And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died.
Read Chapter 21
The wounds caused by the fiery serpent are the poisonous enticements of the vices, which afflict the soul and bring about its spiritual death. The people were murmuring against the Lord. They were stricken by the serpents’ bites. This provides an excellent instance of how one may recognize from the results of an external scourge what a great calamity a person might suffer inwardly by murmuring. In the raising up of the bronze serpent (when those who were stricken beheld it, they were cured) is prefigured our Redeemer’s suffering on the cross, for only by faith in him is the kingdom of death and sin overcome. The sins which drag down soul and body to destruction at the same time are appropriately represented by the serpents, not only because they were fiery and poisonous [and] artful at bringing about death but also because our first parents were led into sin by a serpent, and from being immortal they became mortal by sinning. The Lord is aptly made known by the bronze serpent, since he...
Fiery serpents. They are so called, because they that were bitten by them were burnt with a violent heat. (Challoner)
Hence they are called seraphim, by which name an order of angels is known. The Egyptians adored a serpent which they called serapis, at Rome; and they represented their god serapis, with a serpent entwining a monstrous figure, composed of a lion, a dog, and a wolf. (Macrob. Saturn i. 20.) The seraph was a winged serpent, Isaias xiv. 29. xxx. 6. Such often infested Egypt, in spring, coming from Arabia, unless they were intercepted by the ibis. Their wings resembled those of bats. (Herodotus, ii. 76.; Mela) God probably sent some of this description into the camp of the Israelites. (Calmet)
Some call them proester, (Pliny, xxiv. 13,) from their burning; others the hydra, or, when out of water, the chershydra, the venom of which is most dangerous. The Septuagint style them simply, "the destroying, or deadly serpents. "See Bo chart, T. ii. B. iii. 13.; Deuteronomy viii. 1...