Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Numbers 21:9

And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Brazen Serpent;   Intercession;   Israel;   Miracles;   Salvation;   Serpent;   Symbols and Similitudes;   Types;   Scofield Reference Index - Christ Types of;   Miracles;   Serpent;   Thompson Chain Reference - Bible Stories for Children;   Blindness-Vision;   Brazen Serpent;   Children;   Home;   Pleasant Sunday Afternoons;   Religion;   Serpent, Brazen;   Stories for Children;   Vision;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Brass, or Copper;   Desert, Journey of Israel through the;   Miracles Wrought through Servants of God;   Salvation;   Serpents;   Types of Christ;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Miracle;   Serpents;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Snake;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Fulfillment;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Brass;   Ensign;   Hezekiah;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Cross;   Nehushtan;   Sacrifice;   Serpent;   Serpent, Brazen;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Banner;   Fulfill;   Hezekiah;   Nehushtan;   Numbers, Book of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Israel;   Jephthah;   Moses;   Numbers, Book of;   Serpent, Brazen;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Moses ;   Poison;   Serpent;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Serpent of Brass;   Type;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Punon;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Chief parables and miracles in the bible;   Kehushtan;   Serpent;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Hezeki'ah;   Nehush'tan;   Serpent;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Brass (brazen);   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Armies;   Brazen Serpent;   Serpent, Brazen;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - On to Canaan;   Moses, the Man of God;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Images;   Moses;   Pentateuch;   Pole;   Sign;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Allegorical Interpretation;   Brass;   Brazen Serpent;   Copper;   Elohist;   Metals;   Midrashim, Smaller;   Nehushtan;   Seraphim;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

And Moses made a serpent of brass - נחשת נחש nechash nechosheth . Hence we find that the word for brass or copper comes from the same root with nachash, which here signifies a serpent, probably on account of the color; as most serpents, especially those of the bright spotted kind, have a very glistening appearance, and those who have brown or yellow spots appear something like burnished brass: but the true meaning of the root cannot be easily ascertained. On the subject of the cure of the serpent-bitten Israelites, by looking at the brazen serpent, there is a good comment in the book of The Wisdom of Solomon, (Apoch). Numbers 16:4-12, in which are these remarkable words: "They were admonished, having a sign of salvation, (i. e., the brazen serpent), to put them in remembrance of the commandments of thy law. For he that turned himself towards it was not saved by the Thing that he saw, but by Thee, that art the Savior of all." To the circumstance of looking at the brazen serpent in order to be healed, our Lord refers, John 3:14, John 3:15; : "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." The brazen serpent was certainly no type of Jesus Christ; but from our Lord's words we may learn,

  1. That as the serpent was lifted up on the pole or ensign, so Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross.
  • That as the Israelites were to look at the brazen serpent, so sinners must look to Christ for salvation.
  • That as God provided no other remedy than this looking for the wounded Israelites, so he has provided no other way of salvation than faith in the blood of his Son.
  • That as he who looked at the brazen serpent was cured and did live, so he that believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall not perish, but have eternal life.
  • That as neither the serpent, nor looking at it, but the invisible power of God healed the people, so neither the cross of Christ, nor his merely being crucified, but the pardon he has bought by his blood, communicated by the powerful energy of his Spirit, saves the souls of men.
  • May not all these things be plainly seen in the circumstances of this transaction, without making the serpent a type of Jesus Christ, (the most exceptionable that could possibly be chosen), and running the parallel, as some have done, through ten or a dozen particulars?

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    Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/numbers-21.html. 1832.

    John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

    And Moses made a serpent of brass,.... Which was the most proper metal to make it of, that it might resemble the fiery serpents, whether of a golden or scarlet colour: and Diodorus SiculusF4Bibliothec. l. 17. p. 560. speaks of some of the colour of brass, whose bite was immediately followed with death, and by which, if anyone was struck, he was seized with terrible pains, and a bloody sweat flowed all over him; and this was chosen also, because being burnished and bright, could be seen at a great distance, and with this metal Moses might be furnished from Punon, the next station to this, where they now were, Zalmonah, as appears from Numbers 33:42 a place famous for brass mines, and which JeromF5De locis Heb. fol. 91. G. says, in his time, was a little village, from whence brass metal was dug, by such that were condemned to the mines:

    and put it upon a pole; as he was directed:

    and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived: which was very marvellous, and the more so, if what physicians say is true, as Kimchi relatesF6Sepher Sherash. rad. נחש , that if a man bitten by a serpent looks upon a piece of brass he dies immediately: the lifting up of this serpent on a pole for such a purpose was a figure of the lifting up of Christ, either upon the cross, or in the ministry of the word, that whosoever looks unto him by faith may have healing; see Gill on John 3:14,where this type or figure is largely explained: the station the Israelites were now at, when this image was made, is called Zalmonah, which signifies an image, shadow, or resemblance, as the brazen serpent was; from Mount Hor, where they were last, to this place, according to BuntingF7Travels of the Patriarchs, &c. 83. , were twenty eight miles: this serpent did not remain in the place where it was set, but was taken with them, and continued until the days of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18:4.

