The old generation has passed away and it is now time for the “children” to enter the Promised Land. (See Timeline) Miriam and Aaron have died so it is now Moses, Joshua and Eleazar (Aaron’s son) are leading the people. Israel, not Moses, has cried out about Arad, a Canaanite king, has come out against them and Israel has completely destroyed them. They now must go around their cousins, Edom, because God will not let them have their land. (See Edom) So what do they do?
- Grow impatient
- Speak against God
- Speak against Moses
- Bring out the ubiquitous complaints no water, bad food, no bread and are we to die in the desert.
I know this cycle is old and you think they would have learned but they have not; makes you think about our complaining. In verse 6 God sends venomous snakes; these are probably the Carpet or Saw-scaled Viper. People start to die so they once again confess their sins to Moses and he prays for them and God gives them a way out. The thing that really stands out here is God did not remove the snakes; He requires an act of faith before they can be healed. They must look at a brass snake (See copper) on a pole.
In John 3:14-15 this act of faith is explained as a type and shadow of Jesus and the salvation He would bring because of the cross. And just as John 3:16 is next, so the people went on to get water and defeat Sihon and Og.
But the story of the brass/bronze serpent apparently does not end when they moved on and camped at Oboth. They kept it and it became an object of worship because in 2 Kings 18:4 Hezekiah breaks it up because they were burning incense to it. It seems to be human nature to get stuck on something that works; God used that for a time but He moved on and did other great things and used other things to deliver the people. They seemed to miss the point – Worship God and not things. (See Superstitious)