Speaking of bad serpents, one would only have to consider the serpent in the garden of Eden to find the worst. However, there is a text in which there are bad serpents and there is a good serpent. That text is in the twenty-first chapter of the book of Numbers and though it contains a number of great lessons for us, there is one in particular that we wish to give consideration to. But, first consider the account of the serpents.
During the forty years of wilderness wandering, the people of Israel began to murmur and speak against God and Moses on numerous occasions. Though God was extremely longsuffering, many of those occasions were deadly for many Israelites from time to time. At one point, the people spake against God and against Moses. “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he behold the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:6-9). The serpents God sent were deadly, thus bad serpents. The brazen serpent that God instructed Moses to put on a staff for the people to look upon was indeed a good serpent, for it saved life.
The one great lesson that we wish to draw attention to and to emphasize is that when God gives a command, it must be obeyed if one is to receive the blessing or blessings that God placed as the reward for obedience. This is such a simple lesson that no real amount of effort need be put into it. God commanded Noah to build an ark to the saving of his family (Gen. 6). Noah obeyed God and he and his family were saved from the universal flood. Had Noah believed God, but refused to build the ark, he and his family would also have perished. When God commanded the children of Israel to march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days, blow the trumpets and shout and that the walls would fall when they did so, that is just exactly what happened (Josh. 6). On and on the list could go, but we all understand that, right? We also understand that faith is involved in this obedience. The Hebrew writer said, “But without faith it is impossible to please him…” and then said of Noah, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11:6-7). He said of the destruction of Jericho, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days” (Heb. 11:30). But, there is another aspect of this that is often overlooked.
God’s way does not have to be logical or reasonable to our way of thinking! Does looking upon a serpent on a staff cure snake bite? The Star of Life which is the emblem for Emergency Medical Services has a serpent on a staff in it. That specific portrayal of the serpent on the staff is actually that of the “Rod of Asciepius, the Greek mythological god of healing, which had previously been a picture in the minds of man from that of Moses in the wilderness. There is no serpent on a staff standing in the corner at the Emergency Room, which they use to cure snake bites. No one in their right mind believes there is any healing power over snake bites in a serpent on a staff. What made it work for those in the wilderness is that it was what God commanded. That made it the right. Obedience to the command, whether it made sense to them or not was required for their salvation. The same held true concerning the falling of the walls of Jericho. Any military man will quickly tell you that marching around a city, blowing trumpets and shouting will not make walls fall. But, when God commands that it be done and promises that the walls will fall when you do it, it becomes the truth and must be obeyed. God did not command it because it was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do because God commanded it.
We wish to make application of the lesson that we have noted by way of just one commonly debated subject. The Bible clearly teaches baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Yet, because the Bible also clearly teaches that one cannot be saved by works, many reject the clear teaching on the necessity of baptism. They argue, water can’t wash sin away like dirt. How can baptism wash away sin? The answer is that it would not do a thing in the world toward sin, except that the Lord said do it and it will do just what He said it will do. Any rejection of this is simply a lack of faith. Some speak of faith only, but faith that is too shallow to believe that God can wipe away sins by way of baptism is a faith that is way too shallow to save a lost soul. Just believe God and do what He commanded! It worked for Noah. It worked in taking the city of Jericho and it worked in the wilderness. It will work for you too!
Robert Oliver is a long time columnist for The Sampson Independent.