In Indiana Jones The Temple of Doom there is a scene where “Indy” is eating with the natives and they have a dish called snake surprise. It was live snakes that they were supposed to eat. Numbers has it’s own version of a snake surprise.
The book of Numbers, perhaps more than any other book in the Bible, highlights the judgment of God and the severity of his wrath. Over and over the people of Israel rebel and then God exacts his righteous judgment.
Specifically in Number 21 the people started becoming impatient from the long jaunt though the wilderness. They were tired of manna and tired of waiting to enter the promise land. They didn’t appreciate God’s provision for them and didn’t trust in his plan even though they were very close to where they would enter the promised land. Their complaining was showing a heart that didn’t trust God. Whenever we chose to complain we are basically saying to God, “what you have provided for me isn’t enough.”
In response to their complaints God sent a slew of snakes to ravage the whining wimps. Moses prayed for the people asking for his mercy. God used this situation as a way to illustrate how Jesus would save those who look upon him in faith from the penalty of our sin. God instructed Moses to make a replica of the snake and place it on a pole and those who look upon it would be healed.
Jesus uses this story as an illustration of how he saves us from our sin. “And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” John 3:14-15
Just as those who complained and were bitten as a result of their sin were healed by looking upon the bronze snake, so those who admit their sin and look upon what Jesus did upon the cross will be forgiven of their sin and will be given eternal life.
Even back in the Old Testament people were justified by their faith and not by the righteous things they did. This story reminds me to trust God even when I am in the wilderness and not complain if he is not meeting my needs in the way that I prefer. It also reminds me that looking to him is the only way I can experience healing from the results of my sin.