It must have been an extremely exciting time when Moses led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. God’s people began experiencing freedom for the first time in hundreds of years. And for the first time in their lives, their future looked bright. But Paul tells us that most of them died in the wilderness because God was not pleased with them. What a tragic and unnecessary loss; they could have inherited the Promised Land.
In I Corinthians 10, Paul explained why God punished them. They committed sins such as idolatry, fornication, tempting Christ, and murmuring. God had those things recorded in the Bible so that we could learn from their mistakes. The Israelites thought they had it made because they were God’s special people. We are warned in I Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
We should learn from the things written about the Israelites. On one occasion, recorded in Numbers 21, the people complained about God, Moses, and the food God was providing. Because of this, God sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many of the Israelites were bitten and died from these snakebites.
The people confessed their sins and asked Moses to pray for them. Rather than removing the snakes, God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. He said that if a snake bit a person, that person could look at the serpent on the pole, and he would be healed. The people learned quickly that the only way to live after being bitten was to obey God by looking at the bronze serpent on the pole.
What was it that saved the people from the snakes? Was this “snake salvation?” Did the man-made snake on the pole heal the people? No, there was no power in the snake. It was the people’s obedience to God’s command that saved them. They could either obey and be healed or fail to obey and die.
The snake on the pole was only an instrument God used to test their faith. They could either believe what God said, and obey Him, or they would die. It would have been foolish for a person who was dying of snakebite to fail to do what God had commanded them to do. It was an easy way to be healed, rather than to face certain death.
One might ask, “What is the connection between looking at a snake on a pole and being cured of a snake bite?” But we don’t have to see any connection. In Isaiah 55:8-9, God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Man’s logic is not the same as God’s.
God often tests our faith by commanding things that don’t seem logical. When Peter commanded the people in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” the Bible says that those who gladly received his word were baptized (Acts 2:41). Man may fail to see any connection between baptism and salvation, but Jesus said in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” And I Peter 3:21 says plainly that baptism saves us. Will we gladly receive God’s word and obey it, or not?
We don’t have to understand; we just need to obey. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” God has always demanded faith and obedience.
The Israelites who obeyed God were cured of snakebite. Today, those who believe God’s word and obey Him by being baptized will be cleansed of sin (Acts 22:16).