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    The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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    Bibliographical Information
    Gill, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/numbers-21.html. 1999.

    Wesley's Explanatory Notes

    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.

    He lived — He was delivered from death, and cured of his disease.

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    These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
    Bibliographical Information
    Wesley, John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/numbers-21.html. 1765.

    Scofield's Reference Notes

    serpent

    (See Scofield "Genesis 3:14"). The serpent is a symbol of sin judged; brass speaks of the divine judgment, as in the brazen altar See Scofield "Exodus 27:1", note (2) and self-judgment, as in the laver of brass. The brazen serpent is a type of Christ "made sin for us"; John 3:14; John 3:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21 in bearing our judgment. Historically, the moment is indicated in the cry: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Matthew 27:46.

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    These files are considered public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available in the Online Bible Software Library.
    Bibliographical Information
    Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Numbers 21:9". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/srn/numbers-21.html. 1917.

    James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

    BANE AND ANTIDOTE

    ‘If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.’

    Numbers 21:9

    Faint and weary, and dispirited, the old murmuring breaks out against God and against Moses. And this time God strikes. The punishment took a form, perhaps even more terrible than pestilence or death. As the column toiled along the weary way, out from bush and crevasse, gliding through the grass came the deadly foe, and fastened upon leg and hand. A small thing the bite seemed at first, but as the fiery poison coursed through the veins, then the deadly work began. The stalwart man, who was marching at a comrade’s side, suddenly falls out and is left writhing and choking in torture. And when the camp is pitched, into the tent they come gliding and biting, till a great and terrible cry arises from the sin-stricken, penitent camp. Then, when the chastisement has done its work, God stays His hand. And the serpent of brass, made in the likeness of the living scourge, but transfixed to the pole, is lifted up in the midst of the camp. And as the next day’s sun strikes upon its burnished coils, which burn like fire, it is recognised as a fit symbol of the fiery serpents, whose venomed bite sent the blood coursing like molten fire through the veins. And when any bitten one looked to the serpent of brass in simple faith, behold, he did not die but lived! So the plague was stayed.

    I. The poison of sin.—From the day of the first sin in the garden, the idea of evil has been associated with the serpent, and a fitting picture it is. How stealthily it creeps upon us, how unexpectedly it seizes, how little difference it seems to make—we go on our walk as usual, but a fiery poison has entered our lives to work our ruin. Such is sin in the soul—having a very small external wound, it may be, but poisoning the whole being. And it creeps in everywhere. It is lying in wait for us by day at our work and play; it follows us at night. We may lace the flaps of the tent tight, we may peg down the curtains round and round securely, but it glides under and stings us even in our sleep. And ‘if any man say he hath not been bitten, he deceiveth himself, and the truth is not in him.’

    II. The remedy.—One has bent over sinful humanity and sucked the poison from the wound. ‘And He shall save His people from their sins.’ To deliver us from this deadly poison He willingly gave up His life, and our only hope is to look to Him in simple faith. A look is enough. This may seem a very trifling thing to bring such a reward. But before the bitten Israelites looked to the serpent, how much had taken place! Instead of rebellion, sin, and disobedience, there was chastened penitence, ‘we have sinned,’ and willingness to obey; and restored trust in God. It seems an easy thing to say, ‘Only believe in Christ,’ but before the soul can cast one believing look at the Crucified, there must first have been the breaking down of the hard heart and the readiness to trust in God. ‘It is a little and easy thing in itself; but it indicates a great and difficult change of mind.’ When a disobedient child is ready to confess his disobedience, the change in his attitude is shown quite as clearly by the simple coming and confessing as if he were to promise to perform some hard task, or undergo some severe penalty. And if any man among the bitten Israelites had not undergone the ‘change of mind,’ if he still cherished his rebellious spirit towards God, that man could not look to God’s symbol of forgiving love, and he died in his misery. Strange as it may seem, there may have been such men. For there are such to-day who will not look to the Saviour, who will cling to their sins, who do not wish to be freed from the bondage and misery of sin if it mean service under Christ.

