The Brazen Serpent
November 10th, 1957 @ 8:15 AM
THE BRAZEN SERPENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-10-57 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the early morning services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Brazen Serpent. We are finding in our Old Testament the whole gospel of the New.
There are some who look upon the Old Testament Scriptures as an archaeologist looks upon a manuscript or a tablet or an inscription that he might dig up from an ancient civilization. There are those who look upon it as they would study Oriental mysticism or the literature of an ancient people. There are others who carry the Old Testament around in their Bibles, but think of it as being outdated and outmoded; it belongs to another day and another generation. There are others who have their Old Testament with them in their Bibles at home, in their Bibles that they bring to church, and in their hearts, they are quite sure that it has some kind of a meaning; but to them, it is dull and prosaic, and there are great sections and chapters and books of it in which they never look, to which they never refer. To them it has no particular meaning. What we are trying to do in these early morning services is to take that Book and to see in it the whole revelation of God, for the Book testifies to itself that all Scripture, every Scripture is given by inspiration of God; that is, it is all God-breathed, God-inspired [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]—the Holy Spirit has written every syllable of it. All of it has a meaning, and if I do not see it, if I do not understand it, then I am to bring my mind to the Lord and say, “Lord, illuminate my mind. May the Holy Spirit show me the great truth God has written large on the page of His Book.”
So I say in these early morning hours we are taking this Old Testament, and we are learning, we are finding that the things that happen there are just as Paul said: they are our examples upon whom the ends of the world have come [1 Corinthians 10:11]. These things are written for our admonition. And he says that these are types, they are figures, they are adumbrations, they are prophecies, they are pictures and outlines of the great truth and eternal revelation of God for this age, for the age that is to come. What God did by type here is what God has done in reality in bold revelation in the New Covenant, and what God is doing in this day and in the generations that are yet to come.
So we have here in the Old Testament these things that happened; but they happened in a meaning, they happened under the hand of God. Every color has a meaning. Every substance has a meaning. Every incident has a meaning. Every command of God has a meaning. Every article of furniture, how it was made, its size, its texture, all of it has a meaning. And of the things that happened to the people there, have a meaning. When you look at these things, they’re unusual; what God commanded and the thing that came to pass. But behind it and beyond it is the inspired leadership of God Himself. So we’re seeing that, reading here in the Old Testament page and finding an ultimate revelation in the years that were to come.
Now this morning is going to be another one of the incidents that happened, and a thing commanded of God that in itself is the most unusual thing that God could have done. But when we come to know its meaning and see its full revelation, how weighted and freighted it is with the deep purposes of the Almighty. Now if you will, turn to the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Numbers. I shall read from the fourth through the ninth verses. Numbers 21, the twenty-first chapter of Numbers, beginning at the fourth through the ninth verses:
As they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.
And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this manna.
Can you imagine that? As God Himself fed the people in the wilderness with bread of heaven, with angels’ food, isn’t that humanity? “We are tired of it and weary of it; our soul loatheth this light bread” [Numbers 21:5]. And the Lord was weary of them, their complaining. After God Himself had done His best for them, then to be met with words spoken against God and against Moses,
And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died—
death everywhere, on every hand—
Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
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.
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.
Now, wouldn’t you say, had you known nothing else, were you not living in this day, and if you had not your New Testament before you, wouldn’t you say that is one of the strangest and most unusual incidents that you ever read or heard of in your life? Serpents everywhere [Numbers 21:6], venomous, little tenuous things of poison and death, and the people dying everywhere, and God says, “Make a serpent of brass, set it on a pole, lift it up, and it shall be if one is bitten, if he will look, he shall live” [Numbers 21:8]. What a thing! What a thing.
Now, that is no different than the whole contexture of the Bible. It has a meaning; all of it has a meaning. So this morning we’re going to look at it. Starts off here with the people, and they have sinned, all of them. Then that sin is figured here in the death that it brings by the biting of a serpent [Numbers 21:6-7]. I know who that serpent is. Now these things God ordered [Numbers 21:6]. Why wasn’t it a lion? Why weren’t there little poisonous insects? Why wasn’t it something else? It’s a serpent! Well, immediately I see the hand of God in this. I know who that is. In Revelation 12:9, “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” And then lest we might not have got it, John repeats it again in the twentieth chapter of the Book of the Revelation: “I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on that old dragon, that serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years” [Revelation 20:1-2]. That serpent, immediately I know who he is, and I met him back there in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, in the beginning [Genesis 3:1]. You see, this Book is all one Book, and these types and these figures carry true all through the pages. It isn’t one thing back here and another thing there; it’ll carry through all through the Word of God. That serpent that bites the people and they die [Numbers 21:6], I know who he is from the Revelation [Revelation 12:9, 20:1-2]; and I met him in the very beginning, in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis.
