Bronze Serpent..

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DominicM | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Sep 14 2013 1:29 PM

Num 21:9 and the Lord told him to make a serpent* and erect it as a standard, so that anyone who had been bitten could look at it and recover. REB

Having trouble wrapping my head around this..

Given that its after the law has been given? Don't understand why God would get them to make a graven image and raise it up..

I am aware some commentators get around this by saying its a type of Christ.. But can anyone recommend any resources in or out of Logos that might help be clarify and reconcile this aparrant disparity..

Never Deprive Anyone of Hope.. It Might Be ALL They Have

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Sep 14 2013 2:04 PM

I could explain it, but you probably wouldn't accept it because it is rather radical. I seriously doubt that you will find satsifaction in Logos or anywhere else.

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Sep 14 2013 2:31 PM

God is always getting people to make artistic representations of things for symbolic or liturgical uses (e.g., Exod 35-40; 1 Sam 6; Ezek 4). It's likely that the commandment against graven images does not meant to outlaw things like this. So any study you undertake of Num 21:9 should also include a study of the 2nd commandment (Exod 20:4-6; Deut 5:8-10). Also check out the Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7 (available in any Bible that has the Apocrypha), 2 Kings 18:4 (where the people had been burning sacrifices to the bronze serpent, so Hezekiah destroyed it).

The International Critical Commentary volume on Numbers has a very good explanation of this verse and might get to the bottom of your inquiry. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly expensive. I know that Logos has started a limited program of offering rentals of some of their products. The ICC commentary set might make an excellent choice for them to offer either the whole set or one volume at a time for people to rent for a month at a time. I'm sure very few people would pay $95 to own this volume, but if you could pay $10 or $20 to use it for a month, might you?

The Anchor Yale Bible Commentary volume on Numbers also has a good explanation, but it isn't even available as a standalone volume and the entire set is very very expensive. This is one set that it's time for Logos to split up.

The Interpretation Commentary volume on Numbers is more affordable and also has a very good explanation.

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Sep 14 2013 2:34 PM

I will say this, if it is any consolation. I am going to eventually release a book that explains the full prophetic significance of the bronze serpent, but that will be a few years down the line. Because it is such a radical explanation, many things have to be laid out first. I was working on the book (which was to be my first) that includes the bronze serpent explanation about 4 years ago, then I realized a couple of things. One, I would have to address a number of fundamental issues that feed the underlying resistance to the bigger issue(s). The second was...well, that YHWH wasn't finished opening my eyes yet...there was a lot more stuff coming down the pipe, and it all had to be taken into consideration before I could understand how to proceed. I wish I had known that when I took my retirement money out early, thinking I would have a completed book in less than a year. I've been living off 1/3 to a 1/4 of what is considered poverty for the last three years while sorting all this stuff out...plus more keeps coming. But at least I know which book should come first and I'm about 100 pages in and hope to finish it before the year is out. I feel like I need to complete at least two others also and release them simultaneously, but I don't know how long I can keep up this Ramen thing. Stick out tongue

Ramen is actually pretty good if you toss out the salt mine that comes with it and just stir in some butter and parmesan cheese. Good enough to have 2-3 times a week, whether you want to or not! Big Smile  I'd like to release the book on Logos first, but I don't know if that is an option.

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Jack Hairston | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Sep 14 2013 3:08 PM

DominicM:

Num 21:9 and the Lord told him to make a serpent* and erect it as a standard, so that anyone who had been bitten could look at it and recover. REB

Don't understand why God would get them to make a graven image and raise it up..

Consider also the cherubim that God ordered for the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, and the two large cherubim that stood inside the Holy of Holies. I don't think we have God completely figured out, yet.

Posts 5416
David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Sep 14 2013 3:58 PM

Jack Hairston:

DominicM:

Num 21:9 and the Lord told him to make a serpent* and erect it as a standard, so that anyone who had been bitten could look at it and recover. REB

Don't understand why God would get them to make a graven image and raise it up.. 

Consider also the cherubim that God ordered for the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, and the two large cherubim that stood inside the Holy of Holies. I don't think we have God completely figured out, yet.

