When A Bad Snake Is Good

Bible Book: Numbers  21 : 1-9
Subject: Unity; Victory; Salvation

Numbers 21:1-9

I want to share a story with you from the Bible about A Bad Snake That Is actually Good! We are going to look at a snake that caused fear, pain, and death but that was transformed by the hand of God into a good snake that was amazingly beneficial to the people of God. Some things can look really bad in life, but when God is allowed to work in those things great results occur. That is what happened in this story from the life of God’s people.

This is a story about the people of God, the Nation of Israel, who had spent almost forty years in the Wilderness before they were to enter into the Promised Land. We discover here that God never gave up on His people, even though they were sinful and disobedient at times. This is a wonderful truth to every person who has trusted God, for none of us has avoided being snake bitten by sin at times, even though we are saved and on our way home.

Now, to get this incident from the life of God’s people to speak to you, I want you to take note of two important facts:

“God listens to what you say!”

“God watches what you do!”

“God does is necessary - He acts!”

You need to remember these three things throughout this message. God is listening to what you say. He hears you when you are not even listening to your own words. We speak flippantly and overhanded, but God is listening. We are told in His Word that He hears us and considers what we say to be serious. James even said that a person who could totally control the use of his tongue would be perfect. You know how imperfect your words are – imagine what they sound like to God.God also watches what we do. We may say the right thing but do the wrong thing – in that case God will judge us according to our works. So these two facts are important – critical actually.

Now, let’s understand this;

What Is Good News for You, Can Be Bad News for Somebody Else

In Numbers 21 we note that the Canaanites attacked God’s people as they travelled through the Wilderness. The Canaanites did not expect to destroy God’s people, but just to give them a punch in the nose. They were seeking to discourage God’s people and to cause them to leave the Canaanite communities alone. The devil does that a lot. He cannot completely destroy us as God’s people, but he is often punching us in the nose. He hits us with one thing and another, and even if the thing we are enduring is from God, He tries to discourage our faith through it.

So the Canaanites attacked, and they blooded the nose of God’s people. Something happened here that we must not miss. Be sure you get this. Up until this time, the Jewish people saw themselves as individual Tribes. They were not One body but a group of Twelve Tribes. It is here before us in this passage that we note for the first time that the Jewish people spoke and acted as one body. So, let’s start right there and understand what this story teaches us.

I. Adversity Can Bring Unity

Yes, God’s people saw themselves as one, they spoke to God as one! Look at the text, “Then Israel ...” That is the first time they are spoken of as a single unit. Read that text and you will see how they spoke of all the Tribes using the singular rather than plural designation. But here they are Israel - one nation - one people.

Be assured that the enemy attacks God’s people today in the same way. Sadly, many churches are like the Israelites before they saw themselves in unity. God’s people are often divided and that is a sure path to defeat. We must be like God’s people in this story and unite. What would happen with the church if we saw ourselves as one – one unit – one people – one church – one congregation - following our One Lord?

What caused the Israelites to become one people - a united people? Well, think about this story. God’s people became one as a result of adversity. An attack unified them. That can happen to us today in our churches and as Christians.

In fact, we are in adversity at this moment. The pandemic that has hit our nation and the world has called many Christians to unite as they have not done so in many years. It is interesting that we may not be able to gather as usual to worship and work as in the past, but we may be more united than before. Our hearts become unified as we draw close to God in prayer and commitment. Adversity has a way of doing that to God’s people. We feel our unity because of our adversity.

Now unity is a good thing, but it is often difficult to maintain. Think about this ...

II. Unity Must Have Consistency

God’s people won a great victory as they united and attacked the Canaanites. They put the enemy on the run and gained a great triumphant battle.

 It there is a truth here we must not mias. The Hebrew people did not totally destroy the Canaanites – the battle would go on generation after generation. This reminds us that we must have consistency in order to maintain victory. God’s people are always in a battle with the devil and our unity must be consistent all the time. In other words, we must be willing to finish in order to start properly what we will finish.

