In Numbers 21:4-6, the Israelites complain for the umpteenth time about the awful food and sour water provided by the all-powerful creator of the universe, and God responds by sending fiery serpents to murder numerous Israelites.
First thing’s first. The Israelites know, through plenty of evidence, that to complain is to invite execution, and yet they continue unabated. Earlier in the strip I pointed out how stupid they must be, but now I’m rethinking my position. Put yourselves in the shoes of an Israelite. There you are, miles from nowhere, chasing whirlwinds around the desert, watching all of your best possessions being burned to ash, and subsisting on bugs, lichen, and dysentery-inducing water. And to make matters worse, every time a friend or family member complains about this god-forsaken life, they are murdered in a horrific manner. How would you react in that position? Personally, God would certainly scare me into submission… for awhile. But, before too long, I think I would rather die than continue to be his insignificant pawn. In fact, I would view my death as a martyrdom against a tyrannical dictator. Now, I think these multiple episodes of complaining are best explained by similar stories being merged together, but even if they weren’t, I can’t really fault the Israelites for their insubordination.
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The KJV does not refer to God’s herpetological assassins as “venomous” serpents like most modern translations prefer, but rather “fiery” serpents. So what is a “fiery” serpent? Well, let’s look at the Biblical Hebrew. There’s no doubt that the word for serpent, nachash, means snake since it’s the same one they use all throughout the bible, but the word for “fiery” is not 'esh or labbah the words that have since been used for “fire” and “flame” respectively. The actual word used is saraph, which some readers may recognize by its modern spelling, seraph.
Seraphim are regarded by some Christians as the highest rank of angels, so what are they doing down here as lowly cutthroats? Well, the serpent prefix probably indicates that they are not actual seraphim, but rather some sort of divine winged flaming serpent of doom. Truth is, we don’t really know exactly what the authors were talking about when they mentioned these sinister snakes, but we do know that a lot of Young-Earth Creationists believe they were literally fire-breathing dragons.