Prophecy, anyone? There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. TONS is currently hidden, and it literally turns everything on its head...and I mean EVERYTHING.

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David Ames | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Sep 14 2013 4:07 PM

David Paul:

I'd like to release the book on Logos first, but I don't know if that is an option.

Ask them!  Also what price range are you aiming at? We have read many of your posts and reading your book would really get us 'inside your head'.

Posts 5416
David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Sep 14 2013 4:36 PM

I have thought mainly in terms of a 3-book combo...perhaps with a Prepub of $50. In some respects I feel like that would be giving them away, but this is Logos, and we are "family" of sorts, so I feel inclined to offer a family discount. They would probably go in the $25-35 each range as hard copies. I guess it depends somewhat on length and other considerations. I hate talking about money...but people are always talking to me about it, so I guess I have to reciprocate. This has been way more "work" than I anticipated, four years worth and counting, and I haven't seem a dime from it yet. I've heard somewhere that the worker is worthy of his wage. I suppose that depends on the quality of the work, but I've put in plenty of time.

Mainly, I'm just looking forward to the time when I can call myself an author rather than "a writer". I know a few others who would like to see that too, for varying reasons. Plus, one lady already paid me for a copy of my first book, and I want to get her a copy of something (it won't be the exact one I expected) before she isn't around to read it. I really need to hurry...she's been snow-haired as long as I've known her.

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Sep 14 2013 4:56 PM

David Paul:
Mainly, I'm just looking forward to the time when I can call myself an author rather than "a writer".

That would be a nice achievement. Don't expect to be able to give up the ramen diet any time soon, though. Authors don't make much money either, unless they become best-sellers. And no offense intended towards your mammoth efforts, but this isn't the sort of stuff that becomes best-seller material. All the best in it. I'd like to read what you produce if it gets published. I hope Logos will pick it up. They do have a precedence for publishing things that have never before appeared in print. James E. Rosscup's An Exposition on Prayer in the Bible was done this way. See Dan Pritchett's blog post about it. This was the outcome of 50 years of this man's work! I would recommend contacting Dan Pritchett (dan@logos.com) if you want to make an inquiry about them publishing your book, since he was the one who approached Rosscup about doing that project.

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DominicM | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 15 2013 12:56 AM

David, no disrespect but if you are not going to share then maybe you should refrain from commenting, whilst happy for your future book its like telling a starving person they can't eat the food in your picnic basket.. Not helpful..

Thanks again Rosie... Was aware of related passages, but need bigger book budget for those commentaries.. Guess will need to earn more $$$$ this year to add them..

Thanks Jack hadn't considered the ark of covenant.. More meat to chew on :-) 

Never Deprive Anyone of Hope.. It Might Be ALL They Have

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 15 2013 1:23 AM

This is the sort of issue I like to look to Jewish sources for guidance. Unfortunately, in Logos that means I am very limited ... and in this case my first attempt didn't yield a huge success:


the serpents Hebrew ha-naḥash, literally “the serpent,” the singular used as a collective, for example, va-taʿal ha-tsefardeʿa (Exod. 8:2), literally “the frog came up.”11

8. seraph figure A winged snake similar to the winged Egyptian uraeus (cobra). Its image, engraved on a bronze bowl inscribed with a Hebrew name, was found in the excavation of the royal palace of Nineveh, dating to the end of the eighth century. It was believed that looking at it would generate its homeopathic healing (see Excursus 52). Yet the question needs to be asked: Why did not God simply remove the plague as He removed all the plagues of Egypt? The answer given by tradition is that He resorted to this means in order to test Israel’s obedience; only those who heeded His command to look at the snake would recover. This is precisely how Targum Jonathan understands it: “If he [the victim] directed his heart to the Name of the Memra’ of the Lord, he would live”;12 or as expressed in the Wisdom of Solomon (first half of the first century C.E.): “Only for a while were they thrown into disarray as a warning, possessing as they did a symbol of Your salvation to remind them of the commandment of Your law. For whoever turned towards it was saved not by the sight beheld, but through You, the savior of all” (Wisdom of Sol. 16:6–7).

