The Brazen Serpent
John G. Lake
The healing of the Israelites in the Wilderness at the time that Moses lifted up the Brazen Serpent, is one of the familiar lessons to most Bible students. Israel had a marvelous experience of deliverance and great conquest over Arad, king of the Canaanites, at which time God had utterly delivered them into her hands. “And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites.” Numbers 21:2, 3.
But Israel soon forgot her vow. Some folks forget all about God so soon. Jesus said, concerning the lepers which were healed and only one returned to give God the glory, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” So we read in the fifth verse that “the people spake against God, and against Moses.” Moses had asked to pass through the land of the Edomites, promising that they would touch nothing in their vineyards nor drink the water of their wells. But Edom said, “Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.” Numbers 20:18. So the people were compelled to compass the land of Edom. This was the reason that the people complained against God and against Moses.
You can almost hear the Children of Israel as they groaned. “Wherefore have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” It sounds like some Christians. Unless they are whooping it up on top of the house, they are away down in the valley, where it is terribly dark and sad. Israel had had a great triumph, but now she had been led through a hard way and she began complaining: “For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.” The light bread was the Manna.
Well, something happened. “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” Verse 6. Dr. Young’s translation makes that read in the permissive sense. “And the Lord PERMITTED fiery serpents to come among the people.” The lord had been protecting them and keeping the fiery serpents off all of the time, but they did not know it. So the Lord just let the serpents come among them. When did you have your last growl, or an awful spell of the blue devils? There is a place where the Christian soul gets through with all that kind of stuff.
“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he will take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.” Verse 7.
Real confession should always precede your prayer for healing. CONFESS your sin, then pray. It was a good thing Moses had grown up a little in God. Think of a man with over two million to growl at him. There is a place where the soul grows up. Moses prayed for the Children of Israel, and God gave him a remedy:
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” Verse 8.
God was directing their minds back to the original Covenant. How many of you know what the first Covenant was that God made with man? God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15. That first Covenant promised a Serpent Bruiser. He made that Covenant with the whole race. It is one of our universal Covenants, and we have the right to look back there and expect the fulfillment of the Promise.
One of our ministers was limited in words and ability to express his thoughts, but he had a wonderful ministry of healing. One day I went with him to make his calls. After the first call I said, “I have not come to pray, you just go ahead and pray yourself. I am going to keep still.” And when he began to pray I saw what the secret of that man’s prayer was. It was the power of the promise. “God, You said it,” and he would quote another Promise. The result was that he not only inspired faith in his own soul, but also the faith of God in the individual that needed the blessing.
So in this instance God took the eye of the whole nation, and turned it back to the Promise of the Eternal God. Do you remember when Jesus wanted a precedent on which to establish His teaching on the subject of marriage and divorce? He did not go back to Moses but clear back to Eden. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
There is another lesson I want you to see. That is, Jesus taking the sting out of the serpent. God promised that Christ would bruise the serpent’s head, but in the process of bruising, “he shall bruise thy heel.” That is, in the bruising of the serpent’s head, Jesus Christ would be bruised in the effort. The bruising of the heel took place when Jesus Christ died on the Cross. But in the bruising of the heel, the head of the serpent was to be crushed forever. The serpent and all he stands for is to be blotted from the world. The serpent represented the thing cursed of God.
Sin will curse anything. The sin of the world made Jesus Himself the cursed thing, and as the accursed and the criminal, He was nailed to the Cross, having taken on Himself our curse and criminality. “Being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” That was the manner in which Jesus took the sting out of the serpent. And Paul goes on to elucidate this matter, and breaks out with great joy: “O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” 1 Corinthians 15:55. The sting of death is sin, but Christ having come, sin was abolished and the sting taken away.
I think among all the wonderful symbols of the Word of God none stands out emphasizing more powerfully the conquest of Jesus Christ than this symbol of the serpent, which had bitten and cursed Israel, and then God held up before the people, saying, “Now look upon it, and you will live.” Why?
Because of the power of the PROMISE, because of the Covenant, because of the bruising, and because He became a curse for us. Blessed be God forever and ever!
The New Testament reveals to us the utterness of the serpent’s defeat. The Word says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” He has become to the anointed soul, the symbol of defeat. “He (Jesus) came to destroy the devil.” That is His purpose, “forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same: that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14.
