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..."
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.