9. copper serpent How did Moses know that the seraph figure should be made of copper? Abravanel says that only copper could imitate the color of the poisonous snakes that are characterized by red spots or stripes. More likely, Moses wished to imitate not the color of the snake but its name, neḥash neḥoshet: “Moses reasoned thus: If I make it of gold [zahav] or silver [kesef] these Hebrew words do not resemble each other. Hence I will make it out of copper (neḥoshet) since this word resembles the other, namely, neḥash neḥoshet—a copper serpent.”13 Thus the paronomasia, or word play, adds to its homeopathic powers. Note that, according to later biblical tradition, the serpent was called neḥushtan (2 Kings 18:4), thus perpetuating the paronomasia (see Excursus 52).

copper serpent Rather, “copper snake.” It has been suggested that the snake was made out of bronze. By the end of the second millennium the knowledge of how to harden copper by adding tin to make the alloy bronze was widespread through the Near East and bronze objects have been found in Middle Bronze Jericho, Megiddo, and Lachish, that is, in the Canaanite period. Of greater relevance, however, is the copper snake, five inches long, found at Timna, the copper mining and smelting region in the Arabah near the Red Sea, which dates from between 1200 and 900 B.C.E.—approximately the same time and place that Moses fashioned a similar snake. This fact makes it highly probable that the snake story was inserted into the itinerary precisely when Israel was in the vicinity of the Timna copper mines. This thesis is further supported by textual evidence of a break in the next stage of the itinerary (see the Comment to v. 10). The snake was found in the holy place of a tent shrine erected by a nomadic tribe (Midianites?). The place had been the site of a temple to the Egyptian god Hathor that had been abandoned by the Egyptians about 1150 B.C.E.14

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As punishment for their rebellion in the wilderness, God sent fiery serpents to bite the people. When the people repented, God heeded their prayers and ordered Moses to make a model of a serpent and place it on a pole, “and if anyone who is bitten looks at it, he shall recover” (Num. 21:6–10). Although God did not specify the material to be used, Moses chose copper (nechoshet), because in Hebrew it contains the letters of the nachash (serpent) that was attacking the sinners (Rashi).69 According to the Mishnah, the copper serpent had no intrinsic power, but was effective because “when Israel turned their thoughts and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they were healed” (JT RH 3:8, 29a), just as Israel prevailed in the battle against Amalek (Exod. 17:11) when Moses raised his arms and focused the gaze and minds of the people toward Heaven.70 This copper serpent eventually became an object of idol worship in the Temple until it was destroyed by King Hezekiah in the eighth century B.C.E. (2 Kings 18:4), an action that was praised by the Rabbis (Ber. 10b).71

Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 730–731.
Jacob Milgrom, Numbers, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990), 174–175.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 15 2013 1:41 AM

DominicM:
Thanks again Rosie... Was aware of related passages, but need bigger book budget for those commentaries..

OK, well here are a couple of brief excerpts:

From ICC (there are several more paragraphs there, but this is the heart of it):

From a notice in the Book of Kings (2 K. 18:4), it appears that in the 8th century b.c. the “bronze serpent” was an object of popular worship in Judah: the people burnt sacrifices (מקטרים) to it. It was therefore destroyed by Hezekiah, who acted, as we may suppose, under the influence of Isaiah’s iconoclastic teaching (Is. 2:8, 17:8, 30:22, 31:7). The notice in the Book of Kings agrees with the present in attributing to Moses the manufacture of the serpent.

The relation between these two notices may be regarded in two ways. Either (a) the present passage records the actual origin of the bronze serpent, and the symbol, originally erected by Moses without idolatrous intent, came to be an object of idolatrous worship; or (b) Nu. 21:4–9 is an etiological story told to explain a symbol that actually owed its origin to other than Yahwistic belief. The acceptance or rejection of explanation (a), which is adopted, for example, by Strack, will be largely determined by the general conclusion as to the date and historical value of the Pentateuchal sources: it need only be pointed out here that the story contains no adequate explanation of the choice of this particular form of miracle, nor of how the Israelite nomads on the march were in a position to manufacture, with the speed which the circumstances demanded, so important a work in metal. Explanation (b), which is now very generally adopted, accords with a general tendency in religion to endeavour to impart new and more appropriate significance to incongruous rites and practices which happen to possess a great hold on the people: cp. p. 48.

