Victoriously Overcoming the Wilderness’ “Fiery Serpents”

Numbers 21: The Process of Overcoming­—From Sin to Victory and Salvation!

  • 21:4–9, The bronze serpent on the pole is a prophetic picture of salvation at the cross of Yeshua from the sting of death brought on by sin (John 3:14–15; 1 Cor 15:55–57). This is a picture of the believer’s initial salvation.
  • 21:10–22:1, Here is a recounting of the Israelites’ wilderness trek before entering the Promised Land. It was a time of testing, refining, building of faith, and learning obedience for the Israelites. This is a picture of the spiritual walk of the believer through the wilderness of this physical life.
  • 21:14–35, While crossing the wilderness, the Israelites had to fight and overcome the enemy—that is, those who would keep them from fulfilling their YHVH-ordained destiny to possess the land and inheritance he had promised them. First came the fighting and overcoming, followed by the victories. The life of the believer is one of spiritual struggle, as well, against the world, the flesh and the devil. (See Rom 7:14–25; 2 Cor 10:3–5; Eph 6:10–18.)
  • 21:10, 14–18, Here we read how Israel was refreshed with water from the rock. Isaiah speaks about the wells of salvation (Isa 12:3). There is a springing up of joy and praise (verse 17) that comes as victory is experienced, and as YHVH makes rivers to flow out of seemingly dry and barren situations (verse 18). We, too, are called to come to the rivers of salvation, the river of life and to become a river of life ourselves to all those with whom we come into contact (John 7:37–39). Yeshua is the source of that living water; he is the spiritual Rock and source of water that never runs dry (John 4:10, 13–14; 1 Cor 10:4).

Numbers 21:4–9, Fiery serpent. The plague of fiery serpents was a righteous judgment Elohim brought upon Israel for murmuring and unbelief. Israel had “sharpened their tongues like a serpent” (Ps 140:3) and “their throat [was] an open sepulcher; with their tongues have … used deceit; the poison of asps [was] under their lips” (Rom 3:13). All this was directed at Elohim and Moses. As a result of their sin, they reaped what they had sown. Elohim loosed fiery serpents upon the Israelites to bite and sting to death the unbelieving murmurers.

The wilderness Elohim led the Israelites through was full of fiery serpents and scorpions (Deut 8:15), yet this is the only account in the Torah of these creatures ever attacking Israel. YHVH had protected them to this point, but this one time he pulled back his hand of providential protection and grace allowing them to experience the due recompense of their sinful actions. How often has our merciful Father withheld the just desserts of our faithless, rebellious and abominable action against him and graciously protected us from the full consequences of our sin? If we fail to hear his soft voice of correction he will deal more harshly with us until our attention is gained (Ps 32:8–9). All he has to do is withdraw his hand of protection that restrains the judgments we all deserve and the “fiery serpents” will likewise attack us. Remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts is an example of this (Acts 5:1–11). Job experienced a similar situation as well.

Israel’s Murmuring. Israel complained for lack of food and water. In unbelief they concluded and confessed (literally prophesied upon themselves a curse) that they would die in the wilderness. Elohim gave them the fulfillment of their faithless delusions—serpents to sting them and leave them physiologically in a parched and burning condition. (The poison of these snakes actually leaves the victim burning with a fiery pain in his body and a desperately dry and thirsty condition [See Adam Clarke’s Commentary, vol. 1, p. 684]). This occurred with the quail also. They complained with their mouths and lusted for meat and Elohim gave them so much quail that it “came out of their nostrils” (Num 11:20). Many were struck dead in judgment. What is the lesson of this story? That for which we lust or that which we fear will come upon us, for Elohim allows those very things to rise up, attack us and judge us. Why? So that the false gods of our hearts will be exposed and we will, as a result, see the error of our ways, repent and turn back to obedient faith to the one true Elohim. Few understand this method of operation of Elohim, but the Scriptures reveals this as one of the ways he deals with his people to help them to grow up spiritually.

Salvation. Israel repented and received salvation from the sting of death by looking upward toward the brass or bronze (bronze representing judgment) serpent on the pole. Of course, no less than Yeshua himself reveals to us that this serpent is a pictures himself dying on the tree as a sin offering and source of our salvation (John 3:14–15 and 12:32).

