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Jonathan Bernis - The Surprising Significance of The Serpent


Jonathan Bernis - The Surprising Significance of The Serpent

Jonathan Bernis: Shalom and welcome to Jewish Voice. We are so glad you've tuned in today. I'm Jonathan Bernis, and I am joined today by my co-host, Ezra Benjamin. Did you know that the Israelites who wandered in the desert for 40 years were supernaturally sustained by God? Even though they rebelled and they suffered the consequences, God still brought healing through a strange act, a serpent held up on a pole. This is a picture of Jesus being raised up for your healing today. Ezra, I love this. This is a foreshadowing.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: Of the Messiah, who says, "By my wounds, you are healed".

Ezra Benjamin: Isaiah 53.

Jonathan Bernis: I love that.

Ezra Benjamin: It's such a deep teaching. Jonathan, we should jump right in numbers 21. So, the context here is that the children of Israel are wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. They're rebelling. As my grandma would say, they're kvetching, they're complaining about everything. They're being swallowed up into the earth. They're dying in droves through fiery serpent bites, but then they come to this place of repentance.

Jonathan Bernis: They do. Isn't it strange though, when you think about the miracles they witnessed? They saw the ten plagues. They saw God spare their firstborn and the firstborn of the Egyptians taken by the angel of death. They saw the Nile turned into blood.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: They saw the parting of the Red Sea. They were fed manna and pheasant in the wilderness. Their shoes, we're told, never wore out. And yet, the still rebelled against God.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: And you think, how strange, until you realize that human nature is the same today!

Ezra Benjamin: We have a tendency to forget. I think that's why we have to rehearse. You know, in Jewish homes we're rehearsing every year the story of the Passover, and God commands us to remember it. Why? Because we tend to forget.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, and I think as followers of Jesus we tend to maybe not forget, but we put it aside, and this is human nature. Human nature - we have a complaining nature. We have a rebellious nature, and Paul struggled with it. He said, "How do I solve this? The dilemma is my flesh doesn't do what it should do, and I do what I'm not supposed to. What's the solution"? And the solution, of course, is Yeshua. It's Jesus.

Ezra Benjamin: Right, Messiah in me. The hope of the glory.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, so let's jump into this. We'll start in numbers 21:5. "The people spoke against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us from Egypt to die in the wilderness? Because there is no bread, no water, and our very spirits detest the despicable food". So, Adonai," verse 6, "God sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and many of the people of Israel died". Now, that's the consequence of sin. "The wage of sin is death". That's true today, too. That's a biblical principle. And complaining, I call complaining kind of a believer's sin. It's a Christian sin, Ezra. We don't think of complaining as sinning, but it is. It's one of the... Actually, God detests complaining, and we all do it. We complain. We focus on the problem. We complain, "Where is God"? And God says that the solution is not to focus on the problem, but on the solution.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: Right?

Ezra Benjamin: With thankfulness.

Jonathan Bernis: Yet on him. So, the people repent. They did the right thing in verse 7. "The people came to Moses and said, 'we sinned when we spoke against the Lord and you. Pray to Adonai for us that he may take away the snakes'". So Moses, a great intercessor, prays for the people, and here's what the Lord says to do. "As Adonai said to Moses, 'make yourself a fiery snake and put it on a pole: whenever anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will live". And so, Moses," verse 9, "Made a bronze snake and put it on a pole, and it happened that whenever anyone bit by a snake looked at the bronze snake, he," or she, "Lived".

Ezra Benjamin: Right. And Jonathan, we see this image. I mean, I think it's the most popular image in the world for medical care, right? Hospitals, ambulances have this pole with a snake around it. We see it so often we don't think of it, but it's from numbers 21.

