In the scroll of Numbers, the Israelites are wandering through the wilderness. They have grumbled and complained about Moses and God about how terrible their life is and how good it was back in Egypt when they were slaves. In this scroll, we may get caught up in the story of Israel, but there is a bigger story going on here, the story of Jesus.
In the book of Numbers, there is a great deal of testing that goes on. In Numbers 16 and 20 there are 2 tests that the Israelites fail. The rebellion of the priests happens in Numbers 16 and even Moses himself fails a test in Numbers 20. These two tests happen in the wilderness, a place that is desolate and challenging. Jesus also is tested in the wilderness by Satan himself. Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Just like the Israelites, Jesus is tested in the wilderness, only he passes the test.
Also in the book of Numbers is the incident of the Bronze snake in chapter 21. Snakes were sent among the people and those who were bitten died. So a bronze snake is set before the people to heal them. The command is to look upon the snake and they will be healed and that is exactly what happens. Anyone who looks upon the snake is healed. This may sound like a strange story but it points to something greater.
Jesus himself mentions this scene in John 3:14-15. Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”. Just as Moses lifted up a snake so Jesus was lifted up on the cross. Likewise just as people were healed when they looked at the snake, so people who believe in Jesus are given eternal life. It is a direct link to Jesus. Even in the wilderness when all seems lost, there is a hope shining bright. The hope of a resurrected Jesus who saves all who look and believe upon him.
There are many hints at the garden of Eden or temple imagery in the book of Numbers and they all point to Jesus. Jesus, who makes all things new, will one day come back and restore the good in this world to all who believe. This is the hope of today and it was the hope in the wilderness for the book of Numbers.