Even the Jewish sages admit that the serpent did not heal the afflicted Israelites, but looking upward unto heaven granted them salvation and healing. (See Wisdom 16:4–12)

Parallels between the bronze serpent and Yeshua 

Yeshua likened his death on the cross to the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness (John 3:14–15). Let’s explore the spiritual implications of the bronze serpent as it prophetically pointed to Yeshua the Messiah.

  • Both the serpent and Messiah were lifted up on a pole.
  • Israel was to look up to the brass serpent to be healed physically; sinners are to look up to Messiah to be saved.
  • YHVH provided salvation from the sting of death from no other source but the serpent. Similarly, there is salvation in no other name but Yeshua (Acts 4:12).
  • If the Israelites looked at bronze serpent they were healed and lived; if sinful man looks at Messiah he will live.
  • Both the serpent and the cross are merely symbols of Elohim’s grace and mercy. They simply point one to YHVH in heaven who heals those who believe him and have faith in him.

A Type of the Devil. The Bible calls the devil a great red dragon or serpent (Rev 12:3) whose venom inflames men’s sinful passions through his fiery darts aimed at humans (Eph 6:16). Fiery serpent is the Hebrew word saraph the plural of which is seraphim, which is a type of an angelic, flaming spirit (Heb 1:7). Though physical snakes bit the Israelites, this is nevertheless a picture of Satan, the fallen angelic being who is now the serpent and enemy of both YHVH and man.

For Our Example. Israel experienced these things for our examples (1 Cor 10:1–12). What they went through and how they reacted to various situations is literally a mirror held up for our benefit for us to see ourselves as we really are, so that we will not repeat their mistakes. We owe them a debt of gratitude, for we are able to gain spiritually by their experience if we will lean from their mistakes by not repeating them.

 

Complaining or an Attitude of Gratitude?

Numbers 20:5, It [the wilderness] is not a place of seed and fig and grape and pomegranates; and there is no water to drink. This was the complaint of the people against YHVH. In Hebraic thought, water, the fig tree, wine from the grape, as well as oil, milk and honey (the two symbols of the Promised Land) are all metaphors for Torah (see Everyman’s Talmud, pp. 133–134). The Israelites were seeking physical food, but were missing the spiritual food (i.e. Torah, faith in his Word and promises) that YHVH was abundantly providing them during their wilderness walk. Additionally, the Hebrew word for wilderness is b’midbar (the Hebrew name for the book of Numbers), which means “in the wilderness, desert, uninhabited land or pasture.” The root word of midbar is the word dabar meaning “to speak, declare, command, promise or commune.” In a number of instances in the Scriptures, the terms word/dabar of God/Elohim or word /dabar of the LORD/YHVH is used to denote words coming directly from the mouth of YHVH. In the tabernacle (Heb. mishkan), the most set-apart place was called the d’veer (a cognate of the word debar) or oracle. It was there that Moses went to receive the word (d’bar) of YHVH. There he also met the Word of Elohim who later on became Yeshua the Messiah, the incarnated Word of Elohim (John 1:1, 14).

What is the point of this brief word study? While going through the wilderness of life, if we have an attitude of gratitude instead of one of complaining, murmuring, doubt, fear and unbelief in the Word and promises of YHVH, will we not be more likely to understand YHVH’s purposes, instructions, (i.e. Torah), his heart and his plans for our lives? If we have such an attitude, will our hearts not be more inclined to hear YHVH’s voice more clearly and understand his will for our lives thereby receiving hope for the future and strengthened faith? One can waste one’s energy on murmuring and never grow up spiritually, or one can determine to hear YHVH and to commune with him in the wilderness of life and seek spiritual enrichment out of that wilderness and view it as our training ground for entering the Promised Land. 

Let’s make a conscious effort to redirect our thoughts and attitude positively, while never forgetting the bitter lessons of our Israelite forefathers (1 Cor 10:11)? Murmuring produced nothing except death in the wilderness. If we have a grateful heart attitude, we will not only have a happier time in the wilderness of life, but we will be more likely to hear YHVH’s voice and understand the meaning and purpose of the experiences we have while en route to the Promised Land of our ultimate spiritual inheritance.

