Numbers 21:4-9 Sunday School Lesson for Kids – Moses Lifts the Bronze Serpent

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This Moses and the Serpent Bible lesson is available in ESV and KJV, also from the Sunday School Store. Use the link above to download the complete teaching plan in NIV translation.

The Final Cure: Lifted Up to Save – Sunday School Lesson: Numbers 21

In this lesson, we consider how God rescues us and is with us. The snake bites and bronze serpent cure of Numbers 21 might seem a little odd, but the passage points to a greater savior. Just as looking at the snake on a pole helped the Israelites live, we look to Jesus on the cross for life. This message discusses various cures for things and how Jesus is ultimately our cure and answer for all that we need, most importantly rescue from sins! 

The story of the snake in the wilderness can be a strange one for young children to consider. However, it has a wonderful message reminding us of God’s mercy and faithfulness. While it’s hard to imagine the devastation of killer snake bite punishments, the “antidote” is a foreshadowing of Christ. The Israelites didn’t need to fear death when the bronze snake was near. We don’t need to fear death because we know Jesus is always close to us and promises to give us eternal life. He is the cure for sin and death, and will be with us always! 

Passage: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21 

Target Audience: Kindergarten-6th grade 

Materials Needed: Medicines or other ailment “cure” items; snake pictures or toys; construction paper or cardstock; markers or crayons; decorative supplies; Popsicle sticks; pipe cleaners; scissors; glue or tape; Bibles. 

Lesson Opening: This passage examines an intriguing story of snake bite survival to see how Jesus is the “cure” and final answer to all things. Start with an activity that uses these themes and gets kids thinking: 

  • Snake pole snack: serve students a themed snack of pretzel sticks and gummy worms. Students have the option of placing their “snake” (worm) on the “pole” (pretzel) as Moses did in the story.
  • Snake bite freeze tag: Have one student act as the “snake” and tag others. Another student will be “Moses”, and try to cure the tagged students with a special stick. Provide a time limit to see whether the “snake” or the “Moses” tag more people. Optional extra touch: periodically shout “Jesus” and have all tagged students go free for a while.
  • Snake Bite Freeze Dance: Have all students dance in ridiculous patterns, acting as though “dying” from snake bites. Hold up a stick or a toy snake as a signal, and at the held up signal, all dying dancers should freeze and hold still to be “saved.” To make the activity competitive, have students step aside as “out” if they move when they should be frozen. 
  • Snake, Rattle, and Roll: This game is somewhat like “red light/green light.” Have students line up on a common starting line, with the goal of reaching the other side of the room. If “snake” is called, students can walk with a “slithering” motion until the next command is called. If “rattle” is the command, students should freeze and make loud noises. With “roll”, students can literally roll on the ground or spin in circles to move towards the goal. 
  • What’s the Cure Relay: have students line up in teams on one end of a play area. On the other side, place various items that could be used to cure sickness or hurt. Provide kids one at a time with an ailment, and have them run to find the “cure” for that, bringing it back to the team. See who can complete the cures with accuracy and speed. 
  • Bible memorization: If students do not already know John 3:16 by heart, help them to memorize it by placing the words on heart-shaped papers, and having them put in the correct order. 

Share with students that today’s story is an odd description of an Old Testament punishment, but ultimately a reminder to us that Jesus saves us and cures sin and death.

Bible Lesson: Numbers 21:4-9 Moses and the Bronze Serpent

This lesson contains two passages, one from the Old Testament and one from the New, which reflects back on the first. If desired, parts can be acted out (especially with the serpents), or the passages can simply be read. Older students can read out loud, and teachers can read and discuss with younger ones. 

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 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 we loathe this worthless food.” -Numbers 21:4-5

If taken out of context, it will be helpful here to give students some background for this passage. God had called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. Although they had gotten out of Egypt, they were not able to enter the Promised Land right away, and had to wander in the wilderness. God provided manna to sustain them, but it wasn’t good enough. The people got tired of the wilderness and tired of the food, and they complained to both God and Moses. They were impatient and upset, and whined that they had been delivered only to die.  

Ask: What are things you’ve complained about? Why do you think it’s not a good idea to complain?  

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And 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. -Numbers 21:6-7

This is a strange and challenging part of the lesson. It’s hard to process God sending such a harsh punishment, but discipline is often a consequence of sin. The snakes did kill people, but also effectively communicated that they were doing wrong. The Israelites who had complained recognized that the serpents were there because of what they had said and done. They begged Moses to go to God on their behalf and explain their remorse, hoping that God would be merciful. Fortunately, Moses did, and of course God was merciful. 

Ask: What do you do when you make a mistake and need to ask for forgiveness? 

And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
-Numbers 21:8-9

God had a plan to save the people. He instructed Moses to create a snake and wrap it on a pole. The snake on a stick was the antidote. People who had been bitten could look on it and live. They had the cure! Death couldn’t frighten them anymore knowing that they could look at the bronze snake and be saved. But God had an even greater plan of salvation. He already knew that He would send someone to save not just a group of people, but the whole world… 

Ask: How are we saved from destruction and sin?   

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. -John 3:14-17 

Explain the slight shift in gears here. The next passage is from John chapter 3 and includes one of the most well-known verses of all of Scripture. But it helps to have the context. Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, who wanted to know more about salvation. Jesus was explaining to him who He was and what He came to do. He referenced the serpent in the wilderness to remind Nicodemus that the snake was ultimately pointing to Him. Jesus was sent in order to be lifted up, like the snake, and to give eternal life to all people. His death allows us all to live and be forgiven. Jesus explained the simple choice we have when it comes to life with Him. 

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” -John 3:18-21 

We can reject Christ and what He has to offer, if we want to. We can refuse the light and embrace darkness, but that would be rather foolish when we have the opportunity to have life and freedom. Jesus has come so that we could have life in and through Him. HE is the ultimate cure, not for a snake bite, but for sin and death. Jesus is the way to life now and for eternity!

Snake bites sound strange, but there is important foreshadowing in this story. In part, it shows us how much grace and mercy God has, that He made a way of escape for the grumbling Israelites.  Ultimately, though, the passage points to Christ and the way He makes for all of us. God has mercy and grace on us by giving His son, through whom we can all have hope and salvation. We don’t fear death when we have Him. Thanks be to God!

with prayer, thanking God for saving us through His son Jesus and asking for help trusting Him.   

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