HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
In pursuing the course which had been marked out for them, the Hebrew host traversed southward the arid, hot, and sandy Arabah, and passing by the head of the eastern Gulf of the Red Sea, gained the equally desolate region constituting the desert east of the mountains of Edom. By this time “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way” (Numbers 21:4). This is not, perhaps, surprising; for after having been permitted to reach the borders of the promised land, and to look up the green valleys of Edom, they had been sent back to take another long journey through the worst parts of the desert, on which they fully supposed that they had turned their backs forever. It is possible, also, that the absence of any interposition to enforce for them a shortcut through the territory of Edom had shaken their confidence in the certainty of the divine aid in taking possession of the land of Canaan.
All this might have been the case, but their complaints took the gross form of murmurings at the scarcity of water, and of expressions of disgust at the manna. On this occasion, it is not flesh they long for, but bread: “There is no bread, neither is there any water: and our soul loathes this light food” (Numbers 21:5). We see in this that the people, confined to one kind of diet for nearly forty years, had been looking forward with eager expectation to the change of food which might be expected when they entered a peopled country; and the postponement of an expectation so eagerly entertained, must have materially enhanced the disappointment which the renewal of the journey occasioned. Even the short delay of some anticipated good, on the very point of being realized, is a disappointment far deeper than one of the larger actual amounts, when the fruition is not near.…
So “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6).… Under this infliction, the people were speedily brought to a sense of their error, and very humbly confessed that they had sinned,— “for we have spoken against the Lord, and against you.” On this, the Lord directed Moses to make a brazen serpent, and set it upon a pole, that every bitten Hebrew who looked upon it might be healed. This was no doubt designed to render the cure a result of faith; for no one who doubted the sufficiency, as appointed by God, of a means so apparently inadequate, would look to this representative serpent, and he would consequently, from his lack of faith, die of the poison in his veins. It is this that rendered the brazen serpent so lively a type or symbol of our Lord, who appropriated it to himself in the memorable words, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14).