In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the wilderness, as the Hebrews made their way from Egypt to Canaan, the people grumbled against God and Moses. They had grown discouraged in their trek, for they had already spent a long time in the wilderness, away from what they, at that point, thought was a life of comfort, making bricks without straw, working in unbearable conditions, and beaten or killed for their inability to work and meet their quotas. But, compared to where they were in their exodus, they did have some comforts, like better and tastier foods, and at least, again, as they perceived it, had a chance to live. On top of that, they lived in the best part of Egypt, not the barren wilderness they were in. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” (Number 21:5)
There were God’s people, rescued from slavery, being brought into their own land, incapable of trusting in Him who saved them. And to top it all off, they called the bread that He sent them worthless! What’s an almighty and just God to do? Well, point out their sin to them, of course. So, He sent fiery serpents—seraphim, it says in the Hebrew, a word for fiery or venomous ones—into the camp; they bit the people, and many of them died. (cf. Number 21:6)
The people realized the error of their ways. They approached Moses and confessed their sin to him. They asked him for a way to make the death by serpents stop. “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.” (Numbers 21:7) This is the work of the Law: it reveals the wrath of God to you; it kills you—when you sin against God, it declares to you that the just punishment for your sin is death. The fiery serpents were the proclamation of God’s wrath against the sin of the Hebrew children in the wilderness.