To get a proper understanding of the event, let’s read Numbers 21:4-8, “And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”

The Lord had delivered His people from Egypt, and they were now in their 40-year wilderness journey.  At times, they rebelled, at times they were discouraged and murmured against the Lord.  Here, we see that “the people spake against God” and murmured against the Lord for allowing them to “die in the wilderness” for lack of bread and water.  Actually, the Lord had responded to their earlier murmurings and had graciously provided quail and manna for the people to eat (Exodus 16:11-18).  Despite that wonderful supply, the people grew to hate the Lord’s provision.

At this point, the Lord determined to discipline His people.  He sent “fiery serpents” among them.  The exact species of serpents that caused such great mortality among the Israelites cannot be determined. They are said to have been “fiery.”  This could be said of them either from their bright color or the intense infection their bite caused.  Either way, there was no stopping these snakes and no controlling them as they bit and killed many of the Israelites. 

This terrible punishment caused great repentance among the people.  They acknowledged their sin and asked Moses to pray to the Lord on their behalf to “take away the serpents away from us.” The first thing we notice is that the Lord DID NOT take away the serpents.  Of course, He could have, but that would have offered a very limited relief.  What about those who had been bitten, but had not died yet?  To remove the serpents would not benefit them at all. 

The Lord in His infinite wisdom showed Moses how those who had already been bitten could live.  “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” (Verse 8).  Fiery serpents had come into their camp and the Lord told Moses to build a brass serpent that looked like the actual serpents.  Now let’s read verse 8, “And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”

We are not left to speculate about what the brass serpent symbolized.  We have the Lord’s words spoken to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  So, the serpent that Moses built was a representation of the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself.  Indeed, ALL those who look to the Lord for salvation will be saved.  Those who have been bitten and afflicted with sin are bound for a lost eternity as we read in Ezekiel 18:20, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die…”  So, the Lord implores us to look to Him for the salvation we so desperately need. 

But why was the serpent that Moses built made out of brass?  What is the significance of that?  Brass in the Bible really denotes copper (with zinc).  It is actually called copper in Ezra 8:27. Everywhere else it is referred to as brass.  Brass usually represents suffering because of the intense heat it must go through to be fit for service.  Christ, in order to save us, had to suffer the price of our sins.  He suffered through the fierce wrath of God for the sins we had committed.  We read in Luke 24:46-47, “Thus it is written, and thus IT BEHOVED CHRIST TO SUFFER, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Understanding this, give us a better appreciation of the brass serpent Moses made and put on a pole for all to look at to be healed from our sins.  Christ was lifted up on the cross where He suffered and died for our salvation.  To be saved, we must look to Him in faith as our Savior and Lord.  We read in Isaiah 45:22, “LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”  (CC)  (524.6)