in Him,
should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:14, 15.
Blessed record! sweet sound! amazing truth! grand tidings
worth ten thousand worlds! Here then, in emblem, is the gospel of free
grace! Here is the remedy of God. Here is relief commensurate with all
the need of all poor sin-sick souls. Reader, give ear. See in this figure
your hope--your joy--your peace--your full redemption--your complete
salvation--your curse removed--your sins all blotted out! Come, and look
inward--realize your neediness--your pain--your rankling sore--your just
exposure to eternal death. And then look upward and behold health in
a bleeding Savior's wounds--life in a dying Savior's death.
Mark, PERISHING is no fable's vain conceit. These words
warn of it, "that whoever believes in Him should not perish." The bitten
sufferer truly pictures our very case. We too are pilgrims journeying
through a wild wilderness. It is infested with the old serpent and his
brood. At every step, at every turn, we meet some forked attack. Each day
the mischief taints our veins. Satan's least touch is fatal venom. In Eden
he began his murderous work. And still his fiery darts fly round. No
mother's son escapes. All earth is perishing like Israel's camp. But earth
brings no relief. If penitence forever wept--if sighs ceased not--if rolling
hours were one continued wail--the streaming eye--the smitten breast--the
bending knee--the upraised eye--the wringing hand--the supplicating lip
could not extract the sting. Self has no help. The Law is no physician. Its
glance detects disease. Its voice proclaims the hopeless state. But it holds
no cordial remedy in its stores . It denounces the leprous spots. It sternly
sentences, and leaves the wounded to expire. Man cannot help himself--or
save his brother. No rites--no forms--no services--suck out the poison. As
all the sick in Israel's camp were surely lost, unless God had decreed to
heal--so all the serpent-wounded upon earth must surely have sunk down to
hell, unless free mercy had most freely pitied. But He who said, Raise up a
serpent on the pole, said also, Lift up My Son upon the accursed tree.
Thus God resolves to help the helpless--to stay the
plague--to save the lost. Praise--praise--His name! Our God is love. Gaze on
the proof. He calls His Son to bring relief. Bless--bless His grace! He
sends His Jesus from His own bosom to give health!
And can it be, that Jesus refuses to come and deliver us?
No, He flies gladly on redeeming wings. He thinks no load too heavy--no
agony too great--no ignominy too vile--no shame too shameful, if only He may
My soul, ponder again this healing work. The serpent's
sting had slain man's race. The God-man comes to bruise this serpent's head.
He, without sin, assumes the form of sinful flesh--and in that form is
lifted high up on the cross. He hangs the graphic antitype of the
brass-serpent. He is thus raised up on the cross, that He may be
conspicuously displayed to all earth's sons--and that all faithful ministers
may learn to lift aloft this only beacon.
Reader, look then from other things towards this cross.
Look with assured faith. He, who there hangs, is verily the mighty God.
Therefore divinity belongs to those deep wounds. They have infinity of merit
to expiate infinity of guilt. He wears your form--He bears your nature--that
His sufferings may be accounted, as your own. In Him all power--all
fitness--all sufficiency combine. God sends--accredits--appoints--accepts
Him. In Him all attributes are more than satisfied. He is salvation to the
uttermost. He is God's glory in the highest.
Look yet more earnestly. The look of faith is saving. You
cannot turn a trustful eye to Him and not receive fullest salvation. Did any
wounded Israelite look and not live? So no beholding sinner dies. The remedy
is sure--is near. You may be aged, and long years of sin may show a
blackened course. Look, and the mighty mass of sin is gone. You may bewail a
life of aggravated guilt. Your stains may be the deepest crimson. You may be
plunged and replunged in vilest filth. Look, and be whole. If all the sins
of all the lost were yours, they would not exceed this expiating power.
You may be young--and life's first buds be
opening. But you are born a withered branch on withered tree. The
serpent's poison tainted your infant veins. You never can have health,
but from the cross. The rich must look--for riches cannot save. The poor
must look--for poverty is no cloak for guilt. The learned must
look--for learning can devise no other help. The ignorant must
look--for ignorance is not heaven's key. None ever lived without
soul-sickness. None regain strength apart from Christ. But His cross stands
uplifted high--even as the pole in Israel's camp. And it is not a vain
voice, which cries, "Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth!"
Believer, you know, that you have daily need to
look. You are raised high by faith, but not above the flying
serpent's reach. Alas! how suddenly he wounds God's saints. And all his
wounds bring pain. But the reviving cross is ever in sight. There alone, can
the venom lose its pain. Then live with your eye riveted on Christ. Thence
flow your streams of peace. Turn not away your gaze in life--in death--until
you enter the blessed home, where the old serpent cannot come.