Numbers 21 – A Snake on a Pole

The physician’s symbol for healing is a pole around which is wrapped a snake (sometimes two.) This imagery relates to a story found in Numbers chapter 21. There, God’s people were complaining and rebelling against God, so God sent deadly snakes to strike the people on the feet and ankles.

But, despite their rebellion, God provided a means of rescue. He told Moses to lift up a bronze snake on a pole, high above the people. Everyone who looked up at the bronze snake, rather than the snakes at their feet, lived.

This story raises some questions:

  • Why a bronze snake on a pole?
  • Why didn’t God just make the snakes go away?
  • Why wasn’t just putting a bronze snake on a pole enough?
  • Why did the people have to look at the snake?

In this story, God displays both the consequences and cure for sin. Sin is deadly. It can’t be cured, without a willingness to look to the true consequences of our rebellion…the sacrificial death of Christ. By faith, we must take our eyes off of how our sin effects us and focus on the One who made Himself to be sin and was lifted up on a cross for us. (2 Cor. 5:21) (John 13:14) (John 12:32)

Perhaps, this is the reason crucifixion scenes in Easter movies are more difficult for me to watch than other gory movies.  When I watch a crucifixion scene, I have to look at the what my sin did to Christ.

The bronze snake on the pole not only symbolized the consequences of sin, but also the source of healing. Likewise, Christ’s death on the cross not only portrays the consequences of our sin, but also proclaims the source of our healing.

We all need to take a good look.

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