Numbers 21:8
And the LORD said to Moses, Make you a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looks on it, shall live.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) Make thee a fiery serpent.—The single Hebrew word which is here employed is saraph (a seraph), or burning one, as in Numbers 21:6, where the word nehashimserpents—occurs also. The meaning is explained in the following verse, in which it is said that Moses made “a serpent of brass.”

Set it upon a pole.—Better, a standard. The LXX. have σημεῖον, the Vulgate signum. The Hebrew word (nes) is the same which occurs in Exodus 17:15, “Jehovah-nissi”—i.e., Jehovah is my standard or banner.

Numbers 21:8-9. A fiery serpent — That is, the figure of a serpent in brass, which is of a fiery colour. This would require some time: God would not speedily take off the judgment, because he saw they were not thoroughly humbled. Upon a pole — That the people might see it from all parts of the camp, and therefore the pole must be high, and the serpent large. When he looketh — This method of cure was prescribed, that it might appear to be God’s own work, and not the effect of nature or art: and that it might be an eminent type of our salvation by Christ. The serpent signified Christ, who was in the likeness of sinful flesh, though without sin, as this brazen serpent had the outward shape, but not the inward poison of the other serpents: the pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lifted up for our salvation: and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ. He lived — He was delivered from death, and cured of his disease.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.Make thee a fiery serpent - i. e. a serpent resembling in appearance the reptiles which attacked the people. The resemblance was of the essence of the symbolism (compare 1 Samuel 6:5). As the brass serpent represented the instrument of their chastisement, so the looking unto it at God's word denoted acknowledgment of their sin, longing for deliverance from its penalty, and faith in the means appointed by God for healing. In the serpent of brass, harmless itself, but made in the image of the creature that is accursed above others Genesis 3:14, the Christian fathers rightly see a figure of Him John 3:14-15 who though "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" Hebrews 7:26, was yet "made sin" 2 Corinthians 5:21, and "made a curse for us" Galatians 3:13. And the eye of faith fixed on Him beholds the manifestation at once of the deserts of sin, of its punishment imminent and deprecated, and of the method of its remission devised by God Himself. 7-9. the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned—The severity of the scourge and the appalling extent of mortality brought them to a sense of sin, and through the intercessions of Moses, which they implored, they were miraculously healed. He was directed to make the figure of a serpent in brass, to be elevated on a pole or standard, that it might be seen at the extremities of the camp and that every bitten Israelite who looked to it might be healed. This peculiar method of cure was designed, in the first instance, to show that it was the efficacy of God's power and grace, not the effect of nature or art, and also that it might be a type of the power of faith in Christ to heal all who look to Him because of their sins (Joh 3:14, 15; see also on [86]2Ki 18:4). A fiery serpent, i.e. the figure of a serpent in brass, which is of a fiery colour. This would require some time: God would not speedily take off the judgment, because he saw they were not thoroughly humbled.

Set it on a pole, that the people might see it from all parts of the camp; and therefore the pole must be high, and the serpent large.

This method of cure was prescribed, partly that it might appear to be God’s own work, and not the effect of nature or art; and partly that it might be an eminent type of our salvation by Christ. See John 3:14,15. The serpent signified Christ, who was in the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3, though without sin, as this brazen serpent had the outward shape, but not the inward poison of the other serpents: the pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lift up for our salvation; and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ. And the Lord said unto Moses,.... Out of the cloud; or, it may be, Moses went into the sanctuary, and there prayed, and the Lord answered him from between the cherubim:

make them a fiery serpent; not a real one, but the likeness of one, one that should very much resemble the fiery serpents Israel had been bitten with:

and set it upon a pole; a standard, banner, or ensign, as the word signifies; perhaps meaning one of the poles on which their ensigns were carried: the Targum of Jonathan renders it, on an high place, that so it might be seen by all in the camp:

and it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live; which is very wonderful, that by looking to the figure of a serpent, men should be cured of the bites of real ones, and which bites were deadly; the virtue of healing could not come from the figure, but from God, who appointed it to be made, the Targum of Jonathan adds, that one bitten should live,"if he directed his heart to the Word of the Lord,''even to that divine Logos or Word of God, whose lifting up was figured hereby; see John 3:14.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. a fiery serpent] Here it is a single substantive, the second of the two in Numbers 21:6.

set it upon a pole] The rendering of the A.V. may here be retained.Verse 8. - Make thee a fiery serpent. A saraph. The Septuagint, not understanding the meaning of saraph, has simply ὄφιν (cf. John 3:14). Set it upon a pole. גֵם Septuagint σήμειον. Vulgate, signum. The same word is better translated "ensign" in such passages as Isaiah 11:10; "banner" in such as Psalm 60:4; "standard" in such as Jeremiah 51:27. The "pole" may have been the tallest and most conspicuous of those military standards which were planted (probably on some elevation) as rallying points for the various camps; or it may have been one loftier still, made for the occasion. The Israelites then vowed to the Lord, that if He would give this people into their hands, they would "ban" their cities; and the Lord hearkened to the request, and delivered up the Canaanites, so that they put them and their cities under the ban. (On the ban, see at Leviticus 27:28). "And they called the place Hormah," i.e., banning, ban-place. "The place" can only mean the spot where the Canaanites were defeated by the Israelites. If the town of Zephath, or the capital of Arad, had been specially intended, it would no doubt have been also mentioned, as in Judges 1:17. As it was not the intention of Moses to press into Canaan from the south, across the steep and difficult mountains, for the purpose of effecting its conquest, the Israelites could very well content themselves for the present with the defeat inflicted upon the Canaanites, and defer the complete execution of their vow until the time when they had gained a firm footing in Canaan. The banning of the Canaanites of Arad and its cities necessarily presupposed the immediate conquest of the whole territory, and the laying of all its cities in ashes. And so, again, the introduction of a king of Hormah, i.e., Zephath, among the kings defeated by Joshua (Joshua 12:14), is no proof that Zephath was conquered and called Hormah in the time of Moses. Zephath may be called Hormah proleptically both there and in Joshua 19:4, as being the southernmost border town of the kingdom of Arad, in consequence of the ban suspended by Moses over the territory of the king of Arad, and may not have received this name till after its conquest by the Judaeans and Simeonites. At the same time, it is quite conceivable that Zephath may have been captured in the time of Joshua, along with the other towns of the south, and called Hormah at that time, but that the Israelites could not hold it then; and therefore, after the departure of the Israelitish army, the old name was restored by the Canaanites, or rather only retained, until the city was retaken and permanently held by the Israelites after Joshua's death (Judges 1:16-17), and received the new name once for all. The allusion to Hormah here, and in Numbers 14:45, does not warrant the opinion in any case, that it was subsequently to the death of Moses and the conquest of Canaan under Joshua that the war with the Canaanites of Arad and their overthrow occurred.
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