Jonathan Bernis: It's from here. Now, there are some interesting things I want to point out. I think, at least for me when I read this, I thought, "This is strange. Why would God choose the image of a serpent to bring healing"? Because it's contrary, it seems, to Exodus 20:4, "No graven images". And you see in very strictly observant Jewish homes no pictures of individuals or wildlife, no statues, because of this command, "Have no graven image of anything that is in heaven, or on the earth, or beneath it, or in the water". So, they're very strict. That's literal, and you have a snake being chosen here by God himself. And then, Genesis 3:15, it's the serpent that beguiles Adam and Eve. It's the serpent, which is Satan, that causes the fall of man. And so, we think of the imagery of a serpent as evil, as demonic, and yet God chooses this very symbol to heal the people. And I think there's a number of reasons for this, Ezra, the first being that God is sovereign, and here's a very simple definition for sovereignty if you wonder what sovereignty is. God can do whatever he wants, any way he wants, and he doesn't have to ask anyone permission. God can do whatever he wants. He doesn't have to get permission from me. He is the Creator of all things, and if he determines that a snake is now going to be a symbol of healing, he's sovereign.

Ezra Benjamin: Right. That makes sense, but I think our audience may be asking the question, why? Why this particular image put up on a pole in this particular way?

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, but let me just say something else, also. God's holy, which means that God is set apart. The world's divided. Here's how simple it is. Everything's divided into two categories - the Creator and everything else. And then, sanctification is where God determines that something is going to be pulled over to his side. The created becomes set apart by the Creator. That's what it means that we're sanctified. We're pulled over to God's side and we're set apart. Idolatry is worshipping created things rather than the Creator.

Ezra Benjamin: So, God's taking this image. He's telling Moses to create this snake, which we think of as an accursed thing, but he's setting it apart, as you said, unto holiness, unto God's purposes. But Jonathan, why a serpent? Why a serpent versus anything else?

Jonathan Bernis: Well, I'm only going to give you what I see. I think that this is a foreshadowing of God's redemption of mankind over the fall. So, the snake is Satan, but the promise is that the head of the serpent will be crushed.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: So, in the end we know God wins, right? So, the very thing that has beguiled man, that has separated man from God, is now going to be redeemed - not the serpent itself, but God is declaring that the serpent will ultimately be defeated, and there'll be victory, there'll be redemption. And so, this lifting up of the snake, I think, is a foreshadowing of the redemption over the fall. So, the day will come where there's no more stigma on the serpent because death has been defeated, and God has declared that this will happen through the seed of the woman.

Ezra Benjamin: So, the children of Israel are to look at this thing which is accursed, or has been cursed by God, and somehow in seeing that the serpent has been cursed, the enemy's been cursed, we're free from the curse.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah. All of that will pass away. God, in the end, declares that every enemy will be defeated, and the day will come when there's a New Heavens and a new earth, but we're also a new creation in Messiah. So, the redemption has taken place in our heart, but it's not completed yet. Our bodies die. But, God's foreshadowing has declared he will redeem mankind. There will be life from the dead, and I think that that serpent represents life from the dead. It also, Ezra, is a foreshadowing of Messiah being lifted up. This is actually referenced in the new covenant, that just as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness and brought healing to the people, the Son of Man, the Messiah, is going to be lifted up unto death and bring victory, bring healing...

Ezra Benjamin: Those are the words of Jesus himself in the New Testament. He's saying, as you said, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. So, Jesus is comparing his own being lifted up - we know he's about to go to the cross - to the same thing that's happening here in numbers 21. What's the connection?

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah. So again, I think that this is a foreshadowing of victory, that the snake has represented the fall of man, but God's ultimate declaration is that he will restore all things to the time before the fall - all things. That's what life from the dead is, and I'm referencing, by the way, and I want to put it up, Romans 11:15, that the restoration of the Jewish people back to God will bring, "Life from the dead". What's Paul talking about? He's talking about the redemption of mankind to a state before the fall, and I think that the snake bringing healing represents God's complete plan of redemption for mankind.

Ezra Benjamin: Wow. It's incredible.

Jonathan Bernis: It's incredible. So much symbolism, but then directly it's a foreshadowing of the Messiah.

Ezra Benjamin: Right, the one who would be cursed for us so that we could be set free.

Jonathan Bernis: And by the way, it's not just lifting up to set us free, "By his wounds, you are healed".

Ezra Benjamin: Amen.

Jonathan Bernis: Hey, we've got to take a short break as our announcer comes to tell us about some of the special resources that we want to sow into your life this week. Ezra and I will be back with much more as we continue our discussion about God's faithfulness and protection over our lives. Don't go away.

