Summertime is snaketime in Australia. The reptiles become active—and dangerous!—as the weather warms up.
Mulga, tiger, dugite, taipan, death adder—these are some of our better known venomous snakes. And they are the sort of creatures no one, except the odd herpetologist, wants to encounter!
Yet many Australians do encounter them each spring and summer. Based on past statistics, of the tens of thousands of people who will catch sight of snakes this summer, 3,000 will be bitten, 500 will need to be treated with antivenin (antivenom), and several will die.
Already this year, in the lead up to summer, many people have had close encounters with snakes. People living in the outer suburbs of Adelaide, for example, have been dealing with a near-plague of snakes since early November. One newspaper reported:
Snakes are invading suburban backyards in record numbers.
Snake-catchers are collecting about 50 eastern brown and red-bellied black snakes a day.
As the warm weather sets in, residents are being warned not to approach the snakes and to keep an eye on children and pets.
Darlington man David Oxer has had eight snakes removed from his property in the past two weeks.
They included a 1.5m brown snake that nearly killed his [dog] …
Willunga resident Sandy Minke’s 12-year-old cat Bollard also had a lucky escape.
Mrs Minke found Bollard lying on the ground, covered in ants, after a snake bite …
Snake AAAAway Services owner Rolly Burrell said his team was catching about 25 snakes a day in the western, southern and hills suburbs.
He said that in his 35 years of catching snakes he had never had so many callouts.1
All this brings to mind an extraordinary account in the Bible (Numbers 21) about a mass snake attack on the people of Israel. On this occasion, it was not hot weather that brought the snakes out, but God himself.
Under the leadership of Moses, the people of Israel had been freed from slavery in Egypt and were travelling through the wilderness of Sinai. During their travels, the Israelites became resentful, and “they spoke against God and against Moses”. In response to their ingratitude and rebellion, “the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”
The snakes were the instrument of God’s judgment and the people had the sense to realise this. So they approached Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”
Moses petitioned the Lord on behalf of the people. In response the Lord instructed him to “make a snake and put it on a pole” and promised him that “anyone who is bitten can look at it and live”.
The Bible concludes the account with these words: “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
Some two thousand years later, the Lord Jesus referred to this astonishing event to illustrate how he would save us from the fatal effects of the wrong things we have thought, said and done.
Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Jesus was speaking about the manner of his death when he refer-red to being “lifted up”. He knew that he was going to be nailed to a cross and raised up on it to die. He also knew that his death would serve a colossal, eternal purpose: for on the cross, he was going to make amends to God for our sins.
Through his crucifixion, Jesus became our bronze snake.
Just as the people of Israel were fatally poisoned by venom, we have been fatally poisoned by sin. Just as the bronze snake was lifted up on a pole, Jesus was lifted up on a cross. Just as the Israelites had to look to the bronze snake to be saved, we have to look to Jesus to be saved.
And the time to look and live is now.
No doubt, some of the Israelites who looked to the raised, replica snake were a long way away from it. They were on the outskirts of the camp when they were bitten and they had no time to get close to it to inspect it. Perhaps all they could see of it was a scratch on the skyline. Nonetheless, they trusted the promise of God and they met the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise depended. They looked at the bronze snake and the poison was neutralised in their veins.
In the same way, people today do not have to understand everything about Jesus before they can look to him for help. There are no theological exams that must be passed before a person can trust in him.
No one who has been bitten by a venomous snake postpones taking an anti-venin until he can research how the serum is made and marketed. A bitten man knows he is in mortal danger, and he knows the antivenin will overcome that danger, and so he is eager to receive it without delay.
Any person who understands that he is poisoned by sin and that Jesus died on the cross to neutralise that poison understands enough to look to Jesus and be saved.
Jesus will save anyone who simply and sincerely trusts in him. Those he saves then have the rest of their lives to get to know him by reading his Word, doing his will, speaking to him in prayer, and worshipping him with other Christians.
Summertime is snaketime in Australia, and that makes it a time of danger. But in Australia summertime is also Christmastime, and that makes it a time of deliverance. Indeed, this summertime is a good time to look to the Child worshipped by angels who became the Man crucified for sinners. Look to him by faith, trust in him, and he will draw out the poison of your sin and infuse you with his own everlasting life and goodness. For “as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man [was] lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
1.“Bollard the cat uses up one of his nine lives as snakes invade the Adelaide suburbs”, Amelia Broadstock and Lia Harris, AdelaideNow, 12 November 2012.