The Brazen Serpent
Gospel of John 3:14-16
Strong’s Concordance defines the word “kaw-tsar” as meaning “discourage.” A Hebrew word, it literally may be translated “dock off” or “cut down,” much as a farmer cuts down grain. Passing through the wilderness, after leaving Egypt, needing water, Israel’s courage was docked off – cut down.
Numbers 21:4-9 baffles many Jewish scholars. They do not know how to explain it. The serpent was a symbol of evil to the Jews; however it was an emblem of healing to the pagans, who symbolized it with a serpent intertwined around a staff. The U.S. Medical Corps employs this emblem as its own. I preferred thinking that the Scriptures inspired our nation to use this symbol as its own, but it did not. It actually was borrowed from paganism.
To many, it may appear strange for God to command the use of a pagan symbol in dealing with the problem of Israel’s sin. Nonetheless Jesus employed the serpent-on-the-staff symbol as a type of himself. John 3: 14-15 records his stating, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The Apostle Paul somewhat clarified this seeming quandary (“seeming,” because in reality the quandary is non-existent) when he wrote in First Corinthians 5:21: “For he [God the Father] hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (Brackets by author)
Most reading this article are not strangers to John 3:16. Perhaps you memorized it as a child or soon after being born again. It is the most quoted verse from the Bible. In verses 14-15, Jesus defined the brazen serpent. Without these verses, Numbers 21:4-9 would be incomprehensible.
The third chapter of John’s Gospel records two additional inspiring truths that should be pointed out before continuing with Numbers 21:4-9. The first is: God did not send His Son, Jesus, to condemn the world. John 3:17 assures us of this: “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
In one church I pastored, a newly converted young woman approached me saying, “Pastor, I’m afraid of God.”
“Have you confessed your sins to Him and asked His forgiveness through Jesus Christ?” I inquired. She replied in the affirmative.
I then read John 3:16-17 to her, explaining that Jesus came to save us, not to condemn us. “Since you have received Him as your Savior, no longer is there any condemnation for you. You’re free; Jesus has taken your sins and condemnation on himself.”
When, finally, she comprehended this marvelous truth her demeanor changed from one of fear and gloom, to that joy and love. With a radiant smile, she said she understood. From that time on, whenever we met, she greeted me with her beautiful smile.
The second inspiring truth is that God demonstrated His love for lost humanity through the incarnation and death of His only begotten Son.
John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not parish but have everlasting life . . .” Does someone require a demonstration of God’s love? Let that person’s mind meditate on this truth.
A while back, my wife, Maria, and I attended a ministerial convention. As communion was being served, the organist played one of my favorite songs: “Blessed Redeemer.” One stanza of the song reads: “Father forgive them, thus did He pray/ even while His life’s blood flowed fast away/ Praying for sinners while in such woe/ No one, but Jesus, ever loved so.”
John 3:18 records a discussion Jesus had with a high-ranking Jewish official named, “Nicodemous.” During the conversation, Jesus declared to Nicodemous that the person who believes on Him is not condemned. Are you afraid of God? I again recommend you meditate on the third chapter of John’s Gospel. Permit God’s Holy Spirit to impress your mind with the immensity of His love.
Numbers 21:4-9 employs the phrase, “. . . because of the way,” found in verse four: “. . . the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.”
It is what these four words represent that endangers us as we travel on “the way.” One of my friends, a business man, almost lost out with God because of business problems. He had just taken out a bank loan; shortly afterward, the loan interest soared to twenty-one percent. It required a great deal of trust on his part to affirm that God had not forsaken him.
At times, during periods of discouragement, God’s people expect Him to respond to their problems by particularly dramatic performances. Even the most spiritual believers are not immune to such discouragement and expectations. An example of this is Elijah sitting discouraged in a cave. Wind, an earthquake and fire did not communicate God’s voice to him. Rather, it was a still small voice by which the prophet heard God speaking [1 Kings 19:9-18]. And, most often, as we are in prayer, it is by a still, small voice that the Lord communicates with us.
I once was informed of an engaged, young woman who attended a church service with her fiancée. During the service, she received Jesus Christ as her savior; her fiancée did not. Instead, he issued an ultimatum to her: “If you insist on following through with this craziness, I won’t marry you!”
The young woman battled against her discouragement for several days. Then, encouraged by the Lord’s assurance to her, she returned the ring to her former fiancée, informing him she was resolved to serve Jesus Christ.
There are many things that can discourage Christians:
>As in the case of the above mentioned young woman, a severing of a close relationship with a loved one certainly is discouraging.
>The mockery of family members and friends (as was the case with my parents when they came to the Lord) is discouraging.
>The fact that remaining faithful to Christ may limit societal relationships, such as job choices and promotions, is discouraging.
>And there are others that the reader can possibly mention.
Nevertheless, God is abundantly able to comfort those who experience such heartaches.
In the wilderness, Israel experienced two significant discouragements:
*A water shortage discouraged them, yet God provided water from a rock.
*A food shortage discouraged them, yet God provided food for them from heaven.
Like Israel, there may be times when we display a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, attitude with God. I knew a man – a minister no less - who clamed he was “mad at God.” He had asked God for something and did not receive it. So he was no longer speaking to God. How similar to Numbers 21:5: “And the people spoke against God . . .”
The impression this minister’s attitude made on me was that he behaved like a spoil child. God did not give him his way, so he had a spiritual tantrum. And this is how Israel behaved.
God’s people should never consider God’s blessings to be so common place that we no longer appreciate them. A pastor visited a family who had stopped attending services. The husband informed the pastor that the services were not exciting enough for them.
“But you need teaching and fellowship,” the pastor remonstrated.
“We get plenty of teaching from the services on television and we visit different churches,” the man stated.
Not long after, the man’s wife became ill and was hospitalized. Who did they call? You guessed it - the pastor, who felt like telling them to ask their television set to visit her. He did not say this; instead he visited the women in the hospital.
The dangers from discouragement:
>Feeling like quitting. Example: Elijah.
>Tendency to blame others: Israel. Numbers 21:5
This author visited a man who condemned everyone else for his problems. Finally, tired of hearing it, I said to him, “I’m glad you’re not God.”
That baffled him, so I explained, “If you were God, you’d send everyone to hell!” That may be why he never again condemned anyone when in my presence. We should realize that the Israelites condemned Moses, yet Moses was enduring the same hardships as were they.
The remedy for discouragement:
>Israel had to treat it like sin. Numbers 21:7: “We have sinned.”
Scriptures teach that whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
>Israel was required to tell Moses they had sinned. Numbers 21:7
>Israel requested prayer for sinning. Numbers 21:7
>Israel accepted God’s remedy for sin. Numbers 21:7.
Numbers 21:9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and so it was if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow/ Because He lives, my sins are gone/ Because I know, I know He holds the future/ And life is worth the living just because He lives.”
© Joseph Perrello (Josprel)
“The Brazen Serpent”
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