A Branch, A Budding Branch, and a Bronze Serpent: Christ in the Book of Numbers

9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”

10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.[a] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but[b] have eternal life.

– John 3:9-15

45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

John 5:45-47

As the book of Genesis has three prominent types of Christ being wed to His bride (see here), the book of Numbers has three prominent types of Christ in relation to the cross. There are other types interspersed throughout the text, of course, but these three form a thematic unity that not only gives us a complete typological picture of the person of Christ, but also underscores the seamless textual unity of the book of Numbers.

Numbers 13

Typically (no pun intended) Moses is viewed as the leading type of Christ in this passage, for it is Moses who sends out the twelve to surrounding areas to spy it out and give a report on it, as Christ sent out the twelve to preach and heal, etc. However, there is another type embedded within that narrative that we almost always overlook. Let’s look at it 13:23-25:

23 Then they came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs. 24 The place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the men of Israel cut down there. 25 And they returned from spying out the land after forty days.

What is the context of this short passage? Well, to summarize it briefly, the twelve spies are sent to spy out the promised land. They  pluck a branch from the promised land, hang it upon a pole “between the two of them” and bring it back to the rest of Israel as a testimony of the truth of God’s promises, and of God’s covenantal faithfulness. Yet, Israel is not united in their opinion of the fruit, but divided into two opposing sides. On the one hand, there is a good testimony about the promised land; on the other hand, there is a bad report. vv. 26-33:

26 Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”
30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” 32 And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

This branch was taken from the promised land, hanged upon a pole between two men, and brought before all Israel as a testimony of the truth of God’s promises and His covenantal faithfulness, and yet all Israel was divided in two – some believed, some did not.

Do we see the picture yet?

Christ is that branch, He is the Branch of Righteousness, the King of Israel (see, Jeremiah 23:5-6), the “True Vine” (cf. John 15:1) who came down from the promised land through Israel to be hanged between two men. His death upon the cross was/is evidence of the truth of God’s Word/Promises and His covenantal faithfulness. Yet, the report given about Him was/is divided. As the firstfruits of the promised land hanged between those who believed and those who didn’t so did the Lord Jesus. We read:

“If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”
38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:[i]

THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

– Luke 23:36b-43

What is beautiful is that the Branch/King metaphor of Jeremiah 23:5-6 finds a correlation here in the Paradise/Kingdom statements of the repentant thief and the Lord Jesus, as it does in our passage from Numbers 13 where the branch and its fruit point to the Promised Land/Israel’s future Kingdom. Isn’t that amazing? I’m beginning to understand why the Lord said Moses testified about Him!

Numbers 17

Again, in Numbers 17 we have another type of Christ in the cut off Branch. However, whereas the former Branch type shows us the Lord in His coming to die, this Branch type shows us the Lord rising to new life to alone serve as the mediator between God and man. He is, as the hymn says, “the man of God’s own choosing.” To avoid posting the whole chapter, I’ll briefly describe the events and post a pertinent portion of text pertaining to our study.

In Numbers 16, a man named Korah attempts to rebel against Moses and Aaron. His claim is that all of Israel is holy and, therefore, should be allowed to serve in the Tabernacle before the Lord. Long story short, by a test given by Moses, he is found to be an illegitimate authority/priest. The people are disgruntled and complain against Moses, so the Lord tells Moses to gather the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel and Aaron. They are to have a staff/rod, with their names written into them, represent them before the Lord. The man whose staff/rod bears life on the next day, that man is the one whom God has chosen to be His representative/priest.

6 So Moses spoke to the children of Israel, and each of their leaders gave him a rod apiece, for each leader according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 7 And Moses placed the rods before the LORD in the tabernacle of witness.
8 Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds.

– Numbers 17:6-8

Let’s look closely at the details. Firstly, thirteen staffs/rods were placed before the Lord; twelve belonged to the twelve heads of Israel, one belonged to Aaron. Secondly, the staffs/rods were placed there, in a sense, by the law – Moses – to be judged as worthy or unworthy, chosen or not chosen to be God’s representative. Thirdly, the staff/rod, which was now cut-off and dead, was to bring forth life as proof of being chosen by God.

Seeing the picture?

Christ is the staff/rod of Aaron, cut off as all men are, placed before the Father by the Law, as all men are, and yet He lives! He brought forth life from death. And it is His resurrection – His bringing forth of life from death – that proves His role as God’s High Priest. We read in Acts 2:32-36:

32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.
34 “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:

‘ The LORD said to my Lord,
“ Sit at My right hand,
35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Amen :)

Numbers 21

The final type of the crucifixion is given in Numbers 21:4-9.

4 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “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.” 6 So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “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.
8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Again, we see a pole upon which something is hanged. In the case of Numbers 13, it is the cut-off Branch, the true Vine who is hanged; in this chapter, it is a serpent made of bronze by Moses. As with the other two types, Moses stands in the same relation to Israel – he serves the same function as the law. For he is both the source of God’s wrath against Israel, and the one who directs men to God’s salvation.

In Numbers 13, Moses (the law) sends men out to spy out the promised land, to taste and see that the Lord is good – but they would not. Instead of trusting in God, they decide to work their way into the promised land by their own efforts (see, Numbers 14:39-45 which clearly shows that what is at stake here is faith in God’s ability to give them the promised land (as expressed by Caleb) and lack of faith as evidence in the religious works of the rebelious Israelites). In Numbers 17, Moses (the law) places all men before God and gives them the proof they are to look for in order to verify who among all of Israel is chosen by God, but only one man is chosen – Aaron, the priest – while the others remain, in a symbolic sense, impotent, dead. Finally, in Numbers 21, Moses (the law) brings judgment upon men when they speak against him, but he also shows how God’s salvation came forth and how one can be saved.

Again,

Amen.

Central to the Types

There are three types, but only one is set up as a remembrance to Israel: the type of the resurrection (i.e. Aaron’s budding rod) which is directly in the center of God’s typological portrait. Hence, we read in Numbers 17:10:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Bring Aaron’s rod back before the Testimony, to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put their complaints away from Me, lest they die.”

We look to the Branch of Righteousness as the firstfruits of what God has promised, as we look to Him for salvation, but we remember His supremacy, authority, and unique and sole position as Mediator and Priest in His resurrection.

For those who rebel against God religiously (as those who refused to enter the promised land did), as well as for those who curse against God’s Word (as those who were bitten by serpents did), and for all men – the cross is what God is pointing you to.

Be blessed.

-h.

4 thoughts on “A Branch, A Budding Branch, and a Bronze Serpent: Christ in the Book of Numbers

  1. David says:

    This is a very good analysis of how Christ is seen in the book of numbers I was blown away I have read the book several times but had never made the connection that you brought accross..

    Thank you!
    Be blessed

    Like

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