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OT Historical Books discuss Serpent on a pole....(numbers 21) in the The Scriptures forums; My wife asked me a good question today about numbers 21: Why would God make the Israelites look at a serpent on a pole for ...

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    ooguyx's Avatar
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    Serpent on a pole....(numbers 21)

    My wife asked me a good question today about numbers 21:

    Why would God make the Israelites look at a serpent on a pole for healing when they are so prone to idolatry?

    I told her that they weren't instructed to worship it and further we talked about the symbolism, but I just thought that I couldn't really answer the question. Any thoughts?
    R. Roy Martin
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    Galatians220 is offline. Inactive User
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    Pastors here obviously are a better source of an answer than I, but it was an allusion to future events, when Jesus was lifted up *as evil that God could not look upon* but as the only means by which salvation would come to human beings (John 3:14-15). The irony is that people in Numbers looked up to what would be conventional evil but instead, brought them healing. So are we only healed by looking to him who was made to bear the consequences of our sin by becoming sin in our place.

    Margaret
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    Quote Originally Posted by Galatians220 View Post
    Pastors here obviously are a better source of an answer than I, but it was an allusion to future events, when Jesus was lifted up *as evil that God could not look upon* but as the only means by which salvation would come to human beings (John 3:14-15). The irony is that people in Numbers looked up to what would be conventional evil but instead, brought them healing. So are we only healed by looking to him who was made to bear the consequences of our sin by becoming sin in our place.

    Margaret
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    The Israelites later did use Nechushtan (the Bronze Serpent) as an idol and it had to be destroyed.

    God can heal in whatever way He wants, and we still have to obey His law. The purpose here aswell as healing was to be a type of Christ. (see John 3)

    My minister recently preached on this, and pointed out that since the Fall through the Serpent (the Devil) the whole human race has been bitten and has the poison of sin coarsing through its veins. Our only hope for our healing is to look to the Cross, not a crucifix or two bits of wood, but the Cross as it is presented in the Bible.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Tallach View Post
    The Israelites later did use Nechushtan (the Bronze Serpent) as an idol and it had to be destroyed.
    Do you have a reference for this?


    God can heal in whatever way He wants, and we still have to obey His law. The purpose here aswell as healing was to be a type of Christ. (see John 3)

    My minister recently preached on this, and pointed out that since the Fall through the Serpent (the Devil) the whole human race has been bitten and has the poison of sin coarsing through its veins. Our only hope for our healing is to look to the Cross, not a crucifix or two bits of wood, but the Cross as it is presented in the Bible.
    This is pretty much what I said to her, that God provides by whatever means he chooses: water from rock, quail and manna from heaven, hamburger from the grocery store, etc. Even still we should caution not to worship the means of our blessing or be so prideful as to believe that we are the means or source (I think that was Moses' sin when he struck the rock twice).
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    The serpent on the pole was lifted up, just as Christ would be later (and he referred to the serpent in the wilderness as a sign of the kind of healing he offered, John 3:14-15 as Margaret already pointed to). Not only was the serpent viewed conventionally as evil - so the object of their look was regarded normally as an evil thing - but the simplicity of the solution offered for their snakebites was critical. They had ONLY to look (not do anything, not take any medicine, nothing - just look in trust). The people had only to trust that the proposed solution to their calamity, a solution that seemed on the face of it to be absolute folly, was sufficient - they would simply look upon the serpent and, doing so in trust, would be healed. The same is true of Christ - we are called to look to Him in faith, as crucified for our sin, as OUR righteousness, with no input of our own, no doing of our own, no nothing contributed from us, but look solely to Him as God presents Him - as THE solution for our dead condition. This is to the world absolute folly - but it is salvation for those whom the Lord has given eyes to see.
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    Quote Originally Posted by toddpedlar View Post
    The serpent on the pole was lifted up, just as Christ would be later (and he referred to the serpent in the wilderness as a sign of the kind of healing he offered, John 3:14-15 as Margaret already pointed to). Not only was the serpent viewed conventionally as evil - so the object of their look was regarded normally as an evil thing - but the simplicity of the solution offered for their snakebites was critical. They had ONLY to look (not do anything, not take any medicine, nothing - just look in trust). The people had only to trust that the proposed solution to their calamity, a solution that seemed on the face of it to be absolute folly, was sufficient - they would simply look upon the serpent and, doing so in trust, would be healed. The same is true of Christ - we are called to look to Him in faith, as crucified for our sin, as OUR righteousness, with no input of our own, no doing of our own, no nothing contributed from us, but look solely to Him as God presents Him - as THE solution for our dead condition. This is to the world absolute folly - but it is salvation for those whom the Lord has given eyes to see.
    Agreed. This is how I teach it when it comes up in Sunday school lessons. The bronze snake was a form of salvation through faith. They only had to look and believe. This makes it actually very different from the pagan worship of their neighbors, in which the gods would extract a high price for their help.

    The placement of this account near the end of Numbers, as the new generation of Israelites is moving again toward the Promised Land, is significant. This new generation is prone to some of the same sins as their fathers (grumbling, which brought the snakes), but is learning to exercise a faith their parents lacked. They will come to drive out the nations from the land, through faith in God, just as they looked in faith at the bronze serpent.

    All this, of course, with a view toward John 3 and Christ lifted up as our Savior through faith as well.

