THE SERPENT OF BRASS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, February 26, 2012

“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” (Numbers 21:9).


As the Israelites travelled through the wilderness they became impatient and rebellious. They began speaking against God and against Moses. They said, “[Why] have ye 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 light bread” – the manna God sent them to eat (Numbers 21:5). Matthew Henry said, “Though they had just now obtained a glorious victory over the Canaanites...yet they [spoke] very discontentedly of what God had done for them and distrustful of what He would do...They had bread enough and to spare; and yet they complained that they had no bread.” They had water too, but they still murmured against God! (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, volume I, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 reprint, p. 519; comment on Numbers 21:4-9).

Because of their unbelief and rebellion, God sent fiery serpents to bite them and kill them. The snakes were called “fiery serpents” because of their color, and because their bites caused a fiery inflammation of the body, “putting it immediately into a high fever” (Henry, ibid.).

“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” (Numbers 21:7). Then God told Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it high on a pole. Moses then told the people to look at the serpent on the pole and they would live. “And it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:9).

Dr. John R. Rice said, “See the poisonous, deadly snakes slithering through the grass! God had brought Israel out of Egypt with the greatest show of miracles ever seen on this earth. And what blessings God did give to show His loving favor: manna, water from the rock, deliverance from Amalek. But here we are shocked to find that there are no praises on the lips of this...multitude. Here are sin and the Saviour manifested in the wilderness!” (John R. Rice., D.D., The Bible Garden, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1982, p. 212).

In this account there are three lessons – the cause of judgment, the climax of judgment, and the cure for judgment.

I. First, the cause of judgment.

“The people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” (Numbers 21:5). Their complaint was the result of unbelief. They simply did not believe God, or His servant Moses!

“But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:17-19).

“Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (I Corinthians 10:9-11).

I know that there are some sinners here tonight who complain against God. Some of you think that God hasn’t done enough for you, or that He makes salvation too hard to obtain. In your heart you murmur and complain. “Why do I have to believe in Jesus, whom I cannot see?” you say. “Why do I have to come to Jesus without any feeling, without any proof?” And some of you say, “Why do I have to turn away from my secret sins to trust in Christ?” But these complaints are wicked and sinful. They come from an evil heart of unbelief. The Apostle Paul said, “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents” (I Corinthians 10:9).

I warn you tonight, if you refuse to come to Jesus Christ you will die in your sins. If you go on complaining and deliberately rejecting the Saviour, “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” (Hebrews 10:26-27). Judgment will fall on you. If you go on willfully and deliberately rejecting Jesus Christ, He will suddenly come, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on [you] that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thessalonians 1:8). You will be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (II Thessalonians 1:9).

Isn’t that exactly what happened to those Israelites who rebelled and refused to believe in the wilderness? Were they not bitten with fiery serpents? Did they not die and go to Hell? Are they not given as examples of what will happen to you if you go on in deliberate rebellion, refusing to come to Christ?

“But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (I Corinthians 10:5-6).

The cause of their judgment was their sinful unbelief and rebellion against God.

II. Second, the climax of judgment.

On a certain day, and a certain hour, God sent fiery serpents to bite them and kill them. Matthew Henry said, “The wilderness through which they had passed was all along infested with those fiery serpents, as appears, Deuteronomy 8:15, but [before this] God had wonderfully preserved [them] from receiving hurt by them, till now that they murmured...These [serpents], which [before now] had shunned their camp, now invade it. Justly are those made to feel God’s judgments that are not thankful for his mercies. These serpents [inflamed] the body, putting it immediately into a high fever, scorching it with insatiable thirst. They had unjustly complained for [lack] of water (v. 5), to chastise them for which God sends upon them this thirst, which no water would quench,” when they were bitten by those fiery serpents! (Henry, ibid., pp. 519-520).

Those serpents had previously been kept out of their camp by the hand of God. But now, because of their sin and unbelief, these serpents invaded their midst, sprang on them, and sent them into convulsions of pain, death, and eternal torment. Those serpents sprang on them suddenly! And we are warned in the New Testament that “sudden destruction cometh upon them...and they shall not escape” (I Thessalonians 5:3). Wasn’t that the case of the rich fool spoken of by Christ? He said to himself, “Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). “But God said...Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (Luke 12:20). He was having a great time, but suddenly his soul was wrenched out of his body. That night, in a moment of time, his soul was torn from his body and cast into the eternal flames! Wasn’t that the same fate of the man in Luke 16? He suddenly died, “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:23).

Judgment may be slow in coming, but when it does come, it comes suddenly! As the serpents came suddenly, after the people had long resisted God, so your judgment will come suddenly, and you will not escape!

Notice that these fiery serpents are types, pictures of Satan and his demons. God may protect you for many years from the deadly attack of “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (Revelation 12:9). But suddenly, on a certain day (for “he limiteth a certain day” – Hebrews 4:7), on that “certain day” God will loose that Serpent the Devil on you with full fury – if you go on rebelling against the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what happens when Satan and his demons strike sinners who will not repent and come to Christ!

“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:43-45).

Oh, I have seen that happen countless times! A person will be in church, and will clean up his life, but still refuse Christ and His mercy. On a certain day, and at a certain hour, the unclean spirits will come and sting him to death, “and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:45). I could give you one story after the other of that happening to people who rebelled and refused to come to the Lord Jesus Christ!

