Numbers 21:6
And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(6) And the Lord sent fiery serpents . . . —Hebrew, the serpents, the seraphim (i.e., the burning ones). (See Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6.) The word appears to denote a particular kind of serpent, as in the following verse. Some think that they were so called because of the bright fiery red upon their heads; others because of the blazing sunbeams on their scales; and others because of their inflammatory and poisonous bite. Venomous snakes are said to abound still in the Arabah.

Numbers 21:6. Fiery serpents — Hebrew, נחשׁים, nechashim, the plural of the word translated serpent, Genesis 3:1, where Moses speaks of the temptation and fall of our first parents, and which, when intended of a living creature, we believe, always means a serpent of one species or other, and is accordingly uniformly so rendered, not only by our translators, in the Scriptures, but by the Seventy, and in most or all other versions whatever; and, what certainly ought to have great weight with Christians, by the evangelists and apostles, whenever they quote or refer to those passages of the Old Testament where the word occurs: see on Genesis 3:1. There were many such serpents as Moses here speaks of in this wilderness, which, having been hitherto restrained by God, were now let loose and sent among them: see Jeremiah 8:17. They are called fiery from their effects, because their poison caused an intolerable heat, burning, and thirst, which was aggravated with this circumstance of the place, that there was no water, Numbers 21:5.21:4-9 The children of Israel were wearied by a long march round the land of Edom. They speak discontentedly of what God had done for them, and distrustfully of what he would do. What will they be pleased with, whom manna will not please? Let not the contempt which some cast on the word of God, make us value it less. It is the bread of life, substantial bread, and will nourish those who by faith feed upon it, to eternal life, whoever may call it light bread. We see the righteous judgment God brought upon them for murmuring. He sent fiery serpents among them, which bit or stung many to death. It is to be feared that they would not have owned the sin, if they had not felt the smart; but they relent under the rod. And God made a wonderful provision for their relief. The Jews themselves say it was not the sight of the brazen serpent that cured; but in looking up to it, they looked up to God as the Lord that healed them. There was much gospel in this. Our Saviour declared, Joh 3:14,15, that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that whatsoever believeth in him, should not perish. Compare their disease and ours. Sin bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Compare the application of their remedy and ours. They looked and lived, and we, if we believe, shall not perish. It is by faith that we look unto Jesus, Heb 12:2. Whosoever looked, however desperate his case, or feeble his sight, or distant his place, was certainly and perfectly cured. The Lord can relieve us from dangers and distresses, by means which human reason never would have devised. Oh that the venom of the old serpent, inflaming men's passions, and causing them to commit sins which end in their eternal destruction, were as sensibly felt, and the danger as plainly seen, as the Israelites felt pain from the bite of the fiery serpents, and feared the death which followed! Then none would shut their eyes to Christ, or turn from his gospel. Then a crucified Saviour would be so valued, that all things else would be accounted loss for him; then, without delay, and with earnestness and simplicity, all would apply to him in the appointed way, crying, Lord, save us; we perish! Nor would any abuse the freeness of Christ's salvation, while they reckoned the price which it cost him.Fiery serpents - The epithet Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6 denotes the inflammatory effect of their bite. The peninsula of Sinai, and not least, the Arabah, abounds in mottled snakes of large size, marked with fiery red spots and wavy stripes, which belong to the most poisonous species, as the formation of the teeth clearly show. 6. The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people—That part of the desert where the Israelites now were—near the head of the gulf of Akaba—is greatly infested with venomous reptiles, of various kinds, particularly lizards, which raise themselves in the air and swing themselves from branches; and scorpions, which, being in the habit of lying in long grass, are particularly dangerous to the barelegged, sandaled people of the East. The only known remedy consists in sucking the wound, or, in the case of cattle, in the application of ammonia. The exact species of serpents that caused so great mortality among the Israelites cannot be ascertained. They are said to have been "fiery," an epithet applied to them either from their bright, vivid color, or the violent inflammation their bite occasioned. Such there were many in this wilderness, Deu 8:15, which having been hitherto restrained by God, are now let loose and sent among them. They are called fiery from their effects, because their poison caused an intolerable heat, and burning, and thirst in the bodies of the Israelites, which was aggravated with this circumstance of the place, that here was no water, Numbers 21:5. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people,.... Of which there were great numbers in the deserts of Arabia, and about the Red sea; but hitherto the Israelites were protected from them by the cloud about them, but sinning, the Lord suffered them to come among them, to punish them; these are called fiery, either from their colour, for in Arabia, as there were serpents of a golden colour, as Aelianus (r) relates, to which the brazen serpent, after made, bore some likeness, so there were others in the same parts of Arabia of a red or scarlet colour, as Diodorus Siculus says (s), of a span long, and their bite entirely incurable; or else they are so called from the effect of them, exciting heat and thirst in those they bit; so Jarchi says, they are so called because they burn with the poison of their teeth: these, very probably, were flying ones, as may seem from Isaiah 14:29 and being sent of God, might come flying among the people and bite them; and such there were in the fenny and marshy parts of Arabia, of which many writers speak (t), as flying from those parts into Egypt, where they used to be met by a bird called Ibis, which killed them, and for that reason was had in great veneration by the Egyptians; and Herodotus (u) says they are nowhere but in Arabia, and also (w) that they of that kind of serpents, which are called Hydri, their wings are not feathered, but like the wings of bats, and this Bochart (x) takes to be here meant:

