Snakes on a pole - 2 October 2018

Xanthe Hancox

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.  John 3:14-15 (NIV)

I’ve always found it difficult to get my head around this description of Jesus as a snake; it sounds like blasphemy.

To understand why Jesus himself would make this comparison, we need to go back to the Old Testament. The Israelites wanted to get to the Promised Land, and the quickest way was across the land of Edom. But God told Moses not to fight the Edomites, and to go the long way round to Canaan instead.

At this point, the Israelites grew impatient. They didn’t know why they couldn’t simply march through Edom and kill any Edomites that opposed them. And so, as they headed off in the wrong direction, they grumbled against God and Moses. As a result, the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people as judgment. Most scholars agree that these “fiery” serpents were snakes whose bite burned like fire before you died.

The Israelites acknowledged their sin, came to Moses and asked him to pray for a remedy. People were dying. They needed relief. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Everyone in Israel that had been bitten would live if they looked at the serpent.

The image of a snake on a pole became one of healing and blessings from God. And just as the Israelites needed to trust God and look at the snake to live, we need to trust Jesus and turn to the cross so that we might live. There was nothing the Israelites could do to save themselves, and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from the consequences of sin. The remedy for them was simple, and it’s simple for us. Turn to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the example of the Israelites. May we turn our eyes upon Jesus, give us faith to trust him, and save us. Amen.

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