B.B. Warfield described the Old Testament as a room “fully furnished but dimly lit.” All the pieces of God’s story are in place, the furniture is in the room, but it is tough to see the beauty and glory of it all in full effect because the room is too dimly lit.
In today’s reading through Numbers 21 we see a hint of the coming story. As God leads his seemingly ever-complaining people to a land promised long ago, he is not slow to punish their sin along the way…
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And 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 ewe loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. Nu 21:4–6.
The Lord condemns and punishes their constant complaining by sending fiery serpents to bite and kill the people. Sin has consequences. Sometimes we see them immediately when the snake latches on our heel, other times they come much slower. But when our sin is revealed, we, like the Israelites here, turn to plead for mercy…
And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Nu 21:7–9.
God delivered his people from the condemnation of their sin, by their looking in faith on another. Jesus uses this story in his conversation over new birth with Nicodemus in John 3.
And 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. Jn 3:14–15.
As we’re led through the Old Testament on our yearly Bible reading plan, I hope you’ve seen glimpses and glances of Jesus and his wonderful salvation along the way. One of the most dangerous pages in our Bible is the one separating the Old from the New Testament. These stories are one grand and beautiful tale of a God who created and is redeeming a people for his own possession. This tale is ongoing still, and by God’s amazing grace we get to live in this continuing story every day for the purpose of declaring it to everyone and anyone that will listen.