    Illustration

    (1) ‘Herbert Spencer in his latest book warns strongly against what he calls the “rebarbarisation” of the world. And Lord Tennyson lends an illustration of what is meant by his lines that make the hunting of one’s fellow men the lordliest life on earth. Christianity believes in education, but it knows that educated devilry and civilised savagery are the very worst kind.

    The cross is the only cure for the serpent’s bite. Men must repent and believe and be washed of their sins. Jesus is the only one who can promise, “But as many as receive Him, to them gives He power to become the sons of God.”’

    (2) ‘A golf “caddie” in putting his hand into some undergrowth in search of the ball, had it stung by an adder. His companion, a member of a Boys’ Brigade Ambulance Class, at once tied something tight round the wrist to keep the poison from spreading, and sucked the wound clean, thus, in all probability, saving his comrade’s life. A young doctor in a London hospital, bent over the throat of a boy suffering from virulent diphtheria, and knowing well the risk, calmly inserted the tube and sucked out the poisoned virus. He had brilliant prospects before him; but he took the risk. The boy recovered; the brave doctor took the fell disease, sickened, and in a week was dead. He gave his life to save the boy.’

    (3) ‘The snatch of poetry in Numbers 21:14-15 is variously translated. Our English version, “What he did on the Red Sea,” etc., agrees with an old Jewish rendering. Some translate it, “Vaheb (Jehovah takes) in storm, and the brooks of Arnon, and the valley of the brooks, which turns to the dwelling of Ar and leans upon the border of Moab.” Others make it, “(We took) Waheb in Suphah and the Arnon water-courses, and the slope of the water-courses that inclineth toward the dwelling of Ar,” etc. The term Vaheb or Waheb might thus be the name of some fortress or strong position of the Amorites.’

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    Bibliographical Information
    Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/numbers-21.html. 1876.

    Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

    Numbers 21:9. Moses made a serpent of brass That it might resemble a serpent of a flaming colour; and, being splendid, might be seen far and near. Naturalists observe, that the sight of the image of the creature by which men were bitten, tended of itself rather to increase disease, and fill them with greater anguish, by disturbing their imagination: if so, it was the more proper to convince the Israelites that their cure came from God alone, who made that, of which the aspect was naturally hurtful, to be the means of their recovery. Those who would see more upon this subject may consult Scheuchner on the place. Mr. Saurin observes, that the Jews have a remarkable saying, "that as the bitings of the fiery serpents were cured by the Israelites looking up to the brazen serpent; so will be the bitings of the old serpent inflicted on Adam and his posterity at the time of the Messiah." If this saying (says he) were known in the days of our Saviour, it is probable that he alluded to it, when he said to Nicodemus, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:14.

    It is plain, that our Lord compares faith to the look which the Israelites, being wounded, by the bitings of the fiery serpents, cast upon that of brass. He also compares the healings which attended their look to the fruits of faith, and the lifting up of the serpent to his exaltation upon the cross. This allusion is so much the more happy, as, according to the observation of some critics, the Syriac word which our Lord used signifies both to lift up and to crucify. He used this word in the same sense, when he said, and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me; John 12:32. The prophets made the same allusions too, perhaps, when, speaking of the evangelical ages, they said, at that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel; Isaiah 17:7 and, in another place, they introduce the Saviour saying, look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else. Isaiah 45:22. See Saurin, Diss. 63.

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    Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/numbers-21.html. 1801-1803.

    Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

    He was delivered from death, and cured of his disease.

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    Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/numbers-21.html. 1685.

    Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

    9.Serpent of brass — The material was not prescribed in the command. Brass was selected, doubtless, because its lustre would enable it to be seen at a great distance. Possibly the fiery serpents may have had a coppery hue, like the copperhead of America. The size of this piece of brass was probably many times that of the fiery serpent, in order to be seen from afar. That the Israelites had abundance of metals is seen from the amount contributed to the tabernacle.

