Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Bronze Snake

Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.

Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!

Numbers 21:4-9

Now I'm no Bible scholar and I have been struggling with this Old Testament jazz, but I'm sure it wasn't so long ago that the Lord was chastising wanting to destroy every last one of them for worshiping a Golden Calf. So tell me, is the Lord being a hypocrite or am I missing some subtle subtext? Part of me just wants to think the Lord is laying on a bit of thick sarcasm to get his message across, and is actually getting a kick out of watching His people gaze up at a bronze snake...


Ann said...

Hey there,

I stumbled across this while searching for some information on the same topic you're looking at. At first I was confused too - I thought it kind of weird that God would make a snake for the people to look at and be cured (it's even more ironic because later on the Israelites start worshiping the snake as an idol in 2 Kings 18:1-6). I've always read that the snake/Moses story was a prefiguration for Christ's being lifted up by God as a sacrifice to save our souls, and then i realized that Christ had to become our sin in order to defeat it (2 Corinthians 5:21). It was alright for the people to look at the snake and be cured, because it was just a representation of God's great grace and mercy. It became wrong once they began worshiping it instead of God (like they did in 2 Kings). Hope this helped!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm a pastor just preparing a sermon on this very passage. You raise an interesting question, "Is God being hypocritical?" I have no doubt that when Moses heard the command to furnish a bronze snake, he had soda come out of his nose as he choked on God's words. In Acts 10, Peter is asked to do something extreme; to eat unclean food. It sent a very powerful message to Peter. The snakes were very much the same way. The people were saying that the Lord's deliverance was bad, the food stinks, and that they were just being led out to die, which not only was untrue, but it was blatently blaphemous. God, as judgment sends snakes. The snake was a very, very hated symbol. Just as they complained about detestable food, God sent them something truly destestable...snakes. Now, if you have a cultural disposition to hate snakes, and your pals are getting eaten up by them, imagine the shock factor that is involved when you have to look at a bronze (idol) snake to get your healing. Would you get the point? God is going overboard, using extreme symbolism to get the point across that the behavior of the Israelites in the wilderness is not okay. It is extemely shocking, and that's the point. Hope that helps!

drorbenami said...

The snake is a symbol for a student of religious law. thus the tribe of Dan (the name means: judge), is represented by a snake. The first five books in the Old Testament are called: "the Books of the Law". The Biblical scholars who studied these books are in-correctly identified as: "lawyers" in some versions of the New Testament. Either way, these scholars of Biblical law were called "snakes" by John the Baptist. A poisonous snake is one that teaches falsehoods about the law. So, for example, Job's 3 friends could be called: "poisonous snakes". Jesus compared himself to the bronze snake raised up on the pole and because he represents: "the word of God" and the word of God is: "the Books of the Law". Moses said that his words were like the rain and Moses is the reputed author of the Books of the Law. Thus, if his words are like the rain, then Moses himself must be a cloud. In order for the sunlight to reach men, the cloud must be removed, hence "the word of God must die" before men reach a state of enlightenment.