SHARK BAIT! THE SERPENT IN ISRAEL
by Avram Yehoshua
(Footnotes are in red numbers and their notes appear at the end of the text)
The man in the life raft was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As the sharks which had been circling the raft began to move in for the kill, he heard the sound of a helicopter in the distance. Summoning all the remaining strength he had, he stood up and began to wave his arms and shout for help, even though he knew he couldn’t be heard.
The pilot saw his arms waving, came toward him and lowered his safety hoist. Just as the man was being lifted into the air, the sharks began ripping the raft to pieces. The pilot said the motion of his arms waving and lifted up, caught his eye. His arms meant the difference between life and death. This is a perfect picture of what to do in times of trouble or crises. Hands lifted up is a picture of one praying.i King David in Psalm 28:1-2 exemplifies this:
‘To You, Yahveh, I call! My Rock! Do not be deaf to me. For if You are silent to me, I will become like those who go down to the Pit. Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to You for help, when I lift up my hands toward Your Holy Sanctuary.’
Moses, after he had sent Joshua out to fight Amalek, saw the battle from a nearby hill. When his hands were lifted up, Israel prevailed. When Moses got tired and his hands dropped, Amalek prevailed.
‘Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the Staff of God in my hand.’
Joshua did as Moses told him and fought with Amalek while Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew heavy so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands. Thus his hands remained steady until the sun set. And Joshua overwhelmed the people of Amalek with the sword. Then Yahveh said to Moses,
‘Write this as a memorial in the Book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under the Heavens!’ And Moses built an altar and named it ‘Yahveh Nissi’ (Yahveh is my Banner). For he said, ‘Yahveh has sworn (or, lit. ‘for [your] hand[s] upon the Throne of Yah), Yahveh will be at war with Amalek from generation to generation.’ (Ex. 17:8-16)
Just as raised hands meant the difference between life and death for that man in the Pacific, so raised hands or prayer meant the difference between life and death for Israel. We see the picture of Moses’ hands raised, and we also read, ‘for [your] hand[s] upon the Throne of Yah.’ This means, ‘for your hands were lifted to the Throne of Yah.’ This explains how Israel truly prevailed.
The Hebrew for ‘Yahveh is my Banner’ is יָהְוֵה נִסִּי (Yahveh nissi), with nissi meaning, ‘to raise oneself up, for example, by lifting or raising ones’ hands; praying.’ The noun means something that is raised, ‘a pole’ ‘a standard’ or a ‘banner.’ii The Hebrew means, ‘Yahveh is the One who causes me to stand, in the midst of the battle, by the lifting up of my hands (my prayers).’ Moses builds an altar and names it for the God who caused Israel to stand in the midst of their enemy’s onslaught, because of prayer.iii
The Bronze Serpent
When Israel rebels against Yahveh and His anointed leader Moses, Yahveh sends fiery colored snakes to kill many sons of Abraham. Israel repents and pleads with Moses, and Yahveh tells him to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. When any Israeli was bitten, if he looked to the Bronze Serpent, he would be healed. Magic? Not from the God of Israel. Another teaching on how to survive today.
‘Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the Wilderness?! For there is no food and no water and we loathe this miserable food.’ Yahveh sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.’
‘So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against Yahveh and you. Intercede with Yahveh that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then Yahveh said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a standard. And it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ 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.’ (Num. 21:4-9)
The word for standard or pole, that the Bronze Serpent was placed on is נֵס (nais), and brings the two accounts together. It’s the same word that is used for ‘banner’ in Joshua’s account (the difference in spelling and pronunciation coming from the personal pronoun ‘my’ used in Joshua’s account). The Bronze Serpent represents Jesus in His humanity, associating with our carnality. Yeshua, ‘and the Son of Man must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the Serpent in the Wilderness.’ (John 3:13-14).
In this He spoke of His crucifixion. He, like the Serpent, was ‘lifted up.’ In Scripture, precious metals as gold and silver symbolize deity and redemption, respectively.iv Bronze, when highly polished, although not as precious as gold, shines up brighter than it (Ezra 8:27).
Bronze is to gold, what Adam was to God, before his rebellion. Adam was made in the Image and Likeness of God (Gen. 1:26), but was not God. After Adam chose to obey the Snake (Gen. 3:1-24), Adam became more like the Snake than God. Adam’s nature was now corrupt and consequently, all of us who come from Adam bear the same resemblance to the Snake that Adam did. Our very nature is not only far from God, it opposes God and His Ways (Num. 13-14). This is why we need the Messiah’s sacrificial atoning work; to forgive and to cleanse us from our sins and our sin nature.
