Bronze Serpents and Sacred Cows


Winding and Whining

The people of Israel mastered two tasks during their trek through the wilderness: winding their way through the mountain passes and desert straits, and whining as they went. In fact, their impatience was so irritating that at one point God sent poisonous snakes to smite them. Numbers 21:8-9 develops the story, saying, “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 bonze serpent and live.”

A Type for Jesus

Those who glanced at the bronze symbol of God’s mercy did indeed live. Indeed, this icon became a type for the lifting up of Jesus on the cross. John 3:14-15 says as much when it states, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” But over the years following that day in the desert, the Israelites offered undue affection toward this statuette, eventually erecting it in the temple built by King Solomon. Sadly, as the Davidic kings transitioned from one generation to another, the bronze serpent began to receive the worship of a people succumbing to the idolatry of their neighbors.

Enter Hezekiah, king of Judah. King Hezekiah was a righteous man who trusted God. No small wonder, then, when he ascended the throne of Judah he destroyed all the idolatrous sites that had been established by his predecessors—including that bronze serpent. Second Kings 18:4 tells us Hezekiah “broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it.”

Bronze Serpents & Sacred Cows

Is there anything in your life like this bronze serpent? Are there traditions, practices, places, or people who have subtly displaced God’s rightful rule? We Christians are notorious for honoring so-called sacred cows—those ideas and practices and people that may be useful for building the body of Christ, but at some point become themselves the driving forces of our faith. Certain styles, strategies, schedules, heroes, and systems—for many of us—take on greater influence than the Scriptures and the Sovereign God about which they speak. In Israel, the sacred cow was a bronze serpent, and this is idolatry. What are your bronze serpents and sacred cows? Perhaps an important question could be who are your bronze serpents and sacred cows?

A Timely Prayer

Consider this timely prayer: Father, let nothing displace you in my life. As I have given away the affection reserved only for you, forgive me. The traditions and practices and manners of men are passing away. Anything other than total devotion to you is idolatry, therefore, like Hezekiah, I choose to break to pieces the bronze serpents that at one time helped me know you better, but today distract me from you. Amen.