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The Bronze Snake and Israel’s Early Victories


At more than 70 years old, Smokey Bear is “the face of the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Conceived in 1944 as part of World War II resource conservation efforts, he has his own ZIP code (20252) to handle all his fan mail. His familiar tagline is, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”

Smokey Bear is a symbol of caring for creation, and the bronze snake in today’s passage was given to the Israelites as a symbol of healing and life (vv. 4–9). The Israelites had grown impatient at taking a longer route, which Moses had chosen to do in obedience to God’s instructions not to fight against the Edomites (descendants of Esau). They were also complaining (again) about leadership and food. Rejecting God’s provision of manna led to an immediate judgment of death by poisonous snakes. The people repented, Moses interceded, and God gave the sign of the bronze snake to stop the plague. Thus, healing didn’t happen automatically. It required faith: A person had to choose to look at the bronze snake in order to be saved.

This episode is sandwiched between a pair of early military victories by Israel. The first victory was over Arad, a Canaanite king in the Negev desert (vv. 1–3). The second was over Sihon and Og (Amorites), following an aggressive response to Israel’s request to pass peacefully through their territory (vv. 21–35). Sihon had previously been strong enough to take land from Moab, so this was a significant victory.

The case of the bronze snake also shows, unfortunately, our human ability to turn good into evil. Centuries later in Israel’s history, during the days of Hezekiah, the bronze snake became an object of idolatry and had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4).

Apply the Word

Jesus compared His death on the Cross to the lifting up of the bronze snake in the wilderness (John 3:14–15). Just as looking at the bronze snake in faith led to life and salvation for any Israelite who had been snake bitten, so also does looking to the Cross in faith bring about life and salvation for all who believe on the name of Jesus.

BY Brad Baurain

Dr. Brad Baurain has worked as a writer and editor for Today in the Word since 1993. Currently, he serves as associate professor and TESOL program head at Moody Bible Institute. Brad has the unique privilege of holding a degree from four different universities (including Moody). He has also taught in China, Vietnam, the United States, and Canada. Brad and his wife, Julia, have four children and reside in Munster, Indiana.

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