Yeshua laid down His Glory of deity, pictured in the Bronze Serpent, so that Israel could see Him (Is. 53:2; Phil. 2:7; Col. 2:9). If He came as God the Son, in His full Glory, the Earth and the very Heavens themselves would melt away. How could we stand before Him (Mal. 3:2). But as Man (bronze), Israel was able to judge Him and His words. Most of us despised Him (Is. 53:3), but some of us believed He was the Messiah (Jn. 12:9, 11, etc.).
The Bronze Serpent on the pole, that saved those Israelis from certain death pictured Yeshua hanging from that Tree. He took upon Himself Adam’s nature before the fall, so he could be punished for our rebellion against God, as the Ideal Man. And we who know Him have been delivered from sin, death and Hell. Interestingly enough, the picture of Yeshua in Revelation speaks of His legs being as burnished bronze (Rev. 1:15; 2:18).
The Bronze Altar in the Tabernacle of Moses was made of two materials that both pictured Yeshua as Man: wood and bronze. Here we see a picture of Yeshua as the place of God’s sacrifice. Behind the Bronze Altar was the Bronze Wash Basin where the priests could literally cleanse themselves before and after they sacrificed, and before they went into the Holy Place. The Basin represents Yeshua as the One who cleanses us with His Word (Eph. 5:26).
Another place where bronze is seen to picture Yeshua as Man is the curtain or covering of goats hair. This was the second covering over the Tabernacle of Moses. This curtain was actually two curtains held together by 50 bronze clasps (Ex. 26:11). Both the goat and the bronze clasps picture Yeshua as the Man who would be used as an atoning sacrifice for Israel (Lev. 16).
The poisonous snakes pictured the consequence of rebellion to Yahveh: death. We are condemned to death because of our sin nature and weighed down with a burden that neither we nor our Fathers could carry. Sin, and its daughter, condemnation, kill us. Whenever we are bitten with sin, its job is to destroy us. Sin is bad enough but long after the sin stops, condemnation keeps on going. It’s relentless. Sin gets its power to condemn from the Torah: ‘Cursed is anyone who fails to do all these laws’ (Deut. 27:26). Who can deliver us from the bite of sin and condemnation which brings death?!
When the Hebrew who was bitten by the fiery serpents, looked to the Bronze Serpent on the pole, it says, ‘he lived’ (Num. 21:9); he was saved from the bite of death. The word for looked means, ‘to look with expectation, to hope in.’ So when they were dying from the bite of death, they would look with hope of being healed, to the Bronze Serpent, believing Yahveh’s word to them and they were saved from death. Look! at your Messiah on the Tree and Live!
It’s very interesting to note that Amalek is a relative of Israel. Jacob’s twin brother Esau had a grandson named Amalek (Gen. 36:9-12). Amalek and Israel were cousins! Numbers 24:20 reveals a telling prophesy about Amalek:
‘And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, ‘Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.’
There are other firstborns that didn’t fare well either: Adam; Cain (Adam’s first born son); Ishmael (Abraham’s first born son); Esau (Isaac’s first born son); and Reuben (Jacob’s first born son). First born signifies the best. But Fathers Abraham and Jacob’s first born sons fell far short of what Yahveh requires, as those first born sons testify to.
Amalek עֲמַלֵק (Ah-mah-lake), comes from the word that means, ‘to vex, to sin, to make weary, to cause sorrow.’ Amalek is very close to us. Amalek is from the Seed of Abraham too. Amalek is our family, our relatives, our friends, ourself! Amalek is us. Amalek pictures our pride and self exaltation which is sinful delusion and idolatry. This is why Yahveh vehemently comes against Amalek. Pride cannot live in Yahveh’s Presence. So how could we ever think that on our own merits, our good deeds, we could ever live in Yahveh’s Presence? Our good deeds cannot alter our sinful and corrupt nature.
In Ex. 17:16 it says, ‘Yahveh is at war with Amalek from generation to generation!’ And in 17:14, Yahveh says, ‘I shall blot out (erase, wipe out), the memory of Amalek from under the Heavens!’ And in 17:9, we are commanded to fight Amalek. How? By the lifting up of our hands in prayer to Yahveh (the teaching of Joshua fighting and defeating Amalek; the enemy outside the Camp of Israel), and looking to Yeshua crucified for us (the picture of the Bronze Serpent, thereby defeating the enemy within the Camp of Israel: us). Amalek can only be defeated God’s Way. We cannot tear our own soul out and as God says to Jeremiah the Prophet:
‘Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.’ (Jer 13:23)
When Israel repented and asked to have the snakes taken away, God doesn’t do that. Instead, He tells Moses to make a bronze serpent on a pole that reflects the very snakes themselves. The snakes cannot be taken out of Israel, for they picture punishment for pride and rebellion.