and they bit the people, and much people of Israel died; for, as before related from Diodorus Siculus, their bites were altogether incurable; and Solinus (y) says, of the same Arabian flying serpents, that their poison is so quick, that death follows before the pain can be felt; and of that kind of serpent, the Hydrus, it is said by Leo Africanus (z), that their poison is most pernicious, and that there is no other remedy against the bite of them, but to cut off that part of the member bitten, before the poison can penetrate into the other parts of the body: the Dipsas, another kind of serpent, which others are of opinion is designed, by biting, brings immediately a thirst on persons, intolerable and almost not extinguishable, and a deadly one, unless help is most speedily had; and if this was the case here it was very bad indeed, since there was no water: Solinus (a) says, this kind of serpent kills with thirst; Aristotle (b) speaks of a serpent some call the sacred one, and that whatsoever it bites putrefies immediately all around it: these serpents, and their bites, may be emblems of the old serpent the devil, and of his fiery darts, and of sin brought in by him, and which he tempts unto, the effects of which are terrible and deadly, unless prevented by the grace of God.

(r) De Animal. l. 10. c. 13. (s) Bibliothec. l. 3. p. 180. (t) Herodot. Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 15. Aelian. de Animal. l. 2. c. 38. Mela, l. 3. c. 9. Solin. Polyhistor, c. 45. & alii. (u) Thalia, sive, l. 3. c. 109. (w) Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 76. (x) Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 3. c. 13. col. 423. (y) Polyhist. c. 45. (z) Apud Scheuchzer, Physic. Sacr. vol. 2. p. 386. (a) Polyhist. c. 40. (b) Hist. Animal. l. 8. c. 29.

And the LORD sent {d} fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

(d) For they that were bitten by them were so inflamed by the poison of them, that they died.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
6. fiery serpents] The Heb. words are both substantives, and both have the article: ‘the serpents, the fiery creatures.’ If ‘fiery’ is the correct rendering, it probably refers to their venomous bite which produced a burning inflammation. The article may imply ‘the serpents so well known to the readers by tradition.’ The punishment by serpents is referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:9 as a warning to Christians.Verse 6. - Fiery serpents, גְחָשִׁים שְׂרָפִים. Nachash is the ordinary word for serpent. The word saraph which seems to mean "burning one," stands (by itself) for a serpent in verse 8, and also in Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6. In Isaiah 6:2, 6 it stands for one of the symbolic beings (seraphim) of the prophet's vision. The only idea common to the two meanings (otherwise so distinct) must be that of brilliance and metallic luster. It is commonly assumed that the "fiery" serpents were so called because of the burning pain and inflammation caused by the bite, after the analogy of the πρηστῆρες and καύσωνες of Dioscorus and AElian. But is hardly possible that Isaiah should have used the same word in such wholly dissimilar senses, and it is clear from comparison with Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim (Ezekiel 1:7) that the saraph of Isaiah 6:2 was so called from the burnished luster of his appearance. Even our Lord himself is described in the Apocalypse as having in the highest degree this appearance of glowing brass (Revelation 1:15; Revelation 2:18). It is further clear that the saraph was so named from his colour, not his venom, because when Moses was ordered to make a saraph he made a serpent of brass (or rather copper), with the evident intent of imitating as closely as possible the appearance of the venomous reptile. We may conclude then with some confidence that these serpents were of a fiery red colour, resembling in this respect certain very deadly snakes in Australia, which are known as "copper snakes." Travelers speak of some such pests as still abounding in the region of the Arabah, but it is quite uncertain whether the fiery serpents of that special visitation can be identified with any existing species. Moses executed this command, and Aaron died upon the top of the mountain, according to Numbers 33:37-38, on the first day of the fifth month, in the fortieth year after the exodus from Egypt, at the age of 123 years (which agrees with Exodus 7:7), and was mourned by all Israel for thirty days.
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