With barely six months remaining in their desert exile, the people of Israel could still speak the unthinkable, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in a wilderness?” (Numbers 21:5). God was invisible and unreal to Israel. After forty long years, they simply did not believe.
With Israel blinded to their ever-present salvation, God then unleashed upon the people a danger of the desert—reminding them just Who had the power to hold it back. In answer to the defining, forty-year-old lesson which Israel had failed to learn, God gave His condemning response.
And Adonai sent among the people the burning serpents, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died. (Numbers 21:6)
As the people recoiled from their chastisement, they repented to God in their usual, short-lived desperation. Even so, Adonai once again brought salvation to Israel—but this time, by lifting up a standard before them. Israel would receive deliverance and life anew because the invisible God gave them something to see.
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it on the standard, and it was, if the serpent bit any man, and he looked expectingly to the serpent of brass—he has lived. (Numbers 21:8-9)
Anyone who “looked expectingly” toward the standard: he has lived.
Had you or I been one of those poor, afflicted souls, what sight would our eyes have seen? A magical, bronze snake tacked atop a pole? Or the faithful, creative, steadfast salvation of the One True and Living God?
By lifting up a standard—setting something up high above for all to see—Moses provided a tangible rallying point, a perceptible place of focus, to draw the people’s attention and hearts toward the Source of their deliverance. The upholding of God’s standard made God Himself visible and real to the people—as they looked expectingly toward the upraised standard, they experienced the restoration and revival of their lives.
Because the mind of man so quickly forgets God (or chooses to ignore Him), and our trust so easily wanes, God establishes His standard—lifts something up high for us to see—that He might increase our faith, and we might believe. And this is why,
…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up, [so] that everyone who is believing in Him may have life age-enduring. For God so loved the world, that His Son—the only begotten—He gave… (John 3:14-16a)
The Master Yeshua has been lifted up for us (cf. Isaiah 11:10)—to reconcile all people to God, to focus us on His power and love, to draw our attentions and hearts to the only Source of all true redemption and deliverance—for “he who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In Yeshua, God truly gave the world something awesome, amazing, and astounding to see! And yet, the Messiah’s dwelling among men would be brief—the habitation of Imanuel (“God with us”) would last but a moment—then “the world will see Me no more” (John 14:19).
How, then, would the world profess the One they had not known?
How, now, will He become real to us who have never seen?
Though intangible, we may yet run to Him; though imperceptible, still, we perceive. For the Master, too, has lifted up a standard—set something up high above for all to see—something that draws us to Him.
And He said to them, “…it is necessary for all the things that are written about Me… to be fulfilled.” Then He opened up their understanding to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45)
As we look expectingly toward the upraised standard of Yeshua, we experience the restoration and revival of our lives. By the Spirit of Truth, we know and see the reality of Yeshua when we look faithfully to the standard of Scripture.
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