    ---------- Post added at 03:41 PM ---------- Previous post was at 03:32 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by ooguyx View Post
    Why would God make the Israelites look at a serpent on a pole for healing when they are so prone to idolatry?
    I just looked at Iain Duguid's commentary on this passage. He suggests that in addition to the faith angle we've talked about, the Israelites would've seen the pole as a standard representing God's power, and so the snake on the pole represents God's power over the people's enemies (snakes standing for Egypt, the devil and the actual snakes). They were told to look in faith to God's power, not to a snake.

    Interesting that in spite of all that, the snake did eventually become an idol. How prone we are to corrupt God's provision and replace faith with idolatry!
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    It might not be connected, but the copper serpent on a pole hints to the Ancient Near Eastern custom where images of serpents was placed at the entrances of temples. These serpents were seen as protectors and indicated the presence of a deity.

    When I have time I shall try to see if I can get more information. What is clear however is that the serpent's image got a negative connection later on in Israel's history.

    I was wondering if the Numbers 21 isn't working with irony. Poisonous snakes bite the Israelites, then God uses a metal snake to indicate that He is present in their suffering.

    Another possibility is based on archaeological finds. In the mines of Arabah metal was exploited since the 13rh century BC. At Meneiyah a few small copper snakes have been discovered. It is believed that these snakes was made to ward off poisonous snakes.

    Like I've said, I need to go into the matter. What is written above is preliminary and may change.

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    Could it also be that they were to look on the snake as a way of contemplating the punishment for their sin?
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    Christ also gave us the Lord's Supper, knowing full well that there would be those who would worship it...

    Interesting comments on the bronze snake! I think that we would answer the Lord's Supper question by saying it represents the humanity of Jesus...it is not meant to be a full picture of Who Christ is. And it was instituted by Jesus, who believed the 2nd Commandment.
    Last edited by MarieP; 06-25-2010 at 09:01 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarieP View Post
    Christ also gave us the Lord's Supper, knowing full well that there would be those who would worship it...
    Ah yes: The Death Cookie
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    God had already used a serpent previously in the Exodus story to demonstrate His superiority over the Egyptians (Exodus 7), and I do not believe Aaron's rod ever became an idol. I like Rev. Duguid's observation that God demonstrates His authority even over the serpent -- a theme of the entire Pentateuch.

    OTOH, if Israel in later generations had not worshiped the bronze serpent, then God may not have raised up a Hezekiah who, when he smashed the idol to pieces, gives us a glimpse of what our Lord Jesus would do in fulfilling the promise of Genesis 3:15 and crushing the head of the serpent.
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    I'm inclined to focus on the typology. There is common irony here and in the cross. Who would have thought a bronze serpent could cure you of your snakebittenness? Who would have thought crucifying to yourself the Son of God would cause you to be righteous. Thou shalt not kill? I haven't fully thought out the "irony" theme, I'm not even sure if it is very edifying. It certainly does seem as if the cure for sin is a sin... This is also seen in the Lord's supper. Isn't drinking a cup of blood an OT form of judgement I.e. This man/beast's blood is on my head? I know I'm presenting this slightly raw. It needs some more bake time and polishing, but maybe you still get the idea
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    torstar is offline. Puritanboard Sophomore
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    oh please.

    when one is being attacked by venemous serpents sent by God, there is precious little time to mull over life's little ironies and posit term papers (that won't get written) on idolatry.

    those bites piling up on your body would send a very dire message to turn to God NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by any means necessary. fortunately a very near and (apparently) easy one was provided.

    Praise Him. (especially for sparing me the venemous serpents i have deserved)

    also the people did obey in this case, unlike those punished (to be punished) in Revelation.
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    Quote Originally Posted by torstar View Post
    oh please.

    when one is being attacked by venemous serpents sent by God, there is precious little time to mull over life's little ironies and posit term papers (that won't get written) on idolatry.

    those bites piling up on your body would send a very dire message to turn to God NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by any means necessary. fortunately a very near and (apparently) easy one was provided.

    Praise Him. (especially for sparing me the venemous serpents i have deserved)

    also the people did obey in this case, unlike those punished (to be punished) in Revelation.
    It was an honest question our brother had...

    Thinking more on the issue....I think that the words "make for YOURSELVES" a graven image are crucial (no pun intended). God chose to give the serpent on the pole as a type of Christ on the cross and the bread and wine as a symbol of Christ's body and blood. If we invented either of these, it would be idolatry. That's what's so great about the regulative principle, we let God define Himself and tell us what He's like. It isn't left up to our idol-making hearts.
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    Quote Originally Posted by torstar View Post
    oh please.

    when one is being attacked by venemous serpents sent by God, there is precious little time to mull over life's little ironies and posit term papers (that won't get written) on idolatry.

    those bites piling up on your body would send a very dire message to turn to God NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by any means necessary. fortunately a very near and (apparently) easy one was provided.

    Praise Him. (especially for sparing me the venemous serpents i have deserved)

    also the people did obey in this case, unlike those punished (to be punished) in Revelation.
    Kent, please tone down the rhetoric a bit. As Marie pointed out, it was an honest question that was asked. No need to respond that way.

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    The serpent represents wisdom I read. Also, Christ sent the disciples out with instructions to be 'wise as serpents'.

    The medical logo, the Cadeuceus is two serpents entwined on a staff
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    You may want to ask PuritanSailer (Patrick) for a copy of his sermon on this passage. I remember he preached on this passage several years ago, and it was quite good!
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    I thought it was because anything on a pole is dead and was thought to be accursed (Deut 21:23), that whem they looked at it, they realized it had no power over them and they put their faith in the Almighty instead.

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