A Sad Epilogue

by Aaron

Last week we put out a blog explaining this word I used as a sermon title, but never explained: Nehushtan. Nehushtan means Bronze Serpent (the Great Brass); it is what the Israelites called the bronze serpent on the pole that Jesus references in John 3:14-15 that refers back to Numbers 21:8-9.

In the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 21, the Israelites begin to detest God’s daily provision over them in the form of food from heaven called Manna. As a result of their complaining God sends fiery serpents into Israel’s camp that bite the people, injecting them with venom, and they begin to die. The venom resembles our sin. The whole episode shows that what was happening in the Israelite’s bodies was what had already happened in their hearts. There are parallels to our own lives in that many times we only recognize what is killing us when we finally get sick.

What is killing us is our sin, but many times we do not even recognize our sin until our lives start to fall apart. This could be losing a job because we are not thankful for our job, only resentful. It could look like a relationship falling apart because we are too centered on ourselves and cease caring for others. It could be our walk with Jesus never seeming fulfilling because we are looking at our own fulfillment rather than worship of Christ. We tend not to notice the venom in our hearts until we get sick, just like the venom from the serpent.

When the Israelite’s recognize their sin, they ask Moses to intercede on their behalf to God. Numbers 21:8-9 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 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.” God teaches His people that what is going on in their heart is reflected in their bodies by the venom running through their veins, but He will make a provision for them because He loves them. They did not believe God was all they needed until they realized He was all they ever truly had.

As I said last week, Jesus speaking the words of John 3:16 only makes sense in terms of the Bronze Serpent from Numbers 21. It really is a great story of God’s blessing and provision as it would ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus Himself. BUT…there is a sad epilogue. Rather than worshipping God for His provision, they started to worship the provision instead.

What I mean is that the Israelites started to worship and bow down to the bronze serpent, the one that was put on the pole by Moses.

Apparently, the Israelites kept it as a reminder of God’s provision, but then it morphed into something more. It morphed so much that in 2 Kings 18 it is another of one of the false images that Israel made offerings to and worshipped. In 2 Kings 18 a young man of 25 becomes King of Judah (the southern kingdom in Israel). He systematically went through the land and got rid of all the false places of worship, including the Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4).

Today, we look back on the Israelites and their short-sightedness, but we still do exactly what they did, worship false things in place of God Almighty. Instead of trusting in God’s provision, many people today worship the symbol, like a cross (which was an instrument of death, just like the serpent). When God saves people there is an emotional outpouring of gratitude, but many continue to long and search for the next emotional outpouring rather than the God who saved them. I have been to Israel and have seen people worship, kiss, and cry over what they believe to be rock Jesus was laid upon in His tomb for those three days after the crucifixion. We so easily lose focus of the one who saved us for a mere symbol and that should not be.

I want to be positive and reassuring today, not simply pointing out our flaws. I want us to be encouraged to worship our God in Spirit and truth. May we be a people who trust in God’s provision and worship the One and Only True King. May we set aside our symbols and trust in the One who was lifted up, died, and rose again for us.