Nehushtan: In the shadow of the serpent. A New Testament Perspective by Dr. Jason Eric Renna
In the passage of John 3:14 preceding the most famous verse in all the New Testament, a curious statement is written, “as the serpent was lifted in the wilderness, so shall the son of man be lifted” what does this mean in relation to the gospel and the ministry of Jesus? Does this have any place in the New Testament? Can this be linked to the story that made history? Or to understand the understandable? Perhaps we need to understand the facets of the quote.
Finding ourselves deep in the Sinai desert, the people in mid journey began to complain and to murmur against G-D and His anointed Prophet. We will pick up here, in Numbers 21:6-9
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 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.8 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.” 9 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.
We learn of a tragic and sudden judgement. Fiery serpents are released as a response to the bitter complaints of the people against the Lord and His prophet Moses.
Such a devastating end to the lives of many called and chosen. But why? In careful study we find that the law of Genesis is kind after kind. Genesis 1:11-12, Genesis 1:21, Genesis 1:24-25.
We see here that each species of plant or animal or reptile may only regenerate after its’ kind, or kind for kind. We also understand the Law of Moses states “eye for eye and tooth for tooth.” So, whether in judgement, or procreation, it is kind for kind. Exodus 21:24 “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
What this means is, if we Israelites were filled with poison and bitterness with complaining, then that is what they indeed will be filled with. See the serpent was cursed in Genesis 3:14 “The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.”
He (the serpent) was reduced to a life of dust crawling in the dust and to be sought towards the dust. And it was so that the Israelites who had chosen to be filled with bitter poison would be and would be forced now to look upon the dust again but now due to a deadly snake bite. A snake who was cursed, crawling in the dust.
A lesson here is that those who walk accordingly to the flesh reap the rewards of such. For it is written to the serpent, “and the dust you shall eat” Genesis, 3:14 “Did not The Lord God make our flesh from the dust of the earth?” Genesis 2:7 The Bible says in Galatians 5:16 and 18
If you walk by the spirit you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh, and again those who walk accordingly to the spirit are not under the law. This means walking in faith and believing the promises of the Lord God, we walk at a higher level or at a supernatural level. Not only not complaining at things that might be but speaking the things that are not as though they are. See Romans 4:17 -As it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Here is the reality. If we walk accordingly to the flesh (the dust), the enemy has legal right to feast upon us. The fruits of the flesh are contrary to the fruits of the spirit. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. - Galatians 5:15
Love believes all things, hopes all things - 1 Corinthians 13:7b, it believes G-D, it believes Moses and the law written of and by Him, it believes our brothers and hopes for the future. Love does not bite and devour one another and does not murmur and complain.
When the people began to complain and murmur, they were not breaking G-D’s commands, and not only poisoning their faith, but themselves. When you complain you are taking the power to change and transform what is to what will be, and wasting it. This deadly venom also spreads quickly through the body, killing the nervous system of the victim. When this poison was spreading though the Sinai it quickly poisoned thousands of us in the body of Israel. The poison stops the promise. For everyone knows what is, but who knows what will be? Therefore, it is written life and death are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 18:21
So, to those who desired to be filled with poison and remain how they are, that’s exactly how they would remain. The serpents were sent out as a judgement to stop this evil and poison from spreading to the populous of exiled Hebrews, striking only those whose souls were already filled with poison. Remember the law, eye for eye and tooth for tooth, we would have to equate it is also “poison for poison”.
It is written that mercy triumphs over judgment, (James 2:13) so is there a cure for this? Is there a redemption for the bite? Yes. By making a copper snake fastened upon a pole, all who look to it will be healed. But how will this heal them? There is a scripture in Deuteronomy that records cursed is every man who hangs upon on a tree. (Deuteronomy 21:23)
By hanging the serpent on a tree, the cursed one is finally cursed. Whereas before one had to look down at his bite and the one who bit him in the dust (the flesh) now he must look up to G-D to the one who brings him healing. Remember the law of kind for kind? Well, it works two ways, if a man is filled with poison, then poison he will be filled with, but if in the same law of kind for kind, if a man is brought death through a snake, then through a snake must come life. If through one comes the curse, then through one must come the cure. By instating this a pertinent fact must also be acknowledged, when the Israelites where complaining, they insisted on saying they had no food, but the very same people said they had worthless manna which was food indeed (Numbers 21:5.
We see here they were not only complaining but had lost even a sober perspective of what was happening as well. To look to the serpent, both acknowledging first that they had sinned against the LORD and HIS anointed Prophet and were filled also with poison, resulting in a snake bite. This act of sobriety (though it was a response to a life threat) still validated the fact that truth and repentance would bring about life again and life renewed because of
G-D’s great mercies.
So, through a serpent came death and through a serpent came the cure from death. So, the law of Genesis is fulfilled. How about the larger matters at hand? How about the fall of man? Does the same law apply? Yes!
Jesus said in John 3:14, “as the serpent was lifted in the wilderness so will the Son of Man be lifted up. “By saying this, He was not only testifying to the crucifixion ahead but that for the venom of sin to be neutralized that came from a man (Adam) that the cure to this also had to come from a man (Jesus), a man lifted and nailed to a tree.
By accomplishing this, the fall that cursed man through man’s disobedience would then also be now neutralized through a man lifted as the serpent, through that man's righteousness as it was written, For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19).
This precept and principle both fulfill the mandates of the law of Moses and the law of Genesis, granting life for death, and mercy for judgement for all who look upon the one they had pierced. (Zechariah 12:10)
Note: All quoted scripture is ESV. Dr. Jason Eric Renna - www.libertydenver.com