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Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Brazen Serpent

During my mission, my friends and I who are serving missions elsewhere have kept in contact via e-mail. One of the missionaries recently wrote, "I was just reading the story about how Moses had the brass serpent on a stick to heal the people. I was really looking at it and was impressed at how [the children of Israel] saw their blessings as curses. They had been freed from Egypt and were given manna from heaven, but they said 'why do we have to wander in the desert and eat the same food all the time!' God sent a plague to humble them and they were, but they only came to the prophet, so he prayed and was told to turn them to the true source of relief, our Savior. Moses made the brass serpent and set it as a standard to be looked to in times of trial. Of those who looked, it was said in the Book of Mormon "that many looked but few understood what it meant, they were all healed but not all of them were touched by the deep meaning of the action." It also says many didn't even have the faith to look (See 1 Nephi 17: 41; 2 Nephi 25: 20; Alma 33: 19–22; 37: 46). I couldn't help but think of all of us, how we are all in desperate need for relief and our Lord and Savior Jesus [Christ] is ready for us, the price has already been payed, if we will but come unto him we can be healed..."




From the King James Version, the account she mentioned reads, "And the people spake against God, and against Moses, 'Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.' And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, 'We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.' And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, 'Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.' And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." (Numbers 21: 5-9; punctuation modernized)


I, being me, like to make people think, and hear their responses. So, my reply to this missionary was: 

"When I first learned of this miracle performed by Moses, I have had a question come to my mind, and every time since then I have had to ask, "why did God have a serpent be in similitude of Christ?" I thought the serpent represented evil. The example of this would be in the account of Adam and Eve. "The serpent was more subtil than any other beast of the field..." (Genesis 3: 1; Moses 4: 7) in the account of Moses it further says, " And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he [Satan] had drawn away many after him,) and he [Satan] sought also to beguile Eve... And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said--Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he [Satan] spake by the mouth of the serpent.)" (Moses 4: 6-7) Since then, we read things such as, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers... (Matthew 23: 33) as said by the Savior. John the Beloved referred to the Devil as "that old serpent" (Revelation 12: 9; 20: 2) Joseph Smith affirmed this declaration in Doctrine and Covenants 76: 28 and 88: 110. So, with so much similitude of serpents and the Devil, how could a brazen serpent be a similitude of Christ?"






After reading her e-mail, and sending a response, I discussed this matter with other missionaries. One missionary responded with, "Satan likes to turn good symbols, into bad ones." Naturally, he gave an example to help prove his statement. "The number 13 in the scriptures is a good symbol. It represented 12 + 1 or the Apostles, plus Christ." Nowadays, the number 13 is associated with things that are bad, Friday the 13th, for example. "Perhaps," he continued, "that Satan has changed the meaning of the symbol of the serpent." When God called Moses to be His chosen mouthpiece, even the prophet of Israel, Moses responded, "But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee." (Exodus 4:1) God, desiring to help His people, including Moses, "said unto him, 'What is that in thine hand?' And he said, 'A rod.' And [The Lord] said, 'Cast it on the ground.' And [Moses] cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, 'Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail.' And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand. 'That they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee." (Exodus 4: 2-5; punctuation modernized) God used a serpent to prove his word has come from Moses. Later we read, "the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, 'When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, 'Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.'' And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent." (Exodus 7: 8-10; punctuation modernized) In an attempt to make it appear as if they weren't called of God, Satan's power was used. "Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents..." So, in a similar manner, the same sign was used, but for evil purposes, "but," the account reads, "Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods." (Exodus 7: 11-12) God's purposes will always trump Satan's including in symbology.




At the time of the fall, "the Lord God said unto the serpent, 'Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life...' (Genesis 3:14) the serpent was the lowest life-form on the earth—licking up the dust from it. In contrast, the highest beasts were that of birds, flying through the air, not touching the ground. Because of this, ancient people have used birds, or feathers to represent godliness or purity. In ancient Egyptian, for example, ones heart needed to be lighter than a feather for them to continue.

