He 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, NASB)
This verse is in reference to King Hezekiah, who was one of the few kings in Judah and Israel of which scripture tells us he did “what was right in the LORD’S sight.” From the July 5th reading in the devotional Bible, I am especially interested in Hezekiah’s boldness to destroy what would have been considered an invaluable religious relic made by Moses himself; the bronze serpent on the pole used to heal those in the time of the wilderness wandering following the exodus from Egypt! As judgment for the unbelieving, self-centered, complaining Israelites; God had sent deadly serpents upon them and the only remedy for the vicious venom was to look upon this curative object.
Interestingly, the most often quoted verse of scripture, John 3:16, is preceded by what seems strange and very seldom mentioned. Jesus declared, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, NASB)
What did Jesus mean? He became sin, who knew no sin. The very object of destruction for the entire human race; namely sin, Jesus took upon Himself. Those who look to Him as God’s substitute for their own sin will be spiritually healed in the deepest possible way. They trade death for life. As Jesus was lifted up on the cross, so the serpent in the wilderness was a symbolic foreshadowing of this ultimate healing. The key term being “symbolic.”
Somewhere along the way, the people of God had forgotten the principle that they were to worship God and abstain from idols; even if the “idol” was of such great significance. Hezekiah calls the artifact what it actually was, Nehushtan (meaning loosely “a piece of bronze”). What is the lesson for us today?
Every symbol loses its significance and value if it is converted into an idol. The bronze serpent was a material token of God’s mercy, a symbol of His power, and a reminder of His holiness. But when the people began to worship it, its worth departed.
Take, for instance, creeds and confessions of our faith, which are symbolic expressions of devotion from the heart; an attempt to articulate the truth of God in the words of man. Such words are valuable only as they point to that which is more valuable than themselves. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are also symbols. Whenever they begin to be idolized and seen as the means of redemption, they lose their significance and value. The Cross is the finest symbol in all history. But it is not intended that we should rest in the outward circumstances of the Crucifixion. The looking to the Cross which brings salvation is a looking through the Cross to that which it reveals.
May we all follow the example set by King Hezekiah, no matter how challenging it may be to break the idol; may we look to and worship God alone in the Person of Jesus Christ!