Beliefs in the connection between the serpent and healing, which, if the present story is rightly regarded as etiological in character, must have been recognised by the Hebrews, are widespread. A conspicuous instance is the Greek god of healing, Asklepios, who is said to have appeared in the form of a serpent, and is constantly represented accompanied by serpents. Possibly another trace of such a belief among the Hebrews may be found in “the Dragon’s spring” (עין תנין Neh. 2:13), for the “Arabs still regard medicinal waters as inhabited by the jinn, which are usually of serpent form.”

 From AYBC (again just a few key paragraphs of a longer treatment):

The specific principle at work in the utilization of the bronze serpent is sympathetic magic. In this instance, one combats pernicious snakes by enlisting in the cause a more powerful snake, or, to be precise, an empowered snake capable of destroying the inimical one. The identity in form or in nature of the friendly power with the inimical power is what is expressed in the term “sympathetic.” In modern immunology one uses serums of the same composition as the disease or virus to fight its infectious effects. The sympathetic principle explains the utilization of a goat in combating Azazel, the goat-demon of the wilderness, as prescribed in Leviticus 16 (Levine 1989b:106–108). Another biblical example is the Philistine response to infection either by mice or by some sort of bodily inflammation. They fashioned golden images of the infectious creatures, or of boils perhaps, and these did the trick in relieving the affliction. In ancient Near Eastern art, one often finds snakes drawn upon or sculpted onto storage jars, for instance, to protect their contents from intruders or from defilement. A bronze image of a snake is, therefore, an appropriate artifact for the purposes involved. What requires further explanation is the technique of healing projected in the account of the bronze serpent. One is healed by gazing at a symbolic and potent artifact. One way of understanding such eye contact is that it served as a signal. The gaze of the afflicted person set in motion the curative powers of the serpent. It may be that the bronze serpent was thought of as returning the gaze, or radiating power, and in so doing destroyed the poison in the body of the afflicted person. This suggests a slightly different interpretation: The gaze of the afflicted may have represented a form of appeal to the bronze serpent, an appeal answered in the form of healing. In phenomenological terms, gazing at a potent image is similar to gazing at the countenance of powerful beings such as deities and kings.

Finally, the relationship between the present tale and the report preserved in 2 Kings 18:4 requires discussion. There we read that the pious king, Hezekiah, had the bronze serpent called Nehushtan removed from the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem because the people had taken to offering sacrifices before it. Some have speculated that the account of the incident in Numbers 21 had an etiological purpose, namely, to explain the origins of the snake cult of Hezekiah’s time. More likely, the notation in 2 Kings 18:4 was polemical in tone, expressing the attitude of zealous monotheists of that period to the effect that any iconic symbol is susceptible to degeneration. It may be hypostatized, so that divine power is attributed to what was originally merely an instrument of power, or a manifestation of it (Haran 1968).

From Interpretation (again this is just part of the whole commentary on that verse):

The phrase in 21:9, “a serpent of bronze,” is a wordplay since the words “serpent” and “bronze” are closely related in Hebrew, neḥash neḥoshet. Several hundred years later in Israel’s history, King Hezekiah tore down and destroyed what was alleged to be Moses’ bronze serpent, called “Nehustan.” The bronze serpent had been kept in the Jerusalem temple as a sacred object, but people had begun making offerings to it as if it were an idol or image of God. This clearly violated the first of the Ten Commandments, which prohibits idolatry and making images (Exod. 20:3–4). As part of his attempt to reform Judah’s worship practices, King Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent in the temple (2 Kings 18:4). Scholars have debated the nature of the relationship between the Mosaic bronze serpent and Hezekiah’s Nehustan, but the tradition clearly links the two.