In response to my question, this missionary shared with me some of her knowledge from an article titled: '"Kish:" a personal name to the Book of Mormon Jaredites and the Olmec culture of Meso-america and links to Jesus Christ—the Meso-america Messiah' by Bruce W. Warren. He wrote, "In the Old Testament in about 1000 B.C., Saul's father was named Kish (1 Samuel 9:1). Interestingly, in the book of Ether, a Jaredite king, King Kish, lived about the same time. The book of Ether's account gives little information about King Kish other than his name. He was the son of a righteous king named Corom and the father of a righteous king named Lib (Ether 1:18-1910:17-19). Thus, King Kish was apparently one of the Jaredite monarchs... On the Tablet of the Cross at Palenque are found engravings that trace the genealogy of Kan Balam... Among the names of Kan Balam's royal ancestors is found what may be the full name of King Kish—U-Kish Kan, an ancient king of the Olmec culture. Kan means serpent. One of the meanings of Kish is featheredNow that the Maya code is being deciphered, the name of U-Kish Kan has been translated as "he of the feathered serpent."  This connection, in combination with the Old Testament account in which Moses lifted up the brazen serpent as a similitude of Christ, may indicate that the serpent motif as a representation of Christ's condescension to earth was prominent in both Old and New World [ancient] cultures..." (Source: "New Evidences of Christ in Ancient America" pp 19–22; Book of Mormon Research Foundation) An angel of the Lord once asked a prophet, "Knowest thou the condescension of God?" (1 Nephi 11: 16) In other words, "Do you know how far the Lord will lower Himself?" Prophets have testified of the coming of the Savior, and His condescension. Isaiah wrote, "Butter and honey shall he eat..." (Isaiah 7: 15) don't get me wrong, honey butter is pretty good, but that is not the meaning of Isaiah's line. Butter (or Curd) and Honey were the foods the poor could readily, and consistently receive. Elder Jeffery R. Holland observed, "From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus loved the impoverished and the disadvantaged in an extraordinary way. He was born into the home of two of them and grew up among many more of them. We don't know all the details of His temporal life, but He once said, "Foxes have holes, and … birds … have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." (Matthew 8: 20) Apparently the Creator of heaven and earth "and all things that in them are" (2 Nephi 2: 14; 3 Nephi 9: 15) was, at least in His adult life, homeless." Just as the serpent was brought down into the depths of Humility, so has "The Son of Man[, who] hath descended below them all." (Doctrine and Covenants 122: 8) this missionary wrote to me, to be quite blunt, "It's symbolic... [Christ] conceded to come down with us and to guide us. He was the lowest of the low. symbolically going about in the dirt like a common serpent. "



From the beginning, the serpent was known as being "more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made." (Genesis 3:1) they have been known to be cunning—some would even say wise. Jesus Christ, Himself, exhorted His disciples to, "Be ye as wise as serpents..." (Matthew 10: 16) Who was the wisest man to ever walk the earth? If you say Solomon, you know your Bible, but it was not him. It was one of his descendants. The Lord promised Solomon's father, David, the Messiah would come from his loins. From whence does wisdom come? It comes from the Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the great "I Am" as he once introduced Himself to Moses; even Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament who testified of His coming to the earth to His prophets like Isaiah who said the Messiah would have the tongue of the learned (Isaiah 50: 4, 7). Why? Because the Savior and Redeemer of the New Testament is Jehovah, the great "I Am," as He once revealed to the Pharisees, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Creator. He was the descent of royalty, who could have been born into extravagant circumstances, but humbled Himself to succor us all. As the serpent is the most wise of all creatures, Christ is the Most wise of all God's children.



An interesting observation I made in the flying fiery serpents is the Lord told Moses to make the very thing which had afflicted them. Can you imagine looking to the thing which gave you so much pain and misery for comfort and healing? Our Heavenly Father loves us, but when we sin, even the thought of His existence pains our heart with the eternal torment of Guilt. Why would you want to look at Him when doing so gives you pain? When we lose sight of our Father, when we are cut from His presence, we experience spiritual death. Guilt is an awful venom coursing through our souls killing us little by little, just as the bites of those serpents killed many of the Israelites. There is no medicine for this, except the prescription given by the Loving Father  at whom we are afraid to look. This medicine is the cure-all for all the worlds problems, even the pains of the venom coursing through our spirits, even the Atonement of Jesus Christ. "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. " (John 3: 14-15) When we look to the Savior His arms of mercy are extended to us. We experience healing from our guilt, to give us the Joy of living in the presence of our God, and His God, and our Father, and His Father (See John 20: 17), even everlasting, Eternal life.

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