What does it say?
Moving at last and following a God-given victory over the Canaanites, Israel again complains (Num 21). This time God’s judgment is in the form of poisonous (fiery) snakes. The people cry to Moses for deliverance. Moses makes a bronze (brass), puts it on a pole and instructs those bitten by snakes to look at the bronze serpent and they would live. The journey continues as the people sing a new song in celebration of the water God provides. They then win a great victory over the Amorites that stood in their way.
Following the victory over the Amorites, the Moabites are terrified of the advancing Israelites (Num 22). King Balak hires a prophet named Balaam to curse the Hebrews. Balaam is not a Hebrew but appears to believe in Jehovah God and certainly hears from him. Hired to curse, God will not allow Balaam to anything but bless Israel. Balaam is clearly a conflicted soul, torn between his desire to be paid by Balak and his fear to curse the people God has blessed. His donkey speaks to him in some way and saves him from being killed by the Angel of the Lord when he is about to disobey.
What does it mean?
The bronze serpent is said by Jesus himself to picture his death on the cross (Joh 3:14-15). The serpent symbolizes sin and shows Christ on the cross made sin for us (2Cor 5:21). As followers of Jesus we learn to deaden the sin within us as we look to Christ (Col 3:1-7) as the Israelites looked to the serpent on a pole.
Finally, Israel is moving forward in the mission God has for them. As long as they are in fellowship with him, obey him and follow his guidance, they appear to be invincible, and their hearts overflow with the joy of song.
Balaam is a fascinating character, mentioned three times in the New Testament as an example of a prophet selling out faith for profit (2Pet 2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev 2:14).
How will I respond?
By now it should be clear that fruit, purpose, joy and fulfillment in my life are intimately connected to my engagement in following God in his mission. But what is my price? Do I have any Balaam in me? What would it cost for me to choose comfort and reward over God’s mission?