Numbers 21:4-9

The Bronze Serpent

4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people[a] became impatient because of the journey.
5 The people spoke against God and Moses: "Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!"
6 Then the Lord sent poisonous[b] snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.[c]
7 The people then came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that He will take the snakes away from us." And Moses interceded for the people.
8 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover."[d]
9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.

Numbers 21:4-9 Meaning and Commentary

INTRODUCTION TO NUMBERS 21

This chapter gives an account of the defeat of King Arad, the Canaanite, Nu 21:1-3 of the murmurings of the children of Israel, because of difficulties in travelling round, the land of Edom, for which they were punished with fiery serpents, Nu 21:4-6 and how that upon their repentance a brazen serpent was ordered to be made, and to be erected on a pole, that whoever looked to it might live, Nu 21:7-9 and of the several journeys and stations of the children of Israel, until they came to the land of the Amorites, Nu 21:10-20, when they sent a message to Sihon their king, to desire him to grant them a passage through his country; but he refusing, they fought with him, smote him, and possessed his land, concerning which many proverbial sayings were used, Nu 21:21-32 and the chapter is concluded with the defeat of Og, king of Bashan, Nu 21:33-35.

Numbers 21:4-9 In-Context

2 Then Israel made a vow to the Lord, "If You will deliver this people into our hands, we will completely destroy their cities."
3 The Lord listened to Israel's request, the Canaanites were defeated, and Israel completely destroyed them and their cities. So they named the place Hormah.
4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey.
5 The people spoke against God and Moses: "Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!"
6 Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.
7 The people then came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that He will take the snakes away from us." And Moses interceded for the people.
8 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover."
9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
10 The Israelites set out and camped at Oboth.
11 They set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim in the wilderness that borders Moab on the east.

Footnotes 4

  • [a]. Lit soul of the people
  • [b]. Lit burning; LXX reads deadly; Syr reads cruel; Vg reads fiery
  • [c]. 1 Co 10:9
  • [d]. 2 Kg 18:4; Jn 3:14-15
Holman Christian Standard Bible ® Copyright © 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999 by Holman Bible Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.