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Numbers 21:8-9 Serpent On A Pole

Posted by adventbiblestudy on February 20, 2013

Study methods explained. Bible stories, studies with links between Old and New Testament texts.

Learning about prophecies fulfilled shows how to understand all scripture.

Numbers 21:8-9 KJV 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. (9) 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.

As with all the prophecies about Jesus, this one also teaches a number of valuable study methods. This may be the best example to teach context in the Bible.

The word serpent is repeated four times. This shows us the main theme of the texts. By rule, only the Bible can interpret the Bible, but how do we know which interpretation fits the proper context? Many spiritual words have more than one meaning, facing the same dilemma. This is why the rules of context must be learned and followed.

First examine the texts. Look at how each word is used and the result.

Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole

looketh upon it, shall live

Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole

serpent had bitten any man

when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived

Notice the repeated patterns. The brass serpent was placed on a pole. Whoever looked on the brass serpent lived. Moses, the inspired author repeated these terms to call attention to the important details. These are details explained by comparing the to other texts containing the key word, serpent.

John 3:14-15 KJV And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: (15) That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John shows us the serpent lifted up on the pole represents Jesus, the Son of man. Does that mean a serpent always represents Jesus? Does Jesus represent the serpents on the ground biting and killing people? The way some people represent Christ in their lives, they may lead people to believe that conclusion. When we examine other texts we see a serpent can also represent an entirely different entity.

Revelation 12:9 KJV And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

John also explains a serpent represents Satan. It was not by accident Satan used a serpent in a tree to deceive Eve. Without knowing it, Satan was pointing to a prophecy about Jesus dying on a tree to bring salvation to the world. In a way this prophecy also shows God’s sense of humor and planning. Not only does God use the symbol of a serpent to represent both Jesus and Satan, but sin and salvation began in a tree. Of course God did this for a reason. One of them was to provide key texts to show simple study methods. God’s Word is an intricate part of communication and relationship between God and His people. As we study other related texts, we find another prophecy about Jesus. In fact it is a verse Satan quoted while tempting Jesus in the wilderness.

Psalms 91:11-14 KJV For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. (12) They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. (13) Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. (14) Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.

The interesting point about this text is, Satan did not quote the portion of the prophecy indicating Jesus’ victory over Satan, described as not only the dragon, but the adder and lion. So we can see more than one symbol can represent an entity. The fact of the matter is, when God reveals the meaning of symbols He uses, there is no mistake as long as we respect and understand context.

A serpent can also represent people. The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear. (Psalms 58:3-4 KJV). In this case a person would not fit the context of Numbers 21. Serpents on the ground clearly represent Satan attempting to keep people from entering the promised land. When interpreting symbols, the meanings placed upon them should be compared to the plan of salvation which has two sides, God’s plan and Satan’s attempts to turn people away.

Not only did Jesus die on the cross to provide salvation for this dying world, He showed us how to forgive, and taught a valuable lesson to better understand our relationship with God reestablished at the cross. Once we understand how God communicates through His Word, we see and establish a stronger, more meaningful relationship which can never be broken.


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