Numbers 21:9
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it on a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
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(9) And Moses made a serpent of brass.—The old serpent was the cause of death, temporal and spiritual. Christ Jesus, “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3), was made sin for us (2Corinthians 5:21), and thus fulfilled, as He Himself explained to Nicodemus, the type of the brazen serpent (John 3:14-15). The meaning of this type, or “sign of salvation,” is explained in the Book of Wisdom in these words, “He that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by Thee, that art the Saviour of all” (Numbers 16:7). This serpent was preserved by the Israelites, and taken into Canaan, and was ultimately destroyed by King Hezekiah, after it had become an object of idolatrous worship (2Kings 18:4).

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). He was delivered from death, and cured of his disease. And Moses made a serpent of brass,.... Which was the most proper metal to make it of, that it might resemble the fiery serpents, whether of a golden or scarlet colour: and Diodorus Siculus (d) speaks of some of the colour of brass, whose bite was immediately followed with death, and by which, if anyone was struck, he was seized with terrible pains, and a bloody sweat flowed all over him; and this was chosen also, because being burnished and bright, could be seen at a great distance, and with this metal Moses might be furnished from Punon, the next station to this, where they now were, Zalmonah, as appears from Numbers 33:42 a place famous for brass mines, and which Jerom (e) says, in his time, was a little village, from whence brass metal was dug, by such that were condemned to the mines:

and put it upon a pole; as he was directed:

and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived: which was very marvellous, and the more so, if what physicians say is true, as Kimchi relates (f), that if a man bitten by a serpent looks upon a piece of brass he dies immediately: the lifting up of this serpent on a pole for such a purpose was a figure of the lifting up of Christ, either upon the cross, or in the ministry of the word, that whosoever looks unto him by faith may have healing; see Gill on John 3:14,where this type or figure is largely explained: the station the Israelites were now at, when this image was made, is called Zalmonah, which signifies an image, shadow, or resemblance, as the brazen serpent was; from Mount Hor, where they were last, to this place, according to Bunting (g), were twenty eight miles: this serpent did not remain in the place where it was set, but was taken with them, and continued until the days of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18:4.

(d) Bibliothec. l. 17. p. 560. (e) De locis Heb. fol. 91. G. (f) Sepher Sherash. rad. (g) Travels of the Patriarchs, &c. 83.

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 beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
9. Moses made a serpent of bronze] The removing of a pest by means of a bronze image of it finds parallels in ancient Europe. See Gray, Numb. p. 276.

Numbers 21:10-11. P

Stages in the journey to the east of Moab

11. The site of Oboth is unknown; ‘somewhere on the flinty plateau to the east of Edom, the Ard Suwwan or Flint Ground, Arabia Petraea’ (G. A. Smith, H. G. [Note: . G. Historical Geography of the Holy Land.] 557). Iye-abarim (Heb. ‘Iyyê-hâ‘abhârîm, ‘the Ruins of the ‘Abharim’) is stated to lie ‘over against Moab, on the sunrise (i.e. the eastern) side.’ ‘The ‘Abharim’ means ‘the parts on the other side,’ a name which was given to the district on the east of the Dead Sea, looked at from the point of view of a dweller in Palestine: cf. Numbers 27:12, Numbers 33:47 f. The name distinguishes it from the Iyim of Joshua 15:29, which was in Judah, close to the Edomite border.

Many writers assign Numbers 21:10-11 to P , since the names Oboth and Iye-abarim recur in the list in ch. 33, which is from the hand of a priestly writer, and are found nowhere else in the O.T. According to that list (41–44) the itinerary was as follows: Mt Hor, Zalmonah, Punon, Oboth, Iye-abarim. The sites of Zalmonah and Punon are quite unknown. But the writer of 33, who clearly intends to trace the journey as completely as possible, omits all reference to the detour by the way to the Red Sea. If, therefore, Mt Hor is the modern Jebel Madurah (see on Numbers 20:22) on the west of Edom, and Iye-abarim is somewhere on the eastern border of Moab, it seems probable that the priestly traditions represented Israel as marching straight through Edom. Whether the account of the hostility of the king of Edom was unknown to P , or whether it was, for some reason, intentionally omitted, we cannot say. But it is noteworthy that in Dt. also there is no mention of it.Verse 9. - When he beheld the serpent (גָחָשׁ in all three places of this verse) of brass, he lived. The record is brief and simple in the extreme, and tells nothing but the bare facts. The author of the Book of Wisdom understood the true bearing of those facts when he called the brazen serpent a σύμβολον σωτηρρίας (Wisdom 16:6), and when he wrote ὁ ἐπιστραφεὶς οὐ διὰ τὸ θεωρούμενον (the thing he looked at) ἐσώζετο ἀλλὰ διὰ σὲ τὸν πάντων σωτῆρα. At an earlier day Hezekiah had estimated the σύμβολον σωτηρίας at its true value, as being in itself worthless, and under certain circumstances mischievous (see on 2 Kings 18:4).

CHAPTER 21:10-35 THE END OF JOURNEYS, THE BEGINNING OF VICTORIES (verse 10-Numbers 22:1). 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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