“[Hezekiah] did what was pleasing to the Lord. He destroyed the pagan places of worship, broke the stone pillars, and cut down the images of the goddess Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze snake that Moses had made, which was called Nehushtan. Up to that time the people of Israel had burned incense in its honor.” 2 Kings 18: 3-4
Hezekiah was faithful to God. Of course, he destroyed the pagan idols, but why destroy the bronze snake Moses made at God’s command?
Long before Hezekiah’s reign, the Israelites began dying of snake bites after complaining about the way God was taking care of them. God directed Moses to make the image of a snake as an instrument of healing. Those who looked at the image of the snake were healed. (Numbers 21: 4-9)
That’s a good thing, right? So why did Hezekiah destroy this image? Because God’s people had turned the image into an idol. They were burning incense to the object rather than to God, who conveyed his power and love for his people through that object for a specific purpose at a specific time.
As human beings living in a concrete world, there’s nothing wrong with having tangible reminders of God. The problem comes when we focus on the reminder but forget to look beyond it.
I wear my mother’s high school ring on my right hand. It’s precious to me only because it belonged to my mother. The inscription on the ring had worn away by the time I started wearing it after Mom passed on. That didn’t matter. I remember how close I felt to her when I was a child and she showed me the ring and shared her experiences as a member of the Perth Amboy High School Class of 1925.
One day, I looked down at my hand and noticed the stone had fallen out—who knows when or where. I took the ring to several jewelers but none could replicate it to look as it originally did. The best they could do was make a signet ring out of it.
So now I wear a signet ring as a reminder of my mother. It doesn’t look anything like her high school ring. That’s okay. The ring itself isn’t important—except for the memory of my mother it evokes. Even if someday I come across a duplicate 1925 high school ring, I wouldn’t want it. Without the connection to my mom, the ring would mean nothing to me.
So it is with the image of the snake. As Jesus said, we’re meant to worship God “in Spirit and in truth.” Images may remind us of God, but we worship God, not the reminders.
Copyright 2017, Barbara Hosbach