Fake Snakes

Israel understandably held on to the bronze snake Moses had made. We’re given no details, but it survived the remainder of the trek in the wilderness and went into the promised land with them. Perhaps someone opened a Wilderness Museum and it became one of the featured pieces. Like Aaron’s staff that budded and the jar of manna which were kept in the ark of the covenant, it was an important artifact and would serve to remind the nation of some critical truths.

You can just about hear visitors to the museum ooh and aah as someone who made it out of the wilderness recounted in hushed tones the sad stories of death from snakebite. Then another, who had been bitten and survived, would testify of God’s grace via the bronze serpent. To say the least, it would have been personal and powerful.

But after a time, this generation would pass. All that remained would be people who had known wilderness people. If the story wasn’t oh-so-carefully transmitted, or if hearts simply became dull, the snake could become an easy substitute for the realities it represented.

And that’s exactly what happened.

The snake stopped being something that pointed to important spiritual truths and started being something that was pointed to. It no longer conveyed a message—it became the message. Knowing what we do of Israel’s tendencies (and our own), that isn’t difficult to envision. Finally, the wicked Ahaz had them offering incense to the snake. Israel had turned something good into something bad. The bronze serpent of Moses had become the fake snake of Israel.

We struggle with our own fake snakes, don’t we? Isn’t it amazing how we can take God’s good gifts (relationships, money, sexuality, talents, possessions, etc.), and transform them into something bad by elevating them to a place they don’t belong? This is as real of an issue for us as it was for Israel. Our idols may be more subtle, but they are no less real, and their bite is no less painful.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

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