And he insinuated himself into a beautiful creature. How that creature looked I do not know; he must have been beautiful, he must have been gifted of God, and he was very intelligent [Genesis 3:1]. And the Devil, Satan, insinuated himself, put his spirit into that beast [Revelation 12:9, 20:2]. I got to thinking about that. How is it that a spirit can enter into one of God’s creatures and take over his mind and his heart?
Then I called to mind a group of things that I have seen in my life. And this is one: I saw a girl grow up in a home—and she was one of the sweetest, dearest girls I had ever seen—grow up in that home. And upon a day that girl came into the presence of her mother and cursed her. And her mother had never heard her use foul language before. The girl cursed her mother. She damned her mother with every foul, unholy oath that you would think of, a vile man could use. And she cursed her mother’s God, and cursed her mother’s church, and cursed her mother’s faith, and went out from her mother’s home to live the life of a sinful harlot. Why, you say, “Preacher, that’s an impossible thing.” If I did not see a thing like that, I would not believe it myself. Well, what happened? There is another girl, she is somebody else; the spirit of evil, the serpent has insinuated himself into her heart, and into her mind, into her life, and she lived a life of profligacy and waste and sin, and is doing it today. And her mother still grieves today. That’s it. Satan can enter that serpent. Were it not for the Holy Spirit of God that prohibits [2 Thessalonians 2:6-7], all of us would be fallen and fallen and fallen, till God looking down from heaven could say, “I can look upon it no more”; and as He destroyed the world in the days of Noah [Genesis 6:5-8, 7:17-24], and as He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:15-29], God would destroy this world in depravity. I’m just speaking here of the ability of Satan to insinuate himself into God’s creation.
He did so here. Now, they were unfallen, they were perfect as God had made them, unfallen in mind, in soul, in body, beautiful and beautifully glorious [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:21-25]. And the way Satan did it, how like Satan: first he raises a question, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” question, “Yea, did God say that?” [Genesis 3:1-3]. Why, I could not tell you the number of people that either by word of mouth or by example of life are the first to stand up and say, “Yea, hath God said if I do not believe in the Lord as my Savior, I’ll be damned? I’m in hell? Ha!” Raise a question. That’s the reason they pass it by. Why, if a man really believed that because he refused to give his life in faith to Jesus he’d spend an eternity in hell and fire and torment, he would agonize to get to God, to get to Christ, to be saved. But he has a question mark about it. “Yea, did God say that? God wouldn’t do that. Yea, hath God said that?” And he applies that to every syllable in the Book. “You mean that happened? You mean this is the truth? You mean God said that?” That’s the first thing he does.
Then the second thing, he outright denies it. And the serpent said, “Ye shall not surely die” [Genesis 3:4]. He contradicts God. And he always does it. He does it in your life: “Yea, hath God said,” then second he wholly contradicts, “Ye shall not surely die; God has lied to you.” Then the third thing he does, he traduces the character of God Himself. He imputes to God motives that are vile and selfish and evil: “For God doth know in the day ye eat thereof that your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as,” and you have it translated “gods,” the word there is just the same, elohim, God, “knowing good and evil” [Genesis 3:5]. God interdicts this to you because He wants to keep Himself apart and above you. He doesn’t have this good thing for you; He keeps that for Himself. So this is an interdiction to you because God is selfish and doesn’t want the best for you.” My soul, how everywhere are all of us prone to fall into that. “God’s not doing the best for me. God’s not kind and good to me. God is withholding the best things from me.” That’s what the devil said: “Now if you want to have the best, just like God Himself, you lay your hand upon that, and partake.” And he deceived Eve [Genesis 3:2-6; 1 Timothy 2:14]. He didn’t deceive Adam; Adam knew what he was doing. But the serpent deceived the woman; he fooled her, he beguiled her. But the Lord hath said, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2: 17]. The Hebrew of that is muth tamuth, “dying thou shalt die, dying thou shalt die.”