My, how the Word of God reveals, not only Jesus Christ’s own triumph over the devil and darkness, but the triumph of the Christian who enters into oneness with Christ. Bless God, the final consummation is revealed to us by the Apostle John in Revelation 1:18, when Jesus in exaltation of His glory stood forth declaring, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Yes sir, the keys of darkness were delivered into the hands of the Son of God; He has them. He paid for them at the Cross. That is the principle Jesus laid down when He said to His disciples:
“I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19.
Last night a dear sister of the church called to tell us that her husband had just returned from the railway office a short time before, violently ill, in an agony of suffering. She was weeping and said, “Mr. Lake, something must be done.” How the mind wanders after that something. I said, “Dear Sister, something will be done if you and I believe God.” I told the other members of the family and we bowed our heads. Nobody spoke a word, but we believed God. About half an hour later the telephone bell rang, and she said, “Brother it is wonderful, the agony is absolutely gone. The Lord has abolished it.”
One of the scientific discussions that I have been interested in lately, is regarding the power of the eyes to attract to themselves that upon which they look. Get the principle that is behind that. The power of the eyes to attract to themselves that which they behold. One can readily see that behind the eye there is an action; something within our nature that reaches out and takes possession of the thing which the soul admires, and the soul desires. We draw or attract to ourselves that which we behold. “Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image.” Bless God, are you sinful? Look on Jesus and be saved. Are you sick? Look on Jesus and be healed.
Let me carry your thought back and connect it with the serpent. The serpent was their peculiar enemy. He has been the symbol of the enemy of the race from the very beginning. “That old serpent, the devil, and Satan,” is the Scriptural phrase describing him. But the utterness of his defeat, the wonder of the triumph of redemption, is set forth and portrayed in the fact that he, the symbol of darkness, is erected and nailed to the pole. God said, “Come and look at him. Do not be afraid of him.” And bless God, whoever looked, lived. They saw the overcome serpent, and the overcoming Christ.
My how the Lord God taught mankind by this wonderful symbolic lesson not to be afraid of the devil. He wrote it down in every soul of the nation that day, that the Almightiness of God brought their enemy into captivity, and no power of darkness should stand before Almighty God. Our difficulty is in the fact that we have become conscious of our sin and sickness, that we are not looking to the Lord with faith and expectation.
It seems to me in this matter of health, the Children of Israel learned a profound lesson. God was preparing to take them across Jordan. The lesson of the utterness of the defeat of the prince of darkness must have been very clear in their consciousness. After they crossed Jordan they trusted God continuously for many hundreds of years, and they had already trusted God for forty years in the wilderness.
A lesson to older Christians. We have been in the way quite a while. God has taught us varied lessons along the way. God had been their Healer through the forty years in the wilderness, but now here at the end of that time, God is confirming their education in faith in order that when they go across the River Jordan into the land of Canaan, they will remain settled in their faith forever.
In the process of assisting them to realize the utterness of Satan’s defeat, just a few days before they asked Arad for the privilege of going through Edom, and he refused them, then Israel,
“Vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people in my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities.”
An utter and total defeat of the enemy. Israel blotted the nation out, took possession of her territory, dwelt in her houses and cultivated her lands. There was no further to go in demonstration of the utterness of defeat of the enemy, and triumph and victory of God’s people.
Then right on top of it God brought this symbol of the serpent and put it up before them, to demonstrate in the spiritual the utterness of God’s victory over the enemy of man.
I do not know how these truths work out in other souls, but when I saw for the first time by the Word of God that sickness was not the Will of God, but the work of darkness and that it belonged to the kingdom of darkness, and that Jesus Christ said Satan was its author, everything in my nature rose up to defeat the will of the devil.
Now it may be beloved, that you have been tolerating something in your soul that is out of harmony with God. It may not be that you are sick, but you are tolerating something that is out of harmony with God.
The other day I sat by the bedside of a poor fellow who was being utterly consumed of disease. I talked with him a few minutes along the line that Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. As I sat analyzing the brother, I asked, “Brother, where did this difficulty originate?” He replied, “It originated in my disobedience of the laws of God and man.” “All right, who is its author? To what kingdom does it belong?” He answered, “It does not take much reasoning to classify it.” I said, “If that is true, God has promised its utter annihilation.” He plead, “Oh pray for me that the pain will leave.” I replied, “No, never! I cannot do it. But I will pray that the living God will utterly blot it out.”
Yes, brother, when you came to God with the sin of your burdened heart, the first thing He did was to blot it out, bless God. And He filled your soul with the consciousness and presence of His glory, and ever since He has been endeavoring to reproduce the likeness of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in you.