Archives: Numbers 21:4-9

Not So Much With the Atonement

“If it were a snake, it would have bit me!”

This is an expression you use if you’ve been looking for something and can’t find it only to discover it’s been right in front of you the whole time.

I thought of this expression as I studied our scriptures for this week about serpents and poles and whatnot, but it did not come true. There is nothing obvious about our texts today.

We’re going to have to dig a little deeper for meaning.

In our Gospel today, Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus who he is. He says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” That’s John 3:15.

Of course, the verse that everyone quotes all the time and puts on signs at football games is John 3:16, for God so loved the world. But I think this verse right before it bears an equal amount of fruit for us to harvest.

Jesus is referring to the story we read today from the book of Numbers, when Moses and the Israelites were in the wilderness.

The Israelites are misbehaving and complaining to Moses again, and the Lord finally gets fed up and sets a bunch of poisonous snakes on them.

Moses prays to the Lord to have compassion on them, and the Lord tells Moses to take a snake and raise it up on a pole, and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.

The interesting part of this story is that while it does say directly that it is the Lord who set the serpents among the people, which is bizarre at best and just mean at worst, the Lord never says that the serpents are there to punish the Israelites for their sin.

The Israelites draw that conclusion themselves. Continue reading