Jonathan Bernis: Welcome back to the program. Before we get into the teaching again, I just want to take a moment to say thank you to all of you who are supporting this ministry. We literally could not do this work without you.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: Your support makes all the difference in saving Jewish lives in these communities that are enduring very difficult conditions. So, thank you from all of us for what you do to send this ministry to help Jewish people and their neighbors in need. All right, Ezra, this is such a great text!

Ezra Benjamin: It's a great text. It's deep.

Jonathan Bernis: It is deep.

Ezra Benjamin: Jonathan, I'm still trying to understand the connection of the serpent to the healing of the children of Israel, but while I've been thinking about it a few minutes, I'm remembering Yeshua, Jesus, said, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up". So, Jesus is comparing his own imminent death on the cross, his own being lifted up, to what's happening in numbers 21. Can you unpack that for us?

Jonathan Bernis: I can. This is a foreshadow of the atonement of Jesus, and it's very clear. It's not something we're just guessing at. Jesus very clearly makes the statement. He references this story in the book of John, chapter 3, in verse 14 and 15. So, look at this. It says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life". This is the foreshadowing of that divine provision, of that atonement. And by the way, Ezra, the people are in the same situation that Yeshua's talking to. "The wage of sin is death". These people have been bitten by the serpent. They're literally on their death bed. And it's looking at the serpent that brings them healing.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: "Those that sat in darkness have seen a great light". That's actually a prophecy about the gentiles recognizing the Jewish Messiah. But, "The wage of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life". How? By looking upon the Son of Man, who was raised up. "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me". It's a beautiful picture of the atonement.

Ezra Benjamin: It's incredible, so important for us as believers.

Jonathan Bernis: So, why a serpent, though? Just, I want to bring this home, 'cause I really believe, and this is deep. This really is. This is God declaring victory over the fall of man. So, the serpent represents Satan. The serpent represents man's separation from God. The serpent represents evil, but God is committed to redeeming mankind from or out of all of that, and restoring us, if you will, back into the Garden of Eden in a spiritual sense. You know, the ultra-orthodox refer to "Gan eden". It's the world to come. It's the paradise to come. It's the Garden of Eden.

Ezra Benjamin: Gan eden.

Jonathan Bernis: Gan eden, the Garden of Eden, and that's what Paul declares in Romans 11:11-15, when he says that the rejection of the Jewish people, of their Messiah, brought you, the gentile, salvation. But then he asks, "What's going to happen when they come back"? Romans 11:15. "It will bring life from the dead". Life from the dead. What is life from the dead? It's the restoration of man back to the pre-Adamic state of complete harmony with God before the fall. And that serpent raised up in the wilderness that now is a symbol of healing, a symbol of redemption, is God's declaration Satan will be crushed and the serpent will no longer be a symbol of evil, because I will restore all things to the time before the fall. Ooh, I'm feeling it!

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah, that's awesome.

Jonathan Bernis: I love this. I love this. I hope you get this into your spirit. This is amazing. Yes, we're redeemed from the curse of the law. Yes, we've been born again. Yes, we've been redeemed in our hearts, in our spirit, but the redemptive plan of God is not complete yet until the destruction of Satan, until Genesis 3:15 is fulfilled, and that requires the Messiah to return.

Ezra Benjamin: Amen. Amen. And I'm still thinking, Jonathan, it took that serpent being lifted up and it took Yeshua, Jesus, becoming sin for us. "He who knew no sin became sin for us". Just like that serpent on the pole, Jesus is accursed on the cross.

Jonathan Bernis: I actually have a complete teaching on this, which you can get from our website. But, this is such a deep teaching, that the symbol of the serpent that God ordains has so much meaning. It talks about his holiness. It talks about his sanctification. It talks about his plan of redemption. Now, ultimately, this thing starts being worshipped later on. There's a reference to it in the Book of Kings where Hezekiah has to break it into pieces because they're burning incense to it.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah, and that's important for us as believers to remember. Whenever we take the thing that's supposed to point us to God and we end up worshipping the thing, the thing's got to go.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, so, holy, God being holy, means that he's set apart from everything else. He's in his own category. Idolatry is worshipping anything created rather than the Creator. So, the serpent in the wilderness is a vehicle for healing, but when it's worshipped, then it falls into the Exodus 20, "No graven image," because it's speaking against idolatry. "You will have no Gods before you. I alone am God".

