In Numbers 21, we see that the grumbling of the Israelites against God and Moses brought about God’s judgment upon them in the shape of fiery serpents, whose bites were fatal (v.6). However, God also graciously responded to Moses’ intercession and commanded him to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole, so that anyone who had been bitten could look at the serpent and live (v.8). At this point, some may wonder whether it would have sufficed if God simply instructed Moses to merely wave his hands and let the healing simply follow.
To understand what is going on here, we need to know that for the Israelites who were familiar with Egyptian symbolism, such a pole or standard was a recognised symbol of a deity’s power. When Moses raised the pole, it reminded the Israelites that God’s power was present in their midst, granting healing to those whose sins had condemned them to death through the serpent’s bite.
In addition, the serpent is usually associated as a symbol of the enemy of mankind, Satan himself. Thus, the raised serpent on the pole would have demonstrated in visual terms the defeat of Israel’s enemies, overcome by the power of the Lord. Even as the Israelites felt afresh the bitter consequences of their sin against God, they were given a sign to encourage them to repent and put their faith in Him as God’s forgiveness and healing were available to them.
However, as time went by, the people forgot the true meaning of this sign and instead turned the bronze snake into an idol (2 Kings 18:4). It was only when Hezekiah came to the throne that this idol was removed and proper worship of God was restored.
Unfortunately, we are also prone to superstitious beliefs and practices. This is most commonly seen in how Hollywood parodies the priests who rely on the crucifix to seek protection or to ward off mythical creatures such as the werewolves, vampires or zombies.
Hopefully, when Christians put a cross on our front doors or wear it around our necks, it is to serve as a reminder that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Thus, Christians are by God’s grace those who belong to God and who are committed to serving Him as Lord of our lives (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Clearly, we must not fall into the folly of believing that the cross is some kind of a charm that offers divine protection. The truth is the cross in itself has no ability to deliver us from evil apart from the redemptive work of Christ. If the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happened in history, it makes no difference how sincere a person is in holding unto his convictions (2 Corinthians 15:16-19).
Indeed, everything depends upon the faithfulness and trustworthiness of our object of faith. For example, we believe the chair we are sitting in will hold us, but it is not our faith in the chair that holds us. Ultimately, it is the “faithfulness” of the chair that holds us. Likewise, while we certainly need faith in God if we are to have salvation, it is not the amount of faith that enables us to be saved. Our faith is meant to be the response to the faithfulness of God and not the other way round.
When Jesus compared his own death on the cross to the uplifted serpent (Jn 3:14-15), his point was to teach that just as the bronze serpent was itself a sign calling for faith to which people could look and be delivered from sin and death, so trusting in His death would have the same effect. The Good News is that all who are dead (and dying) in sin can be saved by believing that Jesus alone can save us from God’s holy judgment upon our sins and that through Him we can experience the fullness of life as God intended for humanity.
Today, after we have heard about God’s love as shown through Jesus Christ, what will our response be? Will we by faith come to God believing that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)? And if we are already believers, let us continue to walk by faith and not by sight. After all, faith is more than just about having seen Jesus on the Cross firsthand for ourselves.
July 29, 2012