Bible passage: Numbers 21:9
Written: As early as 1400 BC
In Numbers 21, the Israelites are able to look upon a bronze snake to save them from the death caused by the venom of snake bites. This bronze statute represents a type of Christ, according to John 3:14-15, in that those who look upon it are saved from death.
In Numbers 21:4-9, the Israelites are residing in the Sinai, which is between Egypt and Israel. They left Egypt during the Exodus but haven't returned yet to the promised land, the Biblical land of Israel:
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (Numbers 21:4-9, NIV)
During this time, about 3,400 years ago, God has already worked through Moses to miraculously deliver the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt and has miraculously provided food and water for them in the desert.
But, many of the Israelites are complaining and speaking out against God and against Moses. As punishment, venomous snakes infest the community and bit and killed many of the Israelites.
Moses, by the command of God, erects a pole with a bronze snake on it. If any of the Israelites look upon the bronze snake, they are miraculously delivered from the death that the venomous snakes bring.
In the New Testament, John, one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus, compares the image and significance of Jesus having been crucified to the saving power of looking upon the bronze snake on the pole:
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him." (John 3:14-15, NIV)