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What is the Bronze Snake Mentioned in 2 Kings 18:4?
2 Kings 18:1-4 tells us “In the third year of Israel’s King Hoshea son of Elah, Hezekiah son of Ahaz became king of Judah. He was 25 years old when he became king and reigned 29 years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the Lord ’s sight just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made, for the Israelites burned incense to it up to that time. He called it Nehushtan.” By this time in Israel and Judah’s history things were not going well. The people of Israel had one bad king after another and the people of Judah weren’t doing much better. Thankfully the people of Judah did have a few good kings along the way and Hezekiah was one of them. God’s people were constantly worshipping false gods and idols. As a result they were suffering because they had turned from God. Hezekiah was one of the few good kings who came in and began to take away the idolatrous places of worship in the land. In 2 Kings 18:4 it says that Hezekiah also “broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made…” To understand this passage about the bronze snake we must refer back to Numbers 21:4-9. This passage covers a part of the Israelites journey after God delivered them from Egypt. As was often the case in their journey the Israelites began to complain about the Lord’s provisions and because of this the Lord sent poisonous snakes which bit the people causing many to die. Moses recognized their sin and intervened on their behalf. The Lord then gave Moses instruction on what to do in verse 8 “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” Moses did as the Lord instructed and any who were bitten that looked at the bronze snake mounted on the pole were healed.
Many years had passed since the snake incident with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, but it appears that by the time we get to the events in 2 Kings 18, the the bronze snake from years past had become an idol that they were worshipping. God never intended for His people, then or now, to worship any idol. There were physical objects which were part of Israels past (the tabernacle, the temple, the ark, etc.) but there was no power in these material things. God always desires for His people to worship Him, not a building or anything in it. In this instance the people of Judah were seeking power from an object, failing to realize that the healing from years ago didn’t come from the bronze snake, but from the Lord. We must be careful not to fall into the same trap. None of the materialistic things we have will save us, but it may be easy for us as well to become so consumed with the gifts that come from God that we fail to worship the Giver. We must remember that we are to trust the Provider for all of our needs and not trust in the provisions alone.
The bronze snake is also mentioned by Jesus in the New Testament as an illustration for the healing that would come through Him. In John 3:14-15 Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.” If a bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness would heal those who would look upon it, how much more so the very Son of God who would soon be nailed to a cross to all those who would look upon Him! The power of the bronze snake was not in the metal or the pole it was attached to. It was in the faith that those who looked upon it had. They had the faith to do what God commanded and were saved by it. For us God calls us to look upon something better for our salvation, His Son. As with many things in scripture the bronze snake was a foreshadowing of something better to come, Jesus and His death on the cross.
The bronze snake and objects like it are never to be worshipped. Our worship should only be to the Lord because salvation comes from no other.