    If a serpent had bitten any man — This would imply that the antidote was only for those bitten previous to the lifting up of the brazen serpent; but a critical examination shows that the merciful Healer provides also for those who may be bitten subsequently. Nordh. (Gram., § 1090, 2) translates the passage thus: “And it came to pass when a serpent bit a man, and he looked at the serpent of brass, that he survived.” See Furst’s Lexicon. “It (אם ) is but seldom a sign of the actual past.” This justifies the conclusion that the fiery serpents were not taken away, but that they continued to annoy the people and to kill such as despised the remedy, while the virus was harmless in the veins of him who immediately looked toward the antidote. How long the brazen serpent continued to be “lifted up” in the camp we know not; but it is probable that it continued during the remainder of the march to Canaan, and that it had a conspicuous position near the tabernacle after it was set up in the Land of Promise. We find it existing eight hundred and twenty-five years afterward (2 Kings 18:4) as an object of idolatrous worship, when the reformer, Hezekiah, because of this, broke it in pieces. He stigmatized it as “Nehushtan,” a mere piece of brass. Rationalistic writers, both Jewish and Christian, have endeavoured to divest the cure by looking at the brazen serpent of its miraculous character by the theory that Moses, by his knowledge of astrology, devised this as a talisman or charm to operate on the imaginations of the people. The more pious Jews regard the cures as the result of a lively faith in Jehovah. See Targum of Onkelos. Evangelical writers ascribe the healing power of this serpent-form to its great Antitype, lifted up in crucifixion for the salvation of all believers.

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    Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/numbers-21.html. 1874-1909.

    George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

    A brazen serpent. This was a figure of Christ crucified, and of the efficacy of a lively faith in him, against the bites of the hellish serpent, John iii. 14. (Challoner) (St. Ambrose; Apol. i. 3.) As the old serpent infected the whole human race, Jesus Christ gives life to those that look at him with entire confidence. (Theodoret, q. 38.) The brazen serpent was destitute of poison, though it resembled a most noxious animal; so Jesus Christ assumed our nature, yet without sin. (Calmet)

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    Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/numbers-21.html. 1859.

    E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

    serpent = Hebrew. nachash, a shining thing of brass, as in Deuteronomy 8:15. 2 Kings 18:4, &c.: so that nachash is synonymous with saraph, and both words are thus used of serpents.

    he lived. Compare John 3:14, John 3:15.

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    Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/numbers-21.html. 1909-1922.

    Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

    (9) And Moses made a serpent of brass.—The old serpent was the cause of death, temporal and spiritual. Christ Jesus, “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3), was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), and thus fulfilled, as He Himself explained to Nicodemus, the type of the brazen serpent (John 3:14-15). The meaning of this type, or “sign of salvation,” is explained in the Book of Wisdom in these words, “He that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by Thee, that art the Saviour of all” (Numbers 16:7). This serpent was preserved by the Israelites, and taken into Canaan, and was ultimately destroyed by King Hezekiah, after it had become an object of idolatrous worship (2 Kings 18:4).

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    Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/numbers-21.html. 1905.

    Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

    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.
    A serpent of
    2 Kings 18:4; John 3:14,15; 12:32; Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21
    when he
    Isaiah 45:22; Zechariah 12:10; John 1:29; Hebrews 12:2; 1 John 3:8
    he lived
    John 6:40; Romans 1:17; 5:20,21
    Reciprocal: Psalm 107:20 - healed;  Luke 6:19 - sought;  John 5:46 - for

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    Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/numbers-21.html.

    The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

    "Handfuls of Purpose"

    For All Gleaners

    "A serpent of brass."Numbers 21:9

    Physical objects may be made the medium of spiritual suggestion.—The true use of material objects is to find out their spiritual suggestions.—The sown seed, the growing corn, the fields white unto the harvest, are all instances which may be turned to spiritual advantage.—So may all growth, all life, all beauty, all force.—It is very significant that the word "serpent" should be identified in the Bible with its sublimest remedial activities.—It would seem as if God intended even in this way to humble and punish the tempter who ruined our first parents.—It was the "serpent" that was more subtle than any beast of the field.—In the last book of the New Testament the enemy is referred to as "the great dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world."—Images and relics are to be strictly limited in their use.—Nothing is to stand between the soul and God but the priesthood of Jesus Christ.—Hezekiah "brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made."—Why did Hezekiah take this course?—Because the children of Israel had become image-worshippers, and had a superstitious veneration for an institution which had served its purpose and was no longer needed.—The only eternal institution is the work of Jesus Christ himself.—It is nothing less than wickedness to go back to the symbol when the reality is before us.—Men are not at liberty to judge themselves by the commandments when they can adopt the more penetrating criticism of the Beatitudes.—The whole meaning of the serpent of brass was realised in the uplifting of the Son of man.—The proof of this is found in John 3:14, John 3:15.—The uplifting is an action as remarkable as is the name of the serpent.—Jesus Christ referred to it repeatedly, thus: "Even so must the Son of man be lifted up";—again: When ye have lifted up the Son of man." The lifting up is an act equivalent to manifestation; the lifting up is highly symbolic; it means separation, elevation, exposure to the whole world, welcome to all mankind. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."

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    Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 21:9". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/numbers-21.html. 1885-95.