Snakes made an appearance in my devotion yesterday and in my sermon last Sunday. Snakes represent evil and can get you into trouble by talking you into doing something you might not otherwise have done. Perhaps that is true.
In John chapter 3, where we find that familiar passage about God so loving the world, Jesus referred to an obscure story about snakes found in Numbers 21. Moses had led the people of God out of slavery in Egypt. They had crossed over the Red Sea and visited Mt. Sinai where God gave them the Ten Commandments.
On their way to the Promised Land, they passed through the region of Edom. Now Edom is not a pretty place. It is flat, dry, and hot. The Hebrews got to thinking about all the nice things they had back in Egypt. There was always plenty to eat and drink. Of course, there was the matter that they were slaves, but we forget those little things when we are feeling sorry for ourselves.
The Hebrews started whining, grumbling, and complaining. Now, I hate to be around a person who whines, but imagine being stuck in a place like Edom with 250,000 whiners. It is no wonder the writer of the story thought God sent snakes to bite them. That’s exactly what I would have done. The truth is, though, that region even today is crawling with snakes. Soon, it seemed almost everyone was going to be bitten and die.
Then, God told Moses to do the strangest thing. Moses was to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that anyone who looked at the serpent would be healed.
Centuries later Jesus said that he was like that bronze serpent. We all have a poison in our souls, and God sent Jesus to be lifted up so we could look to him and be healed.
It is a powerful symbol, but it leaves us with several questions. For example, why didn’t God just remove the snakes? Why devise a system for a cure? And why snakes? If I was Jesus, I don’t think I would have used this story to explain why God sent me. Didn’t Jesus know how people feel about snakes?
I imagine he did and, perhaps, that is exactly why Jesus chose to use them. You see the Bible represents the snake as both the symbol for evil and the symbol for healing. The caduceus, a winged staff with snakes entwined around it, is a common medical symbol. Snakes are symbols of those things that have both the power to heal and the power to kill. Those things that can take life and restore it.
Often the things we fear have the power to heal us or save us. People were so afraid of Jesus that they nailed him to a pole, but all he came to do was bring life.
by Michael Piazza
Center for Progressive Renewal