When I was a Boy Scout, we learned a little poem that was designed to help us tell the difference between a venomous Coral Snake and a non-venomous Scarlet King Snake. These two snakes are similar in appearance and both have black, yellow and red colorings. So, how do you tell them apart? Here’s the poem: red and yellow kill a fellow; red and black friend of Jack.
If you see a snake with red and yellow colorings side by side, my advice is to run and run fast. In fact, I have no interest in evaluating any snake in an up close and personal way. There are three types of snakes that I detest: live ones, dead ones and rubber ones.
There is a fascinating episode in Numbers 21 where God judged the Israelites’ ingratitude and impatience by sending poisonous snakes into their midst as a disciplinary act. The Israelites, at this juncture, were about six months away from entering the promised land of Canaan and they were understandably frustrated because of circuitous routing through a desolate region. Their frustration, though understandable, was still inexcusable and in their frustration and fear they lashed out, not only at Moses, but also at God himself in very direct and accusatory ways.
So God brought discipline and correction to the people He loves in the form of poisonous snakes. When the Children of Israel turned away from God, He chastised them and lovingly brought them back.
Needless to say, the supernatural snake fest got the people’s attention. They humbled themselves, repented and asked Moses to pray for them.
What happened next? God provided a merciful remedy that defied all human explanation for its effectiveness. A bronze snake was placed on a pole and when the people looked at it, they were healed. God forced no one to look but for those who did, there was healing.
This was a remedy that was so simple it sounded absurd. It was a remedy that was so easy and so accessible that it sounded too good to be true. It was a remedy that put the spotlight solely on the power and grace of God and stiff-armed any human ability. Their only hope for deliverance was to look up at what God had lifted up to save them.
Eventually, this snake story from the life of Moses became the story that Jesus used to explain the simple, available, and accessible plan of salvation for us all. The bronze serpent is a picture of Christ on the cross, the cure for our souls.
Like the people of Israel, we can acknowledge that we have a problem (true guilt before God) that we are powerless to erase on our own. Like Israel, we can humble ourselves and turn to God. And like Israel, we can look up to what God has lifted up – Jesus Christ – as the simple, available and accessible remedy for our spiritually fatal problem.
John 3:14-15 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”