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.” (Numbers 21:7–9, NKJV)
This event in Israel’s history aptly illustrates salvation from sin and death (Rom. 6:23). They grumbled against God and Moses, which brought death into the camp. They confessed their sin and were told if a serpent bit them to look at the bronze serpent Moses made, and they would live. Their salvation from death becomes a figure of the Son of Man being lifted up on the cross to save humanity from sin (John 3:14-17). Israelites received God’s mercy and lived when they trusted and obeyed God’s command to look at the bronze serpent. Even so, sinners “look” at Jesus in faith by repenting and being baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37-38, 41). By doing so, the sinner receives God’s redemptive mercy and is saved. Israel did not earn their deliverance from the deadly serpents; they trusted God and obeyed Him. The same is true for every sinner Christ saves (Heb. 5:9).
3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 4 So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” 5 But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. (Acts 28:3–6, NKJV)
The islanders showed them unusual kindness when Paul and the other 275 souls were shipwrecked on Malta (Acts 27:37; 28:1-2). How they reacted to Paul’s snake bite reminds us how important it is not to jump to conclusions before being adequately informed. Things are not always as they seem. They drew the false conclusion that Paul was evil and divine justice had overtaken him. In truth, bad things happen to good people, and to judge a person blameworthy because of a present trouble is very wrong (cf. Job; Jno. 9:1-3). When Paul did not die they concluded he was a deity. They swung the pendulum too far the other way. Jesus had promised such signs to confirm the gospel when it was preached, and it happened on this occasion (Mk. 16:15-20). When we yield to the temptation to make rash judgments we expose our own folly and shame (Prov. 18:13). Rendering righteous judgments that are guided by truth must be our constant endeavor (Jno. 7:24).