And they died morally—we did—dead in trespasses and in sins, dead [Ephesians 2:1]. And we died intellectually; our minds fell. Job one time cried, “Who by searching can find God?” [Job 11:7]. The most brilliant mind in this earth, scientifically trained, with experimental help of every kind, with every experience that learning and knowledge shall give, no man can find God by his mind. We have a fallen mind. Were it not in the good pleasure of God to reveal Himself, no man would ever know Him, ever, ever, ever. By a man’s mind you cannot find God. We are a fallen creature intellectually; we fell in our minds.
Death intellectually as death morally; death organically, the very cells decompose, we die, our bodies die, organic death. Each age has its passing panorama of death, death, the grave, the open pit. And we die a second death, spiritually, shut out from God, separated from God [Ephesians 2:12]. Organic death is the separation of the spirit from the body. Spiritual death, the second death, is the shutting out of the soul, the spirit, from God [Ephesians 4:18]. “In the day that thou shalt eat thereof, thou shalt surely die; dying thou shalt die, die, die” [Genesis 2:17]. I know who that serpent is; and he bit the people, and they died, and they died [Numbers 21:6].
Now the story in the type. “And Moses cried unto the Lord, The people die; the people die, we are dying. And Moses prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord said” [Numbers 21:6-8]—and God made a provision of escape. He made a way of salvation [Numbers 21:8-9]. First of all, I see in that God’s answer to this everlasting question of ours, “Does God look upon this world? Does God care about it? This world with its storms and its sorrows, with its age and its death, with its sickness and its suffering, does God look upon it? Does He care?” Now let me tell you something: you will never find an answer to that question, “Does God care about this sinful and dying world?” You’ll never find an answer in these things that you look upon with your eyes, such as the beautiful landscapes, how God cares, or the benedictions of my present health, how God cares, or the ameliorating forces of sympathy and understanding that somehow help us get by in this life, you’ll never find an answer. Every time you look at a landscape, give it time and there’ll be a tornado that will plow it up. Every time you look upon the benedictions of health, give it time and disease will rack it or age will ruin it. And every time you have a beautiful and felicitous situation in this earth, give it time and it’ll be torn apart by darkness and despair. You’ll never find it there. The only place that you will ever find that God has a care for this world, you will find it in the same thing that you find it here in the story: they were in the wilderness, and they were subject to all of the stresses of a desert land, and on top of that they were dying by the bite of the serpent; and God looked down and made a way of escape, of salvation [Numbers 21:4-9]. And in that way of escape and salvation is our only answer, “Does God care for this world?” You’ll only find it in the gift of Jesus [John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 2:8-9], and in the cross [Matthew 27:32-50; Philippians 2:6-11]. Only in this way God provided that those who were bitten and dying might be saved, that they might live, and that’s the only way you’ll ever know that God loves and cares for this world: you’ll find it only in the story of the gift of Christ Jesus our Lord [John 3:16; Romans 8:32]. And God said, “Make thee a fiery serpent, a brazen serpent”—made out of brass because brass is a symbol of the ableness to withstand, to go through the judgment of Almighty God—“make it out of brass, and raise it up in the midst of the camp” [Numbers 21:8-9].
Now that serpent lifted up and raised in the midst of the camp, what did God mean by that? What an unusual and strange thing. Well, it was not a serpent, an actual serpent. Had Moses raised up an actual serpent in the midst of the camp, it would have but reminded them how many others were all around. There it was, the serpent, an actual serpent, just death, oh! But what God did was this: He said, “Moses, take this brazen serpent which is typical”—what is it we’re preaching about these mornings? The types in the Old Testament—“which is typical of all of the serpents, and raise it up.” And that’s what God did with Christ: He is the type of every man; He is the substitute for every man, that by the grace of God, He should taste death for every man [Hebrews 2:9]; He is the man, He is the typical man, He represents us! Not just one or they or they, but He represents us; the serpent of brass like all of the serpents. And He is our sin and our death. Second Corinthians 5:21, “For God hath made Him to be sin for us, Him in whom was no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He is the sin, and the death, and the despair, and the judgment of God upon us. And that’s why He came into this world [Hebrews 10:5-14].
We could never be saved by looking at the obedient life of Christ, at the pure life of Jesus, at the holy character of our Lord. And these modernists and these liberals who preach all over the world today that Jesus is our example, and we’re to be like Him, and we’re to follow His pure and stainless life, the Holy Scripture never mentions it, and it never refers to it, and there’s not a syllable in the Bible about it. What God says is, “This is the way to be saved”; and the serpent of brass was lifted in the wilderness [Numbers 21:8-9]. And God says, “This is the way to be saved” [John 3:14-17]; and He sent His Son into the world to die for our sins, the typical man. There He is, and we’re to look at Him in His death and be saved [Isaiah 45:21-22; Hebrews 12:2].
