“HE removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.” – 2 Kings xviii. 4.
Hezekiah’s reign over Judah furnished a striking contrast to the reign of his father Ahaz before him. Ahaz had been a wicked king, a man evidently in whom the fear of the Lord was not. An instance of the truth that children do not always walk in the example of their fathers is Hezekiah, for whereas Ahaz delighted in heathen abominations and practices, his son Hezekiah upon succession to the throne at once manifested a great zeal for the house of the Lord and for the worship of God according to the divine direction given Moses. Among the first acts of King Hezekiah was the abo lition of idolatry; he removed the high places of idol worship, destroying the images, cutting down the groves, and even brake in pieces the brazen serpent which Moses had made many years before to set upon a pole that time that God had sent fiery serpents among them. This brazen serpent, it seems, had been preserved by the Israelites perhaps as a memento or relic of that solemn incident in their journey through the wilderness. This brazen serpent the people of Judah during Ahaz’s sinful reign had been worshiping, even burning incense to it. Hezekiah destroyed this serpent of brass, calling it “Nehushtan,” which means a piece of brass. Hezekiah meant that this piece of brass was no more than any other piece of brass after it had served the purpose for which God had commanded it to be made, therefore it was not to be worshiped nor held in esteem any longer, and to do so was to worship an idol: a god out of brass. It is probable that at least seven hundred years separated the time that Moses made the serpent of brass in the wilderness as Israel was encompassing the land of Edom, and the time that King Hezekiah of Judah finally destroyed that serpent of brass. At the time that God had commanded Moses to make it there had been a necessity for it, but that necessity had long since past, so that to longer cherish it as an object of adoration was no better than any other form of idolatry. The Israelites had spoken against God and against Moses, saying, “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness? I 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.” Owing to the coming of this woe among them, the people besought Moses to pray to the Lord to take these serpents from among them. Moses did so, and the Lord said to him, “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.” So Moses made a serpent of brass, not of fire, showing that Moses understood the Lord to mean “brazen” when he said “fiery.” The Lord’s words therefore are not always to be taken literally. This serpent Moses put upon a pole, and any man bitten by a serpent, and who beheld the serpent of brass, lived. It is our view that these fiery serpents represented the sting of death, which is sin. The brazen serpent upon a pole represented Jesus on the tree “made sin for us.” “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” Now this brazen serpent had no healing power , in and of itself, but the faith of those who looked upon it did the healing. By faith they were healed. The serpent of brass was merely a. symbol of their faith, and pointed to the Savior who should come in the end of that Jewish world to be made sin for them, to take from death its sting and to deliver from the power of death those who all their lifetime had been subject to bondage. This faith, then, was the healing power that wrought in the ones bitten to behold the brazen serpent upon the pole, and the serpent of brass was simply a concomitant of that faith. It is easy, very easy, for us poor, finite creatures (and so, too, for the Israelites of old) to substitute the visible for the invisible, to worship that which we see and not the power we cannot see. God himself is infinite, eternal and incomprehensible. No wonder then that we who are finite, of the dust and full of vanity, cannot arise to a proper conception of divinity so as to, out of our natural equipment, worship God as he ought to be worshiped: in spirit, not in matter; in truth, not in error. God says that his ways and his thoughts are as far above our ways and our thoughts as the heavens are higher than the earth. This being so, man is forever helplessly unable with any of his natural powers to think the thoughts of the infinite God and to harmonize himself with the ways of godliness. Nevertheless man is naturally a religious being, though not by nature inclined to that religion which is pure and undefiled in the sight of God. Man, every man, we think, worships something. All men have a natural idea or standard of what they consider excellent or worth having and worthy of their struggles and devotion. Of course, this ideal is as much carnal as any other part of the natural man, notwithstanding it is a god to him. Some worship money, some fame or honor among men; some worship intellectual superiority, some the power of will or the will to power. Some crave a moral righteousness, others a fancied righteousness that will win them the favor off God. All these are gods to the ones that pant after them. Thus civilization compasses its heathen in its complex structure as well as the African wilderness wild shelters its heathen in its jungle-tangled fastnesses, for the self-professed christian who worships an imaginary god of moral and intellectual worth is no more worshiping the true and living God in Spirit and in truth than is the dark skinned ignoramus who crooks his knee to an idol carved from tree trunks or rocks. The natural religion of man leads him always to worship or to seek a god that lies within his own conception of what a god ought to be, but the true worship of God instilled by God-given faith in a man leads that one to seek the God who all the time is above his comprehension, and whose ways are too mysterious to be fathomed. It is contrary to nature for man to worship something he cannot apprehend either with his senses, his intellect or