It was just a lifeless statue on a pole, a brass snake. What good could that do? People were dying. Venomous snakes were biting and killing many in their company. Why did God answer their prayers for deliverance with a fake snake on a pole?
If God answered their prayer with an ointment to be applied, they may have credited their own ingenuity for saving them. If he had simply removed the snakes, they might suspect the snakes just went away. God wanted them to know that he was saving them. The powerless and lifeless fake snake could do nothing. He told them to do something ridiculous, “fix your gaze on a brass snake.” When they did, the venom did not kill them. They lived. However, they had to look with the eyes of faith. They had to look beyond the sign and see the Sign Giver. He wanted to teach them that he had the power to save.
Snakes are symbolic. Snakes stood for the power of Egypt. They wanted to go back to Egypt. God sent the power of Egypt upon them. They said it would be better to die in the wilderness than go on. Many were dying. God gave them what they asked for. (Numbers 21:4-9)
The snakes also symbolized the Ancient Serpent of Old, Satan, who tempted Adam and Eve, injecting into them and all who came after them the deadly poison of sin. The God who delivered them from Egypt not only had the power to save their mortal bodies, he also had the power to save their souls.
Well over one thousand years later, Jesus would have a late night conversation with a religious leader named Nicodemus. In that passage we find the infamous words, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” But before that, Jesus said, “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 sternal life in him (John 3:14-15).” A form of the affliction becomes the cure for the affliction. The death of One Man cures death for many.
There are many things we can do to heal our mortal bodies, but only One can save our souls, Jesus Christ who was lifted up on the cross. Look to the cross and live.