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That the circumstance of the Israelites being cured by means of the serpent was a great miracle, all are agreed in thinking, and also that it may be used to illustrate the spiritual cure which is effected by the death of Christ; but a comparison of one with the other is all that those who deny its symbolical design are able to trace in the words of our Lord when he declared, that " as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."*
What, then, it may be justly asked, are the considerations which we hold to justify the conclusion that it was typical in its design? They are the following:
1. The serpent which Moses lifted up was many years afterwards made the subject of idolatrous worship;p and not only may it be presumed from this that the people of Israel understood that there was something mysterious and miraculous contained in what Moses did, but it is a question whether the Almighty, who knew their propensity, would have commanded a creature to be made and preserved which he was aware would expose them to such a liability, if there had not been some end answered by it which was an equivalent to the danger. The Jews worshipped other things, it is true, as the calf in Horeb, but then these were not made by Divine command; or if any of them were so, they probably possessed the same typical allusion; besides which, the lifting up of the brazen serpent was a circumstance of a more arbitrary * John iii. 14.
+ 2 Kings xviii. 4.
character than many others that were typically designed.
2. It seems some of the Jews themselves considered that the serpent had a typical meaning; and several of the fathers were of the same opinion. Justin Martyr, writing against Trypho, says that he had met with a Jew who declared that he had never heard from any of their doctors a reason for it, nor were any of the Jews able to understand it until they came to Christ.*
3. The objection against the serpent as a type of Christ derived from its being generally spoken of in the Scriptures, when the designation is accompanied with evil epithets, does not possess the weight which is thought to belong to it. The principal reason why some writers have hesitated to allow that to make it a type was the Divine intention, is the well known venomous nature of that creature, and the use that was made of it by Satan. It was in the serpent that the great enemy beguiled Eve. “ That old serpent, called the devil,” is an appellation given to the great foe of mankind; † and many are the properties of the serpent which it would be exceedingly wrong to apply to our Lord. It is well known, however, that the serpent tribe contains a great variety of species, and has been divided into those which are harmless, and others that are malignant; and in some countries the latter are worshipped, and thought to be entitled to equal privileges with the former. Now it is not known to what species the creature that tempted Eve belonged, nor the exact character it assumed, * See Bishop Patrick on Numb. xxi. 9. + Rev. xii. 9.
though of its venomous nature few have doubted. Since, however, those which were hurtful had some properties about them which were good, why may it not be supposed that those good properties were considered by Moses when he elevated the serpent upon the pole for a sanitary purpose ?*
4. Not only will the objection which Doddridge raises against the serpent, as a type of Christ, apply to some extent to other things which are allowed to be so, as well as to some to which Christ is compared, although they were the sources of evil to us; but this whole objection is founded upon a misunderstanding of the extent to which the type was meant to be applied. It was not the creature itself which Moses made, much less the material of which it was formed, that typified the Saviour, as several writers on the types would lead us to suppose; but it was the cure which it effected, and the manner in which that cure was to be obtained. The serpent was lifted up for the restoration of the people. These considerations are admitted to be more of a negative than a positive character; but still it is presumed they are not only sufficient to show the defective nature of the objections brought forward, but go far also, if they be not conclusive, in establishing the propriety of considering the cure of the Israelites as designed to foreshow the salvation of the world by the lifting up of Christ upon the cross.
Every particular connected with the nature of the serpent, and the circumstance of its
* See Taylor's Calmet, Art. Serpent.
being used by Moses, has been made by typographers to yield them matter for comment and illustration. The material of which it was formed being strong, yet, as it is said, of a mean appearance, has been thought to represent him who was strong and mighty, but low in his outward condition. The place where it was elevated being the wilderness, was also considered to set forth the wilderness of this world, in which Christ was lifted up, and its elevation by Moses regarded as designed to show how Christ owed his sufferings and death to the law. *
But without dwelling upon these and other absurdities which might be mentioned in abundance, as contained in the writings of the old typographers, there are four respects in which the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness for the cure of the Israelites will now be considered, as typical of the death of Christ for the salvation of the world :
I. In the absolute necessity that existed for this Divine interposition.
The necessity arose not from any obligation under which the Almighty was laid to heal his people of their wounds, for his character would have remained for ever unimpeachable, had the whole mass of them been left to perish, as the fruit of their murmurings and rebellion; but it was the consequence of the inadequacy of all other' means of restoration. Whether any of these were employed we are not informed. Judging from the powerful law of our nature, which prompts us to self-preservation, we may
* See Mather and M‘Ewen.
suppose that they were, and especially if the disease bore any resemblance to a like effect produced before upon themselves or others found in those parts in which they now resided ; but allowing them to have been possessed and employed, they must have failed, from the penal character of the visitation the people were under; and that they did fail, if employed, must be concluded from the direction given to Moses to have recourse to the means of cure which he introduced.
Thus the death of Christ for the salvation of a perishing world was an expedient, to devise and employ which God was under no obligation whatever; for had all the human race been consigned to everlasting perdition, he would have been justified when he spake, and clear when he judged.* Nor are we sure that the method of salvation by Christ is the only one he could have adopted, any more than he was obliged to have recourse to that method of cure among the Israelites which he commanded; for with God all things are possible: but this is certain, that if a salvation was to be effected at all, it must be by a method especially God's own. This we are bound to believe, not only on the authority of Divine revelation, but the conviction of the fact is the result of observation and experience. The race of man had been submitted to human teaching and the counsels of philosophy, from which much had been expected, but nothing really good obtained, until God interposed, and his own arm brought salvation. The cure
* Psa. li. 4.