You can have a consistent unity today but find it in jeopardy tomorrow. That leads me to this truth ...

III. Consistency Will Be Tested by Difficulty

Be assured of this, consistency in our walk together with the Lord and our battle with the enemy will be tested again and again. Look at what happened to God’s people after the victory over the Canaanites.

The people of God began to complain against God and against Moses. This is so discouraging. They had just won a great victory and now they begin to complain. What did they complain about? They were unhappy with the food God was giving them. In fact, they started saying that they would rather eat the food of their fathers and mothers in Egypt. What? Are you kidding? Most of these people had never eaten the food of Egypt, for they were only going by what they heard that their forebearers had eaten. In other words, they were complaining about something they actually knew nothing about. It is strange how people can talk about the good old days when in fact the good old days never happened.

What happened here in the Bible can happen to a church. People can complain that it is not as good as the good old days when, in fact, they never lived in the good old days and what they have heard about those days is simply not true. Those people who had been in Egypt cried out in pain and agony to get out of that place but now their children made Egypt sound like a beachside vacation.

Listen, unity must be maintained. If it isn’t, God will make sure you get the point.

The people tempted God – they angered God. Look at what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:9, “Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of the also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents.” Destruction can come in the path of the gripe! People love to complain and they will do that even when it is God who is God that provides it. God was listening to them as they sat in their tents and complained. He is listening to us today as well.

Adversity can create unity but note this ...

IV. Difficulty Can Turn into a Calamity

What you need to consider is that a difficulty can turn into a calamity. As the people complained about God and Moses, the Lord sent fiery serpents into the midst of them. You see, God was reacting to what the people said. Certainly what God did was not what they thought was going to happen. Their complaints turned into a horrible calamity in their lives.

Notice that the snakes bit everybody in the camp. It was not something that affected the young alone, or the adults alone, or the older members of the group. It was everybody who paid a price. Everyone was bitten.

So, they came to Moses and asked him to cry out to God in their behalf. They wanted Moses to pray and for God to snap His fingers and make the snakes disappear. That was not how God was going to work.

God had a plan to redeem the people from their dying estate. He had the right plan – He always does! It might not have made sense to them at first, but it would make sense if they would listen and obey. That is how God works today - He has a plan but sadly many will not listen.

Of course, for us in the New Testament age, what God did makes perfect sense. We know that this is about Jesus – about salvation – about spiritual healing.

So, let’s look finally at …

V. Calamity Needs a Remedy

God told Moses to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole. Moses told the people what God had said. If you look at the snake on the pole, it will show that you trust me and I will heal you of the snake bites. If you refuse to have faith in what I am providing, you will die. The comparison between the serpent in Moses day and the Cross of Christ helps us better understand God’s grace in salvation. Of course, we know that the serpent on a pole was a prefiguring of Christ, for Jesus said so in John 3:14.

Let’s look at some important points regarding this situation:

People need to see and feel their condition before they can accept God’s remedy.

All the people who have been infected by sin will face judgment (Hebrews 9:27), and they need to look to Christ by faith, and He will save them and give them eternal life.

Why a serpent? This was the very creature that brought them pain. Why put it on a pole. On the cross, Jesus became sin for us, the very thing that condemns people.

This remedy is for everybody and is placed on a pole so anyone can see it. God did not place the bronze serpent in the Tabernacle where only the holy priests could see it. He put it out in the public eye, high on a pole so everyone - every sinner - could see and believe. He did not hide what He was doing so that only the deeply intelligent could find it. It put it out there where we who know so little can find it. Even a child can look and live!

Also, this remedy is personal, nobody can look for you and you can’t look for anybody else. Your parents can’t have you baptized when you are a child and promise you that this experience will get you into heaven. No! You have to look yourself and believe. Salvation is personal.


Have you looked at your life to see the calamity sin has brought upon you, and where it is taking you? You need to look to Jesus for salvation. He is the only remedy that will work!

Let us unify as God’s people in all our churches so that we can keep the enemy where he belongs – under God’s foot.

Let us look to Christ today and live. You can trust Him right now.