Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

OT Tuesday: Nehushtan - Snake on a Stick

Have you ever been on a long trip where things just go from bad to worse? The journey where Moses led God's chosen people to the promised land should have taken just a matter of months, maybe a few years at the outside at a good walking pace, but due to internal bickering and quarreling it dragged on so long that with the exception of Joshua, no one who started the journey was able to end it.

After traveling 'way south through the Sinai peninsula, Moses had led his people back north to Kadesh where they met up with well marked roads which would make the journey easier. They sent out envoys to the nation of Edom and asked permission to pass through Edom on their way to the promised land but Edom denied them passage through their land threatening attack if the Israelites trespassed on their land.

Defeated, the Israelites headed south. Moses was probably in a pretty bad mood to begin with. First, his wife Miriam had died at Kadesh, and if that wasn't enough he was told by God that he would not enter the promised land for having not followed God's instruction at Meribah (Numbers 20:1-13). Now they have to avoid the land of Edom, what more could happen? Well, for one thing, Moses' brother Aaron died. He was buried on Mount Hor and his position of High Priest was transferred to his son  Eleazar. What more could happen?

Snakes, that's what. 

After obliterating the Canaanites who stood in their way at Hormah the Israelites began whining again:
The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” (Numbers 21:5
What is with these people? first they say they have no food, then they say they hate the food. Actually they were complaining that there was no variety in their diet, they were getting plenty of food in the form of manna supplied directly from God and they were getting bored of it. God was never gentle with the Israelites, when they needed a smack down, he saw that they got one. The one sin that God REALLY hates is pride, and the Israelites had plenty of that, and they received spanking after spanking, yet they kept their stubborn pride until he delivered them to the Roman army in 70 AD. But this time he sent them snakes.
The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21: 6-9)
The term "fiery serpents" meant "poisonous snakes", and God directed Moses to make a fake snake, put it on a pole and hold it up so if a snake bit person saw it he would be healed. and it worked! Cool! But the snake was a chunk of metal, it couldn't cure anyone. It was the power and grace of God that healed the injured, the snake was just a symbol for a hard headed people who were infatuated with the bizarre mysterious rites of the pagan religions going on around them. Looking up at the snake was an act of faith that God demanded before he would heal the injured.

However the catholic church decided that what's good for the goose is good for the gander and they use the brazen serpent as an excuse for their own form of idol veneration. Article 2130 of the Catechism justifies their veneration of graven images where it states:
"Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim."
Maybe the catholic church should have paid attention to what happened to the bronze serpent when Hezekiah, king of Judah found his people worshiping the snake:
 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)
(Asherah is a semitic mother goddess, Nehushtan means 'chunk of bronze') Or maybe the catholic church may take heed from what the Lord Himself said on the matter;
I am the Lord, that is My name;I will not give My glory to another,Nor My praise to graven images. (Isaiah 42:8)
Or maybe the second commandment should cover it:
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
The main point is that the snake, the ark, and the cherubim were made for specific purposes on the direct command of God Himself. They were tools for a specific purpose and not to be worshiped any more than you'd worship a screw driver or hammer. Hezekiah showed great piety when he destroyed the snake because it was being worshiped and its use was over. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he destroyed the Ark and the cherubim on its lid too if he found them being worshiped.

But the story of the snake-on-a-stick doesn't end there. Jesus make a point on the use of the snake and the symbolism of the snake, not the snake itself, but the use that God had Moses put the snake to:
14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)
Just as the Lord saved the snake-bit Israelites that were wandering through the wilderness through their act of faith (looking up at the snake as he commanded) so will he save us who are lost in sin through our act of faith which is turning our face to Jesus.

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