his will. Only by the working of that Power higher than man can one ever rise to right thoughts of God. God must think his thoughts in us before we can think them back to him again. However, when one has had a remarkable spiritual experience in connection with some visible object or place, one easily drifts gradually into always associating that place or object with the attendant spiritual experience, and proneness is to thoughtlessly substitute the place or object for the experience, and to place too much value upon the visible accompaniment of the experience instead of upon the experience itself. For example, the Israelites had a wonderful deliverance in connection with this serpent of brass, so wonderful that they always associated that deliverance with the serpent of brass, instead of with the incarnate Savior whom it prefigured and who was invisible to them. They lost sight of the substance in the shadow, worshiping the image instead of the Power behind the image. The serpent of brass was no more than any other piece of brass, as Hezekiah knew, so he destroyed it in disgust at his people’s shallowness, saying,"Nehushtan,” it is a piece of brass. “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God.” Here is forbidden in the law of God the making of any image to worshiped. Suffice it to say that our imaginations are capable of graving images the tablets of the mind, and to worship even these mental conceptions is as much idolatry in the sight of God as to worship something external to us and tangible. Further, we are commanded not to make “any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above” to bow down unto or to serve. Therefore to picture God, or Christ, or the saints in heaven, to represent them, either in statuary, or on canvas, or in the stuff that dreams are made of, so as to worship them, is idolatry. God, or Christ, or any of the heavenly host, cannot be pictured either with chisel, with brush or pencil, nor in our thoughts and imaginations, for how can He who is eternal, infinite, invisible and incomprehensible be transferred and transfixed in a medium that is material, finite and unstable? Thus it is that being so carnal and earth-bound as we are, and as the Judeans of old were also, whenever God reveals himself to us in any way, at a certain place and at a certain time, we invariably treasure in our recollection that time and that place which accompanied the revelation rather than the truth of God that was made manifest to us there. So did the Judeans of old degenerate unto the worship of the piece of brass instead of worshiping the Power signified by it. The bride in the Song of Solomon came unto the watchman seeking him whom her soul loved, but not until she passed a little beyond the watchman did she find him. God places his watchmen upon the walls of Zion, but we derive no comfort from the watchman until our faith looks beyond the visible man to the invisible Beloved behind him. Cornelius fell down at the feet of Peter and worshiped him, but Peter quickly commanded him, “Stand up; I myself also am a man.” Here we see in Cornelius that ignorance which was in the Judeans of Hezekiah’s day, that lack of knowledge which impelled him to worship the message-bearer instead of the Power behind. The same thing is instanced in Rev. xxii. 8, 9: “And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.” It is not to be wondered at that John felt inclined to worship the angel which had shown him such wonderful things, nevertheless John’s impulse was wrong, God alone is to be worshiped by his people, and no image must intrude between them and himself. John said to his brethren, My little children, keep yourselves from idols, and Paul said, My dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. Now, the crux of the whole subject is, how is idolatry cured? We have seen how we are every one carnally disposed to substitute the seen for the unseen and to worship the tangible. What is the cure? Hezekiah abolished the idolatry of the Judeans in his day. “Thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth, before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.” What a sublime summary of this man’s reign inspiration here gives us. Hezekiah has been dead for centuries, but a greater than Hezekiah, our risen and victorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is now among us by his Holy Spirit, though unseen to mortal capacities. Faith sees him always near. The risen Christ is the spiritual Hezekiah. As Hezekiah of old set his house in order, which house was Judah, so infinitely more has Christ set his house in order, whose house are we “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Zerubbabel was the name of the captain of the Lord’s host who led the children of Israel out of captivity in Babylon back to their own land again. The name “Zerubbabel” means destroyer of idolatry, or of confusion. Jesus is the real, the antitypical, destroyer of idol worship. He, by his Spirit operating in the believer’s heart, casts down every evil imagination and every thought that exalts itself against God. The only way not to be a heathen is to be by grace under the operation of the Spirit of Christ, which fulfills in us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” We do not believe that any one can of himself for even a single moment fix his faith’s eye on divinity to the utter exclusion of all images and literal conceptions, they will intrude themselves in spite of all we can do. But whenever Jesus Christ exalts himself graciously in our hearts, we then are clothed and in our right mind at his feet, saved from our demented and distorted visions of him prior thereto. We then appear in glory with him, see him as he is, and are like him for a little while. These periods of spiritual lucidity and sanity, seldom though they are, are all that make this earth-wilderness blossom as the rose. L.
Elder H. H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 20.
October 15, 1916