NUMBERS 21: Fiery Serpents

Possible Exodus Routes. In black is the tradit...
Possible Exodus Routes. In black is the traditional Exodus route; other possible routes are in blue and green. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: The Bronze Serpent (Num. 21:4-9) Русс...
English: The Bronze Serpent (Num. 21:4-9) Русский: Моисей изготавливает медного змея (Числ. 21:4-9) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rod of asclepius
Rod of asclepius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An interpretation of the borders (in red) of t...
An interpretation of the borders (in red) of the Promised Land, based on God’s promise to Abraham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A prominent theme in Numbers is that rebelling against God and those He has put in authority results in dire consequences.  In fact, the Hebrews’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was a direct result of disobeying God.  (Their fear of the Nephilim–or giants–in the Promised Land was greater than their faith in God, who promised to give them victory.)  Moses interceded for the people more than once to subdue God’s anger against their complaints and disobedience.

In Numbers 21: 5-9 (NASB), the people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”  The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.”  And Moses interceded for the people.  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.”  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”

English: The Conquest of the Amorites, as in N...
English: The Conquest of the Amorites, as in Numbers 21:25, by James Tissot, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another theme involves the enemies of the sons of Israel.  In Chapter 20, we read that the Edomites refused to let the sons of Israel pass through their land.  Thus in Chapter 21: 4, we learn that the sons of Israel “set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient.”  (That’s when they rebelled against God, who sent fiery serpents among them.)

After that, Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying “Let me pass through your land.”  But like the king of Edom, the Amorite king refused them passage.  In addition, the Amorites attacked Israel.  Israel won and took over the cities of the Amorites. The king of Bashan also fought Israel and lost.

Who were the Amorites?  They are mentioned in Genesis 15: 16 as people of iniquity.  They are listed along with the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashite, and the Jebusites in verses 16-20.  This section of Genesis 15 defines the borders of the land that Israel will inherit through the covenant that God made with Moses.

NOTE:  Many assume that today’s medical symbol of the snake wrapped around the pole refers to the bronze serpent in Numbers 21.  However, the medical symbol actually comes from a pagan source, the Rod of Asclepius.


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