Ezra Benjamin: That's absolutely right.

Jonathan Bernis: And it's sad, but this is the propensity of man. Here's what I want you to get into your hearts. Anything that you pay more attention to than God can become an idol.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: Anything. It's not just bowing down to an idol.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: It can be a car.

Ezra Benjamin: Right, this was a good thing. As you said, it was a holy thing, a God ordained thing. Maybe something we meant in our lives to point us to God, but it's not anymore. It's the thing we're focused on instead of him. It's got to go.

Jonathan Bernis: Get your eyes off the thing and on to God.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right. This idea of a Messianic figure, a Messiah being cursed and bearing our sins and diseases so that we can be healed, it's not just a New Testament idea. I'm thinking, Jonathan, of Isaiah 53, which by the way, for those who may not know, is forbidden almost to read in Jewish synagogues around the world.

Jonathan Bernis: You know why? Because it so clearly... It's so easy to see Jesus in it. You know, the Old Testament, one scholar said, is the New Testament concealed. And it's really true. There's over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament, written, of course, hundreds of years before Jesus is ever born, that in detail lay out the credentials of the Messiah. They tell us where he would be born, Micah 5:2 - Bethlehem. "Though you be insignificant, a tiny village, out of you will come forth the one whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting". It's the prophets of the Old Testament that tell us that the Messiah had to die, but not for himself, before the destruction of the temple.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly. The prophet Daniel saw that.

Jonathan Bernis: Daniel, 70 ad, right.

Ezra Benjamin: That actually the Messiah would be cut off before the second temple was destroyed.

Jonathan Bernis: Exactly.

Ezra Benjamin: It's right in the Word of God.

Jonathan Bernis: It's the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 31, that tells us the day is coming when God will make a new covenant, and that new covenant will completely take away our sins. Now, the mosaic covenant doesn't even have that provision. It doesn't exist. There is no personal salvation outside of the Messiah in the scriptures. Jewish people can't have their own way to God outside the Messiah, 'cause there's no provision.

Ezra Benjamin: Right, there's the whole sacrificial system, but then it says a couple times in the Torah, "But for the one who sins willfully, there is no sacrifice".

Jonathan Bernis: "There is no sacrifice".

Ezra Benjamin: "Except for one".

Jonathan Bernis: Except for one. And then, of course, Isaiah 53 has so much in it. First of all, "He's despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, and we hid our faces from him". That's a prophecy of the Messiah being rejected.

Ezra Benjamin: That's absolutely right.

Jonathan Bernis: So, right up front in the prophet Isaiah, we're told that the Jewish people will not recognize Messiah, not in the beginning.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: Many did, but as a whole, the people of Israel rejected the Messiah. That's Isaiah 53.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: And then we're told that he would be led as a lamb to the slaughter. What does it mean that Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world? No context for it until we have Isaiah 53, that he's a lamb led to the slaughter.

Ezra Benjamin: He was born to die.

Jonathan Bernis: Right, but it's referring back to Exodus 12, the Passover. He's the Passover lamb that provides the covering of the doorposts, that God, who watches over the house of Israel, is about the door covered with the blood of the lamb. That's Isaiah 53. And, "God lays upon him the inequity of us all," Isaiah 53. "Buried in the tomb of a rich man, between two thieves," Isaiah 53. And, "He sees his offspring. His days are prolonged". That's a prophecy of the resurrection, all in Isaiah 53, and I think it directly connects to the lifting up of the serpent.

Ezra Benjamin: It definitely does.

Jonathan Bernis: Messiah is lifted up, and it's a foreshadowing of the Messiah that would come. It's a foreshadowing of the new covenant in the old, and this happens again and again and again. We see it in the Jewish feasts, or the feasts of the Lord. We see it in the traditions of Israel. We see it in the prophecies again and again and again. It's all there. Hey, we have to take a short break so our announcer can share some information about the resources that we're making available this week. Please consider supporting Jewish Voice. Here's how.
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