From Helpful to Harmful

I don’t remember when I first decided that I was afraid of snakes, but as I have grown older my phobia has only become worse. It is no comfort to me to be told that a particular snake is non-poisonous or even “harmless.” I have always believed that the only good snake is a dead one!

Every time I read the story of the poisonous snakes in Numbers 21, I have great sympathy for the Israelites – even in the midst of their griping and complaining. No worse punishment could be sent than poisonous snakes slithering everywhere!

And the “good snake” in the story is indeed a dead one – the bronze snake fashioned by Moses and attached to a pole that could be seen throughout the camp. If bitten by the live snakes, the people could look at the bronze snake and they would not die. God used the bronze image as a reminder of his power and authority and sustenance of the people.

It turns out, however, that the bronze snake had its own poison in the end.

Centuries later, in the days of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4), the bronze snake is mentioned again. This time it is an icon the people of Israel have been worshiping. That which originally was a symbol of God’s grace and mercy had become a poisonous viper itself. Hezekiah quickly destroyed the bronze image, when he set about restoring the worship of God instead of idols.

I wonder if we are ever subject to the same temptation today? Do we ever turn what once may have been a valuable symbol of God’s grace into an object kept and even worshiped for its own sake? I wonder if good, valued traditions that accompany our faith ever become the objects of our faith, perhaps even supplanters of the true center of our faith and affections, God and his Son? What an easy trap to which we, like they, can fall prey.

Salvation from that which we fear the most may come to us from God through other people, through a book, or through a particular experience. It is tempting to worship the vessel that brought us the light instead of placing faith in the Light himself.

In whom or what do you place your trust?