Reference: Serpent, Brazen
Nu 21:4-9; Joh 3:14-15. The apocryphal Wisdom (Wis 16:5-12) says "they were troubled for a small season that they might be admonished having a sign of salvation ... for he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by Thee that art the Saviour of all." The brazen serpent typified the Son of man, in that
(1) the brazen serpent had the form without the venom of the deadly serpent; just as Jesus was "in the likeness of sinful flesh" yet "without sin" (Ro 8:3), "made sin for us" though He "knew no sin" (2Co 5:21); the brazen serpent seemed the most unlikely means of curing the serpents' bites; so the condemned One seemed most unlikely to save the condemned.
(2) The brazen serpent lifted up on the pole so as to be visible with its bright brass (which also is typical: Re 1:15) to the remotest Israelite answers to Jesus "evidently set forth before the eyes, crucified" (Ga 3:1), so that "all the ends of the earth" by "looking unto" Him may "be saved" (Isa 45:22), "lifted up from the earth," and so "drawing all men unto Him" (Joh 12:32-34).
(3) The cure of the body by looking naturally typifies the cure of the soul by looking spiritually; faith is the eye of the soul turned to the Saviour (Heb 12:2), a look from however far off saves (Heb 7:25; Eph 2:17; Ac 2:39); the bitten Israelite, however distant, by a look was healed. The serpent form, impaled as the trophy of the conqueror, implies evil, temporal and spiritual, overcome. Wisdom (of which the serpent is the symbol) obeying God is the source of healing; as wisdom severed from God envenoms and degrades man. Moses' serpent rod was the instrument of power overcoming the magicians' serpents (Ex 7:10-12). (See NEHUSHTAN on the worship of the relic; so the cross of Christ itself was perverted into an idol.)
Nu 21:4-9 relates that Moses was commanded by God to make a serpent of brass (or rather, of bronze) and to set it upon a standard (RV), that those who had been bitten by the serpents might look on it and be healed. This was in harmony with a wide-spread belief that the image of a hurtful thing drives the evil away. In the absence of a direct statement we cannot say whether it was Jahweh who was worshipped under the form of the bronze serpent of 2Ki 18:4
SERPENT, BRAZEN. This was a figure of a serpent, called above the seraph, which Moses caused to be put on the top of a pole, Nu 21:9, that all those bitten by the serpent, who should look upon this image, might be healed. Our Saviour, in the Gospel of St. Joh 3:14, declares, that "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up," alluding to his own death, which, through faith, was to give life to the world. The brazen serpent was preserved among the Israelites down to the time of Hezekiah; who, being informed that the people paid a superstitious worship to it, had it broken in pieces, and by way of contempt gave it the name of Nehushtan, that is to say, a brazen bauble or trifle, 2Ki 18:4. See TYPE.