Now, if we had an hour, how we would look at that. We’re going to take the time for it until we have to stop. In this great passage in the second chapter of the Book of Philippians, that glorious passage of Jesus, “Who, in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped to be equal to God: But made Himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of men: and humbled Himself, and He became obedient unto death; He became obedient unto death” [Philippians 2:6-8]. Why, I’ve read that a thousand times, and memorized it, and quoted it another thousand times, and I never noticed that word “obedient” until I was preparing this message for this morning. “And He became obedient unto death.” That is, Jesus died in obedience to a commandment of the Father. He came into this world to die! He came into this world for that purpose: to die! We are to remember that the purpose of Jesus coming into this world is to die; He came for that reason, that He might be that serpent lifted up on the cross, that He might be that sin and that death, typical of all mankind, receiving it in Himself. “And He became obedient unto death.” That is a commandment of the Lord [John 10:18].
And then I could see it. Here in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews you have a scene before the world was made; you have a scene in heaven. “When He cometh into the world, as He was coming into the world, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me” [Hebrews 10:5]. God prepared for Jesus a body. God did it. It didn’t come by human generation; He wasn’t born like any other man. He was fashioned by the hands of God: “A body hast Thou prepared for Me.” Virgin born, He made that body in the womb of a peasant girl named Mary who lived in Nazareth [Matthew 1:20-25]. “A body hast Thou prepared Me” [Hebrews 10:5]. Then you have the volunteer of Jesus to come: “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me)” [Psalm 40:7-8; Hebrew 10:7], in the Old Testament Scriptures it is written like that, “to do Thy will, O God [Hebrews 10:9]. I lay down My life of Myself . . . This commandment”—why there it is again—“this commandment have I received of the Father” [John 10:18]. He volunteered to obey the commandment of the Father, that He come into the world to die for our sins [Hebrews 10:7-9].
Now may I turn the page? “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” [Hebrews 10:10-11]: those Levitical offerings over, and over, and over, and over again could never take away sins [2 Corinthians 5:21]. “But this Man, this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God [Hebrews 10:12]. That brazen serpent raised in the wilderness represented the body of Christ; and it represented the men of all days and of all ages who are bitten, who are sinners [Numbers 21:7]. Sin itself made Him to be sin for us. And in the sacrifice of that body, God removed sin. And this is the way that He did it: “And it shall come to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” [Numbers 21:8-9]. God ordained that if a man would look to Jesus, the serpent raised on the pole, there is our sin, there is the judgment of God upon it, there is our Substitute hanging there on the cross; it shall be if a man shall look, he shall live. And the type is, to look is to trust, to look is to believe. If a man shall look, he shall live [John 3:14-17]. Some could do no more: bitten by the serpent, dying, almost dead, maybe just able to lift up an eye and look [Numbers 21:8-9].
That was all the thief could do who was dying by His side: he could turn his head and look [Luke 23:42-43]. Had it been something else, some of us might not have been able to do it. Just to look. Some of them could not have done more. God could not have required less. “Look, my brother, look; look and live” [Numbers 21:8].
There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
[“There is Life for a Look”; Amelia M. Hull]
Anyone, everyone, there’s no difference, we read; “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. There is no difference. Just to look. A little boy, a lass of a girl, a feeble old man, a youth in his strength, all of us alike bitten by the serpent, a dying people. But that is the message of God: “Look, my brother, look unto Him. Look and live” [Numbers 21:8; Hebrews 12:2].
While we sing this song, just the stanza, just the stanza, somebody this morning to give his heart in faith to Jesus, to look, to look, to live; somebody to put his life in the church; coming into the fellowship of the church; by letter, any way the Holy Spirit shall lead; while we sing the song and make the appeal, down these stairwells, into the aisle, down here to stand by me, would you come? While all of us stand and sing?
THE BRAZEN SERPENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. People are bitten by serpents
1. The serpent is the same one in Genesis
2. Boldly denies God
3. Falsifies the character of God
II. Dying you shall die
1. Moral death
2. Intellectual death
3. Organic death
4. Second death, spiritual death
III. God provides the way of salvation
IV. Jesus is the type of every man and He was raised up for us