 

 

Blog Scripture Readings for 6/17 Through 6/23/18

Aside

THIS WEEK’S SCRIPTURE READINGS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION:

Parashat Chukat — Numbers 19:1 – 22:1
Haftarah — Judges 11:1–33
Prophets — Jeremiah 52:1–34; Ezekiel 1:1 – 6:14
Writings — Esther 10:1–3; Daniel 1:1 – 6:28
Testimony — 1 Corinthians 7:25 – 13:13

Our annual Scripture Reading Schedule for 2017-2018 is available to download and print.

Most of this week’s blog discussion points will be on these passages. If you have general comments or questions on the weekly Scripture readings not addressed in a blog post, here’s a place for you to post those. Just use the “leave a reply” link below.

The full “Read Through The Scriptures In A Year” schedule, broken down by each day, can be found on the right sidebar under “Helpful Links.” There are 4 sections of scripture to read each day: one each from the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, and from the Testimony of Yeshua. Each week, the Torah and haftarah readings will follow the traditional one-year reading cycle.

Weekly Blog Scripture Readings for 6/17/18 through 6/23/18.

 

Shabbat shalom from Alaska!

Even though Sandi and I are now home, we spent the previous two Shabbats in Alaska. Our first Shabbat we spent in Juneau visiting our Sabbath-keeping friends there, Tim and Margaret, who kindly showed us the awesome sights of YHVH’s creation in that area. We thank them for their love and generosity.

One more thing. This is a shout-out to teens. If there are any young people reading this blog, please say hello in the comments sections of this post. Give us your first name, where you live and  a short sentence (or two) on how you love Yeshua and his Word, the Bible. You’re a blessing to us, and hearing from you is a great energizing encouragement to us older folks! Please…we want to hear from you!!

Now, for more photos of our trip north to Denali, Alaska…

I found this rose outside our Vancouver, B.C. hotel. My nose is addicted to smelling flowers and my camera is addicted to taking pictures of them!

The Forget-Me-Not is the Alaska state flower. It was in full bloom. I took this picture in Hoonah (west of Juneau).

View of Juneau from Douglas Island. Our cruise ship, the Island Princess, is in the background.

Lynn Canal (a fjord) NW of Juneau

Skagway, the starting point of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897.

NW of Juneau heading out into the Gulf of Alaska through Icy Strait.

Portage Lake and Glacier between Whittier and Anchorage.

The black spruce tundra forests as viewed from the train en route from Anchorage to Denali.

The view from the front deck of our cabin in Denali.

A section of the 93 mile long road into Denali National Park.

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

A grizzly bear mother and her cub meandering along the road.

 

 

Are you a budding rod?

Numbers 17:1–13, Aaron’s rod. Aaron’s rod that budded is a picture of what? Who was the rod or Branch from the stem of Jesse that budded forth with spiritual life for all those who will place their faith in him? Spiritual life for you and me came from what dead tree? Can we not see that Yeshua and the message of the gospel is at the center of everything in the Bible from the beginning to the end? Can there be any doubt that Yeshua is the Messiah? Only he fulfilled all the prophetic types and shadows that we find in the Tanakh (Old Testament).

Aaron’s ministry was anointed of YHVH. The rod represented his authority and its budding represented the fruitfulness of his ministry. It points to the ministry of Yeshua. If we are disciples and imitators of Yeshua, aren’t we to be doing what Yeshua did—bearing fruit as he did? 

Is your ministry anointed of YHVH? What are the spiritual fruits being born from it? Are people’s lives being changed for the good because of your spiritual example, or are you living in delusion of your self-promoting ministry thinking that you are called and anointed of YHVH when in reality you are self appointed like the rebels who challenged Aaron? 

If we are to be pleasing to YHVH we must periodically ask ourselves these hard questions and stay accountable before YHVH.

 

Paul (and the Bible) on Physical and Heart Circumcision

1 Corinthians 7:18, Let him not be circumcised. In this chapter, Paul advises believers to remain in whatever physical state they were spiritually called (verses 20, 24). To the unmarried, remain unmarried (verses 1, 8). To those who are married, remain married (this is Paul’s advice, not YHVH’s, verse 10), even if one is unequally yoked in marriage (verses 12–16). To those who are circumcised, remain in that state and vice versa (verse 18). If called as a slave, remain as one (verses 21–23).

