When the Israelites murmured against God when they were passing through Mount Hor, the Lord sent venomous snakes among them. They bit many Israelites and quite a few died. When they pleaded for mercy, God asked Moses to make a snake and put it up on a pole, so that when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake could live. So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up! (Numbers 21: 1-10)
After the Israelites occupied Canaan, they still carried the snake with them. Even during the times of David and Solomon the bronze snake was preserved. It was one of the most precious relics of the past. But this very sacredness became its peril, for the people had begun to worship it, and had grown to regard it with an awe and reverence that were the just prerogatives of God.
The reverence and affections of the Jewish people towards the old bronze snake is understandable. In those days the people had few instructors, and fewer books. As a nation, the Jews were in a state of childhood, scarcely capable of furnishing any materials for history. In such states of society there is a natural and strong clinging to the past. So there was this snake of bronze! It was very precious, yet it was doing harm. Over the years, especially after the days of David, it had become an object of idolatrous worship. They did more than treasure it as a precious relic, and “they burned incense to it.” King Hezekiah had to take the bold step of demolishing it, as he had both the glory of God and the good of his country as his priorities (II Kings 18: 1-4).
King Hezekiah had the seeing eye. He could discern what was right before God rather than what was acceptable to people. He saw clearly that what they worshipped was only a lifeless, senseless piece of bronze, and nothing more. This quality lifted the king an immeasurable distance above the people.
Idolatry is not just a pagan issue. It is not just an Old Testament or Jewish issue. It is a human issue. Every symbol loses its significance and value in proportion as it is converted into an idol. The bronze snake was a material token of the pitying mercy of God, a symbol of the Divine power, a reminder of the Divine holiness. But when the Jews began to worship it, its worth departed.
Today as the world is after many Isms and Gurus, Christendom is also faced with the challenge of false worship. We need to be cautious that any pet doctrine and favoured way of worship rob us from the path of worshipping true God who is Spirit. God demands that we honour Him and truth, and burn no incense to mere confessions of faith. The Sacraments also are symbols. Whenever they begin to be idolised, they lose much of their significance and value.
Also, superstitions may need to be broken down among us in reference to a rigid adhesion to certain methods of Christian work. We are used to proclaim the truth in a certain way, and the Lord has blessed us in it. Therefore, we venerate the method and the plan, and forget that the Holy Spirit is a free Spirit. There are persons who object very seriously to any attempt to do good in a way which they have not tried before.
We look at things in different ways and have peculiar standpoints. Some, for instance, never bring the object of vision near, while others look at things through tinted mediums, and all appear of uniform colour!
Others, with motives of personal interest, love of ease, prejudice, ambition, or blind adherence to a church, organization or party, will wilfully close their eyes to new things. And some, though they see clearly enough, would not declare the vision.
We need to constantly check our motives, ways and means of Christian worship and work that we will not become worshippers of systems, methods and structures. Let our focus remain the resurrected Lord.
– Arul Manohar