Bronze Snakes, Idolatry, and The Church

A Bohemian Husband Post


Ok, it’s Bible story time and I’ve got a little tale about idolatry for you.  Don’t worry, if you’re like me, it’s one you probably didn’t even know existed because it’s only one sentence in the Bible.


But let’s start at the beginning.  Say, about 1400 BC.  Welp, those derned Israelites was up to no good again, and a whole pile of snakes started bitin’ er’ body.  So ol’ Moses, he builds this snake on a pole out of bronze, and says if you was bit you should gaze on that snake and be healed.

  • Thus, one of the creepiest and most random stories (at least about Moses) was written.
  • AND thus, Israel’s longest-standing idol was created.


Fast forward to about 600-ish BC.  You see, once again those derned Israelites was up to no good…ok I can’t keep that up and my spell-checker is having a seizure.


Anyhow, if you study the big themes of the Bible, you know that one major theme for the entire history of the old testament is whether or not a king, judge, or prophet “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” or not.  A second major theme is Israel’s adulterous struggle with idolatry.


Now, read 2 Kings 18:1-4. 

“He (Hezekiah) removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because until those days the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.”


If you’ve studied history, and themes, then you know that 2 Kings is the The Empire Strikes Back of the Bible.  Or, if you’re more of a Tolkien fan, you can say it’s the The Two Towers.


Basically, the world (as they know it) is at war.  One kingdom is lost and sold into slavery already.  Prophets are telling them that they’re next, and that the siege is going to last so long they’re going to eat dead people to keep from starving, but that most of them will starve anyhow, and that mothers will kill their babies out of mercy, and that if they live they’re going to be hauled off as slaves.  They’ve just come out of a good 300 to 400 years of child sacrifices, séances, and ritual sex.


In other words, it’s a pretty dark time.  Not looking good for the Jews.


So, as all epic stories go, this one light in the darkness pops up.  A man born in the wrong time or something.  King Hezekiah is actually a decent guy.  Actually, according to verse 5, he’s the most decent guy they’ve ever had, or ever will have. If you were taught the biased (Jewish) version of Bible history that I was, you probably thought David was the best, Solomon was the smartest, and it was all downhill from there.


There’s only one problem:  that danged bronze snake.


You see, for all the other judges, prophets, and kings that Israel/Judah had EVER had, whenever they “were a man after God’s own heart” or “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”, well, what they really meant to say was:

“. . . except for that bronze snake-on-a-stick Moses built, that we named Nehushtan, brought to Jerusalem, and worshipped for the past 900 YEARS.  But, hey, that’s ok because Moses built it, and he was like the greatest guy ever, so it must be ok, right?”


So, my question to you is:  how many 900-year-old bronze snakes do we have in our church today?  How would you even recognize them?  There were a lot of really good guys that had come and gone, and made a lot of great reforms in Israel’s past.  But they had all been blind to the bronze snake.  It was an institution at that point.


Not even considered to be an idol by ANYONE ever.


Until Faramir…I mean…Hezekiah comes along at the end of the kingdom and finally bothers to listen to God.



*photo by Johanna Goodyear


  1. Excellent point. In the church we are so prone to take an all or nothing approach to teaching/teachers/traditions. We deify messed up humans by assuming that everything they’ve done or said is worth following. Or we dismiss them entirely if we differ in another area. It’s made a big difference to the practice of my faith since I embraced the reality that I don’t have all the answers myself (or my parents or my church or my denomination) and I am (and we are) very likelly wrong about some things.

  2. Excellent. I had never thought about it in those terms before but now that I have… why are more people not talking/preaching/looking into this!?!?!