When we are bitten because of pride and rebellion, if we look at Yeshua crucified, dead to self, we will be healed. We must look with expectation that we will be healed. We who believe are also crucified with Yeshua (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20; 5:24). For sin and condemnation have absolutely no power over someone who is dead. If someone said to a corpse, ‘Why you lazy, no good for nothing! You’ll never amount to anything!’ It wouldn’t effect the corpse in any way. Those words of condemnation have no power over someone that’s dead. As we see ourselves crucified with Messiah, sin and condemnation lose their power to curse us.
It took Joshua all day (‘until the sun set’ Ex. 17:12-13), to overwhelm Amalek. Now why would it take God a full day to defeat Amalek? A day is a complete unit of time, and what the Lord is telling us is that He will cause Amalek, Man’s pride, to be totally removed, at the end of the Age, the complete unit of time (Ex. 17:14; Dan. 9:24).
In our personal battle with Amalek, it will take us the rest of our life to learn how to die to self; to learn how to fight pride and stubbornness God’s Way. And when we lose heart, we must realize that we can overcome our snake bite by lifting holy hands to God, and seeing ourself crucified with Messiah Yeshua:
‘Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.’ (Hebrews 12:12-13)
Weak or slack hands indicate that one has stopped praying; had stopped looking to God for help. The Rabbis saw many centuries ago that these two passages of Scripture, Moses’ hands raised and the Bronze Serpent, were tied together by heartfelt prayer to God. The Talmud records:
‘It is written, ‘and it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand that Israel prevailed, etc.’ Now did the hands of Moses wage war or crush the enemy? Not so! Only the text signifies that so long as Israel turned their thoughts above and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven they prevailed, but otherwise they fell. The same lesson may be taught thus: It is written, ‘make a Fiery Serpent and set it up on a pole, and it shall come to pass that everyone that is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ Now did the Serpent kill or did the Serpent keep alive? No! What it indicates is that when Israel turned their thoughts above and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were healed, but otherwise they pined away.’v
The key to new life in God is subjecting our heart to our Father in Heaven. He spoke about Messiah Yeshua: ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!’ In the Serpent, when Israel listened to God and looked at the Serpent they were healed. Messiah Yeshua said, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me (Luke 9:23). The word for "cross" is (stauros)and means, "an upright stake or pole" (as Vine, Perschbacher and others note). It’s the "same" pole that held the Bronze Serpent aloft, picturing Messiah crucified.
Only Messiah Yeshua can Amalek be defeated. This is God’s Way to give His People Israel, both Jew and Gentile, a new nature (Ezk. 36:24-27). One that is like His. There is nothing that one can do to destroy pride within because pride and rebellion are interwoven into our very being. And there is nothing inherent within us that can cause us to have a new nature. But God has sent His Anointed One, Messiah Yeshua, and many of us Jews refuse Messiah as we did Moses! Won’t we ever learn to trust Yahveh? Psalm 24:3-4 states:
‘Who has the right to climb the Mountain of Yahveh? Who has the right to ascend into His Holy Presence? He whose hands are clean, whose heart is pure. Whose soul does not pay homage to worthless idols and who never swears to a lie.’
There has never been anyone on Earth that could ever have that right, except Yeshua the Messiah. For all firstborns, all the best of Man, have fallen far short of what God requires: someone like Him. But now, in Messiah Yeshua, God has given us that right:
‘But as many as received Him (Yeshua), to them He gave the right to become the Sons of God, to those who believe in His Name’ (John 1:12).
It’s not a mechanical belief. It’s a heart-felt, love for Messiah. For this person will truly walk with Messiah and give his life to Him who died for us. It’s a belief in Messiah Yeshua like Moses, Joshua and King David had for God. An all consuming belief.
Yeshua is the only One who is able to defeat Amalek within and without. Yeshua is standing beside you now. My prayer is that you ask Him to be your Messiah. Tell Him you were wrong about Him and that you know you have sinned against Him. He desires to forgive you and to make you stand, in the midst of the battle. Follow Him to the Tree, it’s God’s Way to Life. After all, you don’t want to be shark bait, do you?
i 1st Tim. 2:8: ‘I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.’
ii Benjamin Davidson, The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 553.
iii C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary On The Old Testament, vol. 1: The Pentateuch (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001; originally published by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1866-91), p. 372. ‘The lifting up of the hands has been regarded almost with unvarying unanimity by Targumists, Rabbins’, ‘and nearly all the more modern commentators, as the sign or attitude of prayer.’
iv Gold pictures deity when seen with God. The gold Ark of the Covenant, the visible Presence of Yahveh, resided above it (Ex. 25:17-22). Silver pictures redemption. Yahveh commands Israel to bring the silver half shekel from the Sons of Israel that they might be redeemed. The shekels would be made into 100 silver sockets that would literally hold the Tabernacle together (Ex. 30:11-16; 36:24-36; 38:25-26).
v Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein, Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud: Rosh HaShanah (London: The Soncino Press, 1983), p. 29a.
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