The story of the bronze snake was in our family children’s Bible, and it was a favourite. Israel grumbles in the desert. Are we there yet? they ask. We don’t like this bread or water. She fundamentally lacks faith and trust in God. Israel does not trust where, and how God is leading them. Instead of hoping in God’s future, they reminisce about slavery in Egypt in the past.
God responds with a consequence. Poisonous snakes come, they bite and kill. Many die. Israel repents. They cry out to God. God hears and saves.
Moses, at God’s command, erects a bronze snake on a stick. “Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” (Numbers 21:8) In John 3, Jesus retells this story and uses it as a prophecy about himself on the cross.
In between those two passages sits 2 Kings 18. Some 700+ years later Israel has taken the Promised Land, and now risks another stretch in the desert, in exile. Some people remembered ‘the good old days’ when looking to a bronze snake brought salvation. So Israel re-erects the bronze snake, and burns incense to it.
This is a telling account that reveals something about human nature. We love to think nostalgically about the past. We revere a previous era of history as when we got things ‘right’. We try to recreate that moment in the present.
Such actions constitute idolatry. The good king Hezekiah breaks the bronze snake into pieces.
God is the God of yesterday and today. Our hope lies in Jesus, and in his return in the future. Our hope is not in ‘the good old days’.
Rev David Rietveld