It’s Sunday, which means its church day! This morning was a busy day in church and for us on the av team. Special songs from a family in the church, an all women’s choir, and an expository message from the pastor made for a great service.
Today the message was from 2 Kings 18 and was about the reign of King Hezekiah. One verse in particular stands out for me in this passage, and to be honest it stands out a bit because of message previously preached from our pastor.
‘He removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made, for until then the Israelites were burning incense to it. It was called Nehushtan. ‘2 Kings 18:4 CSB
The word nehushtan appears only once in the bible. It’s a transliteration of the original Hebrew נְחֻשְׁתָּן, and it’s pronounced nekh-oosh-tawn. The word itself simply means “a thing of brass”. When you look at the word in the context of the verse it’s written in, the writer is making a point to minimize the object that is called “just a piece of brass”. In the context of 18:4 you see that the write was calling “the bronze snake that Moses made”, Nehushtan. To understand that reference we must go back to the old testament book of Numbers.
Chapter 21 of Numbers takes place after Israel had been led out of Egypt, while they are still in the wilderness. In the first few verses of chapter 21 Israel makes a deal with God to destroy Canaanite cites if God would give them victory in battle against the Canaanites, which happens. They continue on their journey and as they had done from the start complained and spoke out against God. As a result venemous snakes began to bite and kill the Israelites and they began looking for a way out.
‘The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. ‘Numbers 21:7 CSB
The people recognized they had sinned against God by speaking out against the one who had just given them a victory in battle. God responded to their cry by giving Moses instructions to build a brass snake.
‘Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered. ‘Numbers 21:8-9 CSB
Moses obeyed God in making the brass snake, if the people in faith and obedience to God, followed his instructions and looked to the snake they would experience a miracle and recover from the snake bite. It’s an amazing story.
The next time we see the brass serpent is in 2 Kings where we see that the people had made the serpent an object of their worship. God had never intended the people to worship the snake. It was to serve to serve a few purposes, in simple terms you could say it was an object lesson of sorts.
First it’s clear Israel had sinned in speaking out against God. In order to be just, God must judge sin. Sin breaks our relationship with God. In his mercy though God forgives, God shows grace, God provides a way of restoring that broken relationship. In this case, it was as is the case throughout all of scripture, simple obedience and faith in what God had said to do. God said if you would show the faith in my word to look up at the bronze snake on a pole you will recover. God never wanted Israel to worship the snake, he wanted simple faith and obedience in him.
There are so many things that can be discussed around this lesson but I want to look at two, the second being the most important.
First, what is the nehushtan in your life? What good thing did God bring into your life to point you to him and to increase your faith in him have you turned into an object of your worship. Some look at their preferences in traditions, denominations, translations, music styles and preferences, leaders, and though they would never say they worship those things their actions prove otherwise and they offer their “incense” to those things instead of to God. I can’t tell you the number of worship services I’ve been in that point you toward objects of worship, instead of pointing you to and worshiping God. It’s a sin I believe we can all be guilty of and one we should repent of.
The second lesson I want to look at about the bronze serpent is what it ultimately pointed us to and that is Jesus. When Jesus was talking to a man named Nicodemus, who was a religious leader of his day, and would have no doubt known about the bronze serpent he told him this:
‘ “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. ‘John 3:14-15 CSB
Jesus was predicting his death. Just as the serpent was lifted up for the people to look to in faith for their restoration, Jesus would be lifted up on a cross because of our sin. We would need to look to Jesus to be forgiven of our sins, to have a restored relationship with him. Not only is Jesus the one we look to he IS the one we worship. We should never worship or have any other gods before him. We should look to Jesus and not “just another piece of brass”.
I want to be thankful for his sacrifice to take my sin. I want to find anything whose purpose was to point me to him that I’ve turned into something to worship, strip it away and worship him.