With regard to circumcision, Paul’s advice doesn’t require strict adherence as his circumcision of Timothy shows (Acts 16:1–4). In that case it was more expedient for the preaching of gospel to the Jews that Timothy be circumcised, so as not to be a stumbling block to the Jews who had a high view of circumcision. This type of circumcision was acceptable, since it was not done as a salvation requirement for Timothy.

1 Corinthians 7:19, Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing. What is Paul saying here? Is he confused, or does he have a larger principal in view? Paul’s bottom line in all of his writings is that circumcision is not a salvational requirement. If it were, then, obviously, women could not saved! As we shall see, however, the Scriptures teach that in the future, for those in certain ministry situations, circumcision will be a requirement (Ezek 44:7, 9). To understand the issue, let’s briefly discuss what the Scriptures say about circumcision.

Some will say that circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:29) is a “New Testament” invention that happily has replaced physical circumcision. This is not quite true, for YHVH has desired his people to have circumcised hearts from the time of Moses (Deut 10:16; 30:6) and Jeremiah (Jer 4:4). What’s more, YHVH will require the priests who will serve in his millennial temple (an archetypal model of YHVH’s plan of salvation through Yeshua’s death on the cross) to not only be circumcised in the heart, but in the flesh as well (Ezek 44:7). Not only that, but all those who will enter that sanctuary, both Israelite and non-Israelite, must be circumcised physically and spiritually (Ezek 44:9). 

Physical circumcision is not a requirement for salvation, and Paul teaches that redeemed believers not only can be saved without undergoing the rite of physical circumcision, but that all (including women) are circumcised through Messiah’s circumcision (Col 2:10–13; see also Phil 3:3), even as each person has “died” to sin and has been resurrected to new spiritual life through faith in and identity with his death, burial and resurrection (Rom 6:3–8).

Paul never disparages physical circumcision, except when false teachers make it a requirement for salvation, or when those who are physically circumcised parade it as a mark of spiritual superiority. Paul goes on to say that physical circumcision, however, is a sign, mark or token, and a seal (placed on someone) or an impression or stamp made by a signet ring signifying ownership, something which distinguishes one from others and by which one is known (Rom 4:11). Circumcision was a sign of Abraham’s righteousness and the faith he had in YHVH and a mark of YHVH’s “ownership” of Abraham. Faith precedes circumcision, but when one is circumcised, one commits to walk in the faith and righteousness of Abraham, and to enter into a deeper, more committed and more intimate (covenant-based) walk with YHVH Elohim. Perhaps physical circumcision as a mark of a deeper and more committed relationship with YHVH is the reason it, along with heart circumcision, will be required of all who will be allowed to not only minister in, but also to visit the millennial temple (Ezek 44:7, 9). In the past, the temple represented YHVH’s presence on earth, and it was viewed as a sort “the gateway to heaven.” In ancient times, those who sought the privilege of visiting this special and set-apart spot had to prepare themselves physically and spiritually to approach the Creator. They had to be ritually and spiritually pure, and physical circumcision was an aspect of this. For those of the priesthood who will be ministering in the millennial temple, physical circumcision will still be a requirement to fulfill covenantal, ritual cleansing and the requirements of spiritual types and shadows, for which that institution will be used to teach the unsaved peoples of the earth during the Millennium the truths of YHVH’s plan of salvation as it did in the past. Physical circumcision will be an outward sign that will (literally) go before the priest showing that he has committed himself to putting a way the filth of the world as represented by the foreskin.

Now if one is circumcised and doesn’t follow the Torah, then it’s as if he weren’t circumcised at all (Rom 2:24–29). In YHVH’s spiritual economy from Genesis to Revelation, YHVH always looks primarily at one’s heart attitude rather than at outward show involving religious rites, rituals and ceremonies. However, Yeshua clearly teaches in his Sermon on the Mount that YHVH not only prefers heart, or spirit of the law obedience, but letter of the law obedience also. He desires his people to love him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, which involves both a letter and the spirit of the law obedience. 

While physical circumcision is not a requirement for salvation (much like water baptism), in doing so, one is demonstrating one’s desire to be obedient to all the Word of YHVH including the commands of Torah. Yeshua clearly stated that not one jot or tittle of the Torah has been nullified, and that those who keep all of YHVH’s Torah commands will obtain a higher reward in his eternal kingdom than those who do not (Matt 5:17–19), and they will be able to approach closer to him in his temple in the Millennium.