God’s People, part 82: The Bronze Snake

Read Numbers 21:4-9


“He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.” (2 Kings‬ ‭18:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

img_1005Part 82: The Bronze Snake. For today’s devotion, I want us to travel back in time for a moment. Before we do, I would like to remind you that that King Hezekiah was a godly king who lived in the ways of the Lord and brought the people of Judah back into a right relationship with God. One of the things that he did was destroyed all of the foreign shrines and idols and enforced that all worship be done in the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem.

One of the idols that he destroyed was named Nehushtan. That, according to 2 Kings, was the bronze serpent mounted staff that Moses made hundreds of years earlier. It is written that Hezekiah destroyed this relic “because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it.”

Now let us time travel back to the time of Moses. If you recall, Moses had led the people out of Egypt and they had been wandering around the wilderness for 40 years. The reason it took them so long to cross what was relatively a short distance was because they were constantly griping, complaining, and disobeying God. The greatest of those instances came when they abandoned God and demanded that Aaron build a golden calf for them to worship.

According to Numbers 21:4-9, the people were in such crazed fit, angry at God and at Moses for leading them out of Egypt. Now imagine this, they had been miraculously liberated from slavery in Egypt; yet, there they were complaining that God and Moses had led them to where they were. Were they hungry? No. Were they thirsty? No. They had been provided for by God from the beginning.

So, you might ask, why were they angry? Well, they were pulling what kids often pull on their parents. “Dad, we have nothing to eat, nothing to drink in this house.” Of course, if you open up the refrigerator you will see plenty of food and drink; however, what is really being said is, “we don’t have what we would like to eat, we are tired of eating this stuff.” That is exactly what the Hebrews were doing. They were griping against eating the manna that God was sending them, calling it “nothing.” How ungrateful.

So, angry, God sent out poisonous snakes to bite them. Okay, this seems like an outlandish response, but suspend disbelief and bear with it for a moment more. Moses, naturally horrified, prayed to God and repented for the people. He stated, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes” (Numbers‬ ‭21:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬). So, God instructed Moses to create a bronze snake and put it on staff. God then instructed the people to look at the snake. Once the people did, they were instantly healed from the snake bites. God’s point was made.‬‬

Unfortunately, what was once holy and healing became perverted into an idol that people worshiped. What was once a reminder of God’s sovereignty and God’s holy presence, became a god unto itself. People forgot that the healing source of the bronze snake was God, and instead worshiped the snake as if it had the power to heal. So, for this reason, Hezekiah destroyed the idol and redirected people to the Temple, where the one, the true, the imageless God was to be worshiped!

What has God done to bring healing and wholeness into your life? How have you taken such things and made idols of them? How have you forgotten what God has done for you? How have you forgotten the sovereignty of God? How have you forgotten our gracious, holy God and how have you turned your eyes away toward other, less-than-holy things? Today is the day for honesty. What has become your bronze snake? What has become your idol. Today’s challenge is to assess what those things are and to eradicate them, as Hezekiah eradicated the bronze snake, from your life.


“Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.” — John Calvin


Lord, purge me of my idols and set my heart and eyes back toward you. Amen.

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