Why the Fiery Serpents?
“Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many we have spoken against the Lord and against you.” Numbers 21:6
The Israelites have endured many hardships at this point in the story; however, the protagonist is once again asserting his power and proving his mercy. The Israelites were talking against the prophet Moses and God, and have been for some time. Not long before this incident, Moses and the prophet Aaron had been instructed after the Israelites were complaining of insufficient water, to speak to a rock and God would provide for his people. After the constant complaining of the Israelite people Moses became angry and struck the rock instead of speaking to it, and he ultimately will pay the price for his sin by the end of the journey. The next encounter of the Israelites speaking against Moses and God would not turn out so well for them, being that God sent fiery serpents among them and the serpents bit the Israelites so that they would die for what they had done. Continually, we see that God continues to punish his “children” when they do something against him, but just like any other loving and caring parent he is there to save them after the Israelites realized their sin.
“We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. So Moses prayed for the people.” Numbers 21:7
After Moses kept his word and prayed for the people, he was told to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who was bitten that saw it would be healed. The snakes were clearly sent for punishment by God and many scholars believe it to be that way as well, but they also agree that God is a forgiving God and that he will continue to provide his wrath to his people along with his mercy. God has never provided in any of the stories a punishment without an answer or an exit/healing. This story sounds at first very dramatic and unfair to the people of Israel, but it is just a miniature sample of the greater story, being that God/Protagonist will continue to show his wrath, mercy and love. Amongst my research I found a very fiery debate online on the scientific explanation of possible ways that the snake bites were not truly as they were described or that the antivenin (the bronze serpent on the rod) was effective simply because the snakes were non-poisonous. Many skeptics believe that because of the pre-scientific age of which the Old Testament was written that in fact the information became skewed or stretched. Also it is not mentioned in the scripture how many of the Israelites were bitten by the serpents, or more importantly how many viewed the anti-venom/the bronze serpent on a rod. It may be that the protagonist believed that this information is irrelevant, or that he simply wanted to assert his power and forgiveness once again. This debate and information can be found at http://ed5015.tripod.com/BFierySerpents98.htm.