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 21:9
About 700 years later . . .
He (King Hezekiah) removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. – 2 Kings 18:4
King Hezekiah was a good king. Verse 5 of the same chapter says this of him: “He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.”
I like old things. I love to hear the history of things. An object can seem inanimate until someone tells me the story of how it was made, where it traveled, what it did, and how it got to where it was found. Houses, castles, ships, cottages and cabins all take on a presence when a story is shared about who lived there, who died there, what the walls within “saw”. The same can be said of pictures, especially old pictures. The joy of seeing yourself as a child. The pain of looking at a picture of a loved one long gone. The sigh of a past that didn’t seem so long ago, but really is. Things, bring about in us emotions and feelings and memories that we had forgotten were even there.
God told Moses to make the bronze serpent because like always, the Israelites complained against God and loathed their salvation from Egypt. So God sent fiery serpents to bite them and many died because of this. So the Israelites repented (yet again) and to save them from death all they would have to do is look upon the bronze serpent Moses had made. Later Jesus would refer to this deliverance of death from the snakes, to His own redemptive power over spiritual death (John 3:14)- but that’s another blog.
The name “Nehushtan” wasn’t applied to the bronze serpent until later when it started to be worshiped. When I read 2 Kings and how King Hezekiah destroyed this old relic, I hate to say it, but I felt a bit sad. This inanimate object had a story. It had a 700 year old history. God used it to save His people from death. Moses touched it. It was preserved for centuries. How many people had it saved? How many old mothers and father pointed to this bronze figure and told their children and grandchildren that if it wasn’t for this bronze serpent they wouldn’t be here. This wasn’t just some measly thing to just be destroyed. It was a symbol of something good! And like all my idolatry, it is the good things that God has given me that take His place. Being a good wife, my children, sex, food, wine, money, freedom, social media, tv, music, cell phones, clothes, jewelry, relationships, confidence, my abilities, my looks, knowledge, books, fun, vacations, health, rest – and so much more are all good things God has graciously given; but oh so quickly these and so many more things are what steal my love for God. The Nehushtan was there as a reminder of the grace of God. He rightly was punishing His people, but he showed them grace when they didn’t deserve it. All the things I have, I do not deserve. They were given to me not because I am good, but because He is good to me. And putting any of those things, no matter how good they are, before God is idolatry – they are my Nehushtans.
So how do we combat and “destroy” our Nehushtans in our lives. First of all, don’t smash anything – including your children – some verses are not meant to be literal. Second, don’t be legalistic and make a list of “don’ts and do’s”. The latter can be a good thing, but for me, I tend to lose those lists and then find loop holes. Jesus summed up 613 laws to two, and I want to do the same. Love God, and then love others. Love God through what He has given you. Learn and know Him through the access of technology. Skype with lost relatives, feed others and pray together, host strangers and tell them something awesome God is doing in your life, have more sex with your spouse when he least expects it, play a super silly game with your children and tell them about God constantly (Deut. 11:19), make a lot of money and have fun giving to charities you’ve never heard of, assemble the cutest outfit and give it to someone who would look fabulous in it, text everyone on your phone a scripture of encouragement, read a book about who God is and marvel at His majesty, train your spirit and body for a laborious mission trip, listen to music tasting a bit of heaven, message your fb friends with a unique prayer just for them. And the list can go on forever. Bring God into everything you do (Deut. 6:7, Col. 3:23). Have a good laugh and praise God. Eat a good meal and praise God. Have great sex and praise God. Read a good book and praise God. Have a good conversation and praise God. Sing and praise God. Pray constantly, give thanks constantly, love constantly, praise constantly always remembering that if any of these good things were ever taken away we still have the ultimate good thing – God himself! And if/when you can’t, my dear Christian, may I suggest that you may be in sin. You may be enjoying something sinful. You may be enjoying something that you are not meant to enjoy just yet. You may have overindulged and enjoyed something too much. You may committing the sin of idolatry. Pray, seek Scripture and counsel, repent, and live again.
There is so much good God has given us and it is wrong NOT to enjoy them as long as we enjoy God more. And when we do love God more, know God more, and enjoy God more we tend to love people more and better – even our own kids! But something else happens also and that is that all these good things of this world do go strangely dim, in the light of His glory. And I believe the dimmer things get here, the more we yearn for our true home. Which isn’t a bad thing, but yet another good thing.