THE BRAZEN SERPENT
"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." Numb. 21:9.
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 restore.
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 as 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!" Is. 45:22.
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.