Weekly Drash - Chukat
Compliments of First Fruits of Zion
Lifted on a Miracle
Chukat – חוקת : “Statute”
Thought for the Week:
Does the serpent [set on the standard] have the power to kill or to give life? No. But so long as the Israelites lifted their eyes upward and submitted to their Father in Heaven, they were healed. If they did not, they would waste away. (m.Rosh Hashanah 3:8)
And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:9)
When Yeshua says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14), He was hinting about the kind of death He was going to die, but there is a second meaning to these words as well. He was speaking not only of His death, but also of His ascension forty days after the resurrection.
God told Moses to “make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard.” (Numbers 21:8) A standard is a pole atop which an emblem is displayed. The Hebrew word translated as “standard” (nes, נס) is the same word often translated as “miracle.” Henceforth, one might translate the passage to read, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a miracle.” By reading nes as “miracle” instead of “standard,” the Sages of the Midrash explained that Moses set the serpent on a miracle by tossing it into the air where it stayed hovering above the ground so that all Israel could look upon it:
“And Moses made a bronze serpent and put it on the miracle (נס nes).” That means he cast it into the air and it stayed there. (Numbers Rabbah 19.23, quoting Numbers 21:9)
The literal Torah does not imply that the serpent actually levitated in the air. It is a fanciful reading, but this fanciful reading fits very well with the Master’s words in John 3. Yeshua was explaining to Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be “lifted up.” He had just told Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man” (John 3:13). Then He says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) In this context, the primary meaning of His words seems to point toward His ascension. It is the ascension of Yeshua—His return to His former station of glory with the Father—that holds the promise of salvation for everyone who believes.
When Yeshua ascended, He rose from the ground on the strength of a miracle. He was lifted up on a nes. Just as Moses supposedly tossed the serpent into the air and there it remained for all to look unto for salvation, so too the Son of Man has ascended and remains “lifted up” for the salvation of all who will look to Him.
Therefore, Yeshua refers to both the cross and His ascension when He says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) The lifting of the Son of Man upon the pole (nes) is the means by which the lifting of the Son of Man through the miracle (nes) of the ascension occurred.
Shavuah Tov! Have a Good Week!
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