December the 4th finds us in the book of Numbers chapter 21, verses 4-9:
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
The book of Numbers is one of those Old Testament books most people don’t understand, but it is a very important history of the people of Israel. Its English name, Numbers, is a translation of Arithmoi, from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) from which we get the word “Arithmetic.” It was given the name Numbers because it contains many statistics; two different census counts of the people, tribal counts, priestly counts and other statistical data. The Hebrew names of books of the Torah come from the first words of the book. Thus, the Hebrew name for Numbers is “In the Desert of.” This is a more accurate description of the content of Numbers. It is the history of the people of Israel through almost forty years in the desert.
But it is more than that: it is the history of the people of Israel trying God’s patience, and God testing their endurance and their faithfulness. God showed them His faithfulness by His presence with them, by a pillar of fire during the night and a cloud during the day. The book of Numbers is a history of God reminding His people that He will not tolerate complaining, disbelief or rebellion without consequences. It is the history of God teaching His people to walk with Him, worship Him, serve Him and to be His witness to the world.
They had forgotten what they left in Egypt, and they had forgotten everything they had in the desert. Manna fell from heaven six days a week. It did not fall on the Sabbath but the day before double the quantity fell to meet their need for food every day. And they had fresh water from a rock. But still they complained.
The people wanted the snakes to be taken away, but God had a lesson to teach to His people. God's solution? A bronze snake put up on a pole. For the snake - bitten people to be healed and live, they only had to look at the snake on the pole. This was a simple act, but a definite act of the will. Jesus referred to this incident in Numbers. His words are found in John chapter 3 verses 14-15:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.
Verses 8-9 in our text from Numbers is another foreshadowing of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus came to the earth, was born as a baby, lived as a boy, grew up and ministered as a man specifically to die on the cross to save us all from the penalty of our sins. He had to be "lifted up" on the cross. But it takes an act of our will too. You have to believe; believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, our Messiah, and believe that He came to die because of MY SINS and your sins. Ask Him to forgive you and confess Him with your mouth; a definite act of the will. The ornament that goes on the tree today is a small wooden cross with a bronze colored snake twisted around it. Look at it, then, think about Jesus on the cross. Ask Him to forgive you, please.