The Bronze Serpent

Numbers 21:5-9

The people spoke against God and against 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 detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Once again, this is an imperfect image, but it is an image that reveals part of what the image of the lamb once slain might reveal for us.

The bronze serpent, in this case, is a sign of hope for the people. They have sinned, and serpents have become a sign of their sinfulness and the just punishment their sin deserves. However, the bronze serpent, an inanimate representation of a living serpent, is now the sign of God’s mercy. While this particular serpent has never lived, it has the power to save. To look upon it is enough.

The symbolism of the serpent on the pole has been used for centuries as a symbol for the medical profession. It is a symbol for healing, for in this scripture passage, those who look upon it are healed.

The lamb once slain who lives also has the power to save, to heal whatever needs healing. It is, however, not an inanimate object. It is alive with the power of God.