These are true stories. He said, “I’m all right.” But I looked into his coffin and saw that half of his head had been blown away by a shotgun. He said, “I’m all right.” But he dived into the water. It was much more shallow than he thought. His head hit the bottom with full force. His neck broke, and he was paralyzed until the day he died. He said, “I’m all right.” But he stepped under a tree and was attacked by a mugger. They heard him yelling. Before they got there he bled to death – screaming at the top of his lungs! He said, “I’m all right.” But he was struck down suddenly and choked to death in his own vomit. She said, “I’m all right.” But her car veered off the road, down into a gully. She was still alive when he went to her, but her bowels rolled out into his hands, as she gasped for breath, struggling for a moment, before her soul sank down into eternal flames. When I saw him a few minutes later his face was white and his hands were shaking. He said over and over, “I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t save her.” These are true stories. God knows I have not exaggerated them one bit! Nehemiah said,

“O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God”!
      (Nehemiah 1:5).

Daniel said,

“O Lord, the great and dreadful God”! (Daniel 9:4).

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6).

As fiery serpents suddenly poisoned those sinners, so judgment will come suddenly to you – unless you repent and look to Christ before it is too late forever!

We have seen the cause of their judgment, and the climax of their judgment, but now we come to the last point.

III. Third, the cure for judgment.

“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” (Numbers 21:7-9).

God provided a way for these sinners to be saved. “If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:9).

We would not pay any special attention to this event if Jesus had not used it as an illustration when He spoke with Nicodemus, as recorded in the third chapter of John. Nicodemus was the main teacher of Israel, but he was not born again. Jesus told him the story of Moses and the serpent of brass. As a Bible scholar, Nicodemus knew the account in Numbers 21 very well. Jesus said to him,

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

For you to be saved from judgment, nothing is required but a look of faith to Jesus, lifted up on the Cross, as the serpent of brass was lifted up. “If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:9). Jesus said,

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up [on the Cross]: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

I spoke with a young woman after the service this morning. She said, “I think I’m saved because I believed that Jesus would not cast me out.” She was referring to John 6:37, “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” I said to her, “That will not do. You believed a Bible verse, John 6:37. Believing a Bible verse will not save you. You must believe on Jesus Christ Himself!” Jesus said,

“Search the scriptures; for in them [the scriptures] ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).

Yes, the Bible says that Jesus will not cast you out if you come to Him. But believing a Bible verse will not save you. You must believe on Jesus Christ Himself! You must believe on Jesus. You must come to Him. You must look to Him, not to a Bible verse!

Look away from yourself! Look away from your own thoughts and feelings and doubts! Look away to Jesus and you will be saved! He said, “Look unto me, and be ye saved” (Isaiah 45:22). Stop your rebellion and unbelief – and look to Jesus on the Cross, dying in your place, to pay the full penalty for your sins. Look to Him in Heaven, at the right hand of God, praying for you! Look to Jesus and believe on Him. As the Israelites looked to the brass serpent and were saved, so I plead with you to look to Jesus and be saved tonight! Mr. Griffith sang an old song before this sermon, “Look and Live.” I find that twentieth century “decisionists” changed “look and live, O sinner, live” to “look and live, my brother, live.” But, if you have not looked to Jesus, you are not my brother! You are a lost sinner bound for Hell. Therefore we will sing it with the original words, “Look and live, O sinner, live.” Listen to it again. Look to Jesus. Believe on Him who was lifted up on the Cross to pay for your sins. Look to Him and be saved from the serpent’s sting and from the power of sin. Look to Jesus and live!

I’ve a message from the Lord, Hallelujah!
   The message unto you I’ll give;
’Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you “look and live.”
Look and live, O sinner, live,
   Look to Jesus now and live;
’Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live.

Life is offered unto you, Hallelujah!
   Eternal life your soul shall have,
If you only look to Him, Hallelujah!
   Look to Jesus Who alone can save.
Look and live, O sinner, live,
   Look to Jesus now and live;
’Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live.

I will tell you how I came, Hallelujah!
   To Jesus, when He made me whole;
’Twas believing on His Name, Hallelujah!
   I trusted and He saved my soul.
Look and live, O sinner, live,
   Look to Jesus now and live;
’Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live.
(“Look and Live” by William A. Ogden, 1841-1897;
     original wording, 1887).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

You may email Dr. Hymers at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net, (Click Here) – or you may
write to him at P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Or phone him at (818)352-0452.

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Numbers 21:4-9.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Look and Live” (by William A. Ogden, 1841-1897;
original version, 1887).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE SERPENT OF BRASS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“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” (Numbers 21:9).

(Numbers 21:5, 7)

I.   First, the cause of judgment, Numbers 21:5; Hebrews 3:17-19;
I Corinthians 10:9-11; Hebrews 10:26-27; I Thessalonians 1:8, 9;
I Corinthians 10:5-6.

II.  Second, the climax of judgment, I Thessalonians 5:3;
Luke 12:19, 20; 16:23; Revelation 12:9; Hebrews 4:7;
Matthew 12:43-45; Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4; Numbers 21:6.

III. Third, the cure for judgment, Numbers 21:7-9; John 3:14-15;
John 6:37; 5:39-40; Isaiah 45:22.