The symbol of the snake or serpent played important roles in the religious and cultural life of ancient Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamia, and Greece. The serpent was a symbol of evil power and chaos from the underworld as well as a symbol of fertility, life, and healing. The bronze serpent in Numbers 21 bears some relationship to a healing ritual known as sympathetic magic, common in the ancient Near East. If an individual suffered from the poison of some plant or animal, then gazing upon an image of that same poisonous animal or plant was thought to heal or guard the person from further attack. Such a view does not fit well with the biblical understanding that often resists such magical manipulation. Thus, the deuterocanonical book of the Wisdom of Solomon recalls the story of the bronze serpent in the form of a prayer spoken to God, speaking of the Israelites who

received a symbol of deliverance to remind them of your law’s command. For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by the thing that was beheld, but by you, the Savior of all.… For you have power over life and death; you lead mortals down to the gates of Hades and back again. (Wisd. Sol. 16:6–7, 13)

 

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Lee | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 15 2013 2:11 AM

@DominicM:

What Logos resources do you have at present, mind if I ask?

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Brian Losabia | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 15 2013 3:59 AM

Thanks Rosie, MJ, and everyone else for the reading materials.

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Bill Anderson | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 15 2013 2:21 PM

DominicM:

I am aware some commentators get around this by saying its a type of Christ.. But can anyone recommend any resources in or out of Logos that might help be clarify and reconcile this aparrant disparity..

Tim Keller in his sermon archive that is available in Logos dives into what you characterize as a type of Christ and draws out the practical implications of the gospel:

“God says, “Put a bronze snake up on a pole.” What does that mean? If there had only been one snake and the snake was sort of slithering around and biting people and they were getting sick and then it was going away, everybody would be upset. What would they do? The only way anybody could rest and be at peace again would be if some hunter came in to find the snake. As the hunter was going in, everybody was scared. You had to watch where you were going and all that.

What if the hunter caught the snake, crushed the snake, and destroyed it? The only way to bring hope back to the camp … What would the hunter do? You know what they would do. You’d lift the snake up on the pole with which you killed it. You smack a snake, and then you lift it up. In fact, the smartest thing to do with a snake, as you know, is not to hold it like this but to put it up with pinchers. You would walk through the camp and say, “I got it!” To hold a snake up on a pole means it’s dead. It’s gone. It’s been destroyed. It’s been captured.

Everybody would look and say, “We have hope again.” What God is saying to the Israelites, not to us, by putting that up is, “I am the One who healeth thee. I am the One who can stop the snakes and heal you of the poison. I am the hunter. I have the power. I am the One who puts the snake up on the pole. Look to me, not to the snake so much. To look to the snake is to look to me. Look to me in my power. Look to me in my mercy and you’ll be healed.” That’s what they did.

What he was saying was, “I am the One who heals you. Have hope in me.” But Jesus goes further and says, “Let me tell you what it really meant. As the snake in the wilderness was lifted up, so I will be lifted up.” The first thing it means is Jesus will die. A lifted-up snake was a dead snake. A lifted-up snake was a crushed snake. A lifted-up snake was a snake that had been smitten. For Jesus Christ to be lifted up did not just simply mean he went up the steps or something.

He says, “As the snake in the wilderness was lifted up, I will be lifted up,” which means, “I will die. I will be smitten. I will be crushed.” But it goes beyond that. He doesn’t just say, “I’m going to die.” Here’s what he says. He’s not just saying he will die, but he says, “I will die as the Serpent.” What is the Serpent? The Serpent is the sin. The Serpent is Satan. The Serpent is not just Satan. It represents the whole thing. It represents the evil that fell into our hearts. It represents the seed of the Serpent in us.

It represents the mistrust of God, the rebelliousness, and the thirst. It represents all the things sin is and all the things sin deserves. Therefore, when Jesus says, “I will be lifted up as the Serpent, I will be struck, I will be destroyed, I will die, but I won’t just die. I will die as the Serpent. I will die in the place of the Serpent …” You notice in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul does not say, “God made Jesus Christ sinful.” Of course, he couldn’t have made Jesus Christ sinful.

If Jesus Christ had been sinful, if he had become selfish and wicked and as picky as we are, he would never have gone to the cross. He never would have loved us to the end. What it says is, “God made him sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” It doesn’t say he made him sinful. He made him sin. It doesn’t mean he made him a Serpent. He made him as a Serpent. He treated him as the Serpent should be treated. He treated him as sin should be treated.[1]


[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

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