Moses made a copper serpent and mounted it on a standard; and when anyone was bitten by a serpent, he would look at the copper serpent and recover. Numbers 21:9
I preached on this topic about a year ago. And it seems people were mesmerized by the thought of the snake being the cosmic healer in the garden. There’s a lot more to it than I preached on, and I’ve alluded to some of the bigger picture throughout various expedition44 videos. Let me share another small bit here. This one’s pretty interesting.
The word I want you to focus on is recover.
There’s a lot of sickness today and recently I was in a little bit of a discussion or debate as to whether Christ offered simply spiritual healing at the cross or also physical healing at the cross. I’m not gonna answer that one for you, but this is going to help in that exploration of truth.
I’m going to continue talking about Contronym‘s. Those of you who regularly follow my work know that a Contronym is something that’s introduced in the Bible as being particularly the extreme example of something; and then another idea is introduced as its opposite. Usually, the point or meaning inferred contrasts some kind of transformation in a word play. There are a lot of these in the Bible but you have to look for them. They set the tone in the Old Testament for Jesus‘s teachings of the backward kingdom in the New Testament. Jesus’ way is rival or contrary to the way of the world.
This is one of the early stories or examples of a Contronym in the Bible and I like it probably more than any others because it’s in direct reference to something in the early Old Testament that is applied to Christ. And if you didn’t figure it out, that’s kind of my mantra -complete connection of theology in the entire lens of the Bible.
When Moses lifts up the snake it’s going to be a direct correlation to the ascension & the cross in John 314. In Egypt copper snakes represent healing by mysterious dark powers. This is a reference to the snake at the fall having magical power changing what it was designed to do, which was originally meant to do (extreme good) which degrades to becoming the extreme opposite of good and becoming the greatest Icon of evil. In ancient Egypt people would have to trade the allegiance of their life if they wanted to affirm or accept the healing that this evil creature would grant. This is where we get the idea originally of selling your soul to the devil.
Now this is amazing because the snake is going to choose to go from being a very useful creature in the garden to completely falling; it’s a picture of extreme opposites. Not only does he fall but he becomes the root of what will cause everybody else to fall as well. Again the example (archetype) of the most evil creature on earth.
But now Moses is going to take the same example of extreme evil and use it as a method of transformation. The icon for the greatest evil is going to be transformed to become the icon for the greatest good the world has ever known. This is going to signify to everybody that even the worst Evil or atrocity can be used or turned for good.
I also like to point out things in the original text that others might not be able to see and in this one there’s a wordplay in Hebrew that we can’t see in English.
Moses makes a nehash nehoshet, the first word meaning “snake” and the second “copper.”
Now it’s interesting that Moses chooses not to completely remove this plague as he did in Egypt but asked for a sign of obedience through the people to look upon it for healing. This is going to begin the picture of faith for Israel and for all of mankind from that point forward. It starts the reciprocal dance of grace. God offers a free gift with the understanding that the dance continues to be freely given.
The Hebrew word here that means “to look” is not a normal word that would have been used to describe gazing on something. The word is “sum” and although it does occasionally mean to look or gaze on something it’s frequently associated with the idea of being set apart, to appoint for a special purpose. It’s going to later lead to the verb Kadosh which means set apart for holiness. Similarly this word is also a word that was commonly used in culture for being set apart for death or destruction and God is going to turn it to have a new significance which will be for His people to be set apart for life. In the same way, the word “sum” takes on the idea of immediate change, or where kadosh- holiness is going to be seen as more of a journey of life. In other words the word sum is the first act of allegiance, its later going to lead to the bigger picture of Kadosh thinking that your whole life might be set apart in a journey with Him. The idea here is that it’s not a complete change but it’s the first step to change. Most of you have probably picked this up but this word “sum” is to salvation as “kadosh” is to sanctification.
I regularly pick on the idea of momentary salvation as if it were some line drawn on the ground that you simply say a cognitive prayer for and now you’re on the other side of the line. The idea of the allegiant step of faith was just the first step. This is what the biblical word “salvation” better means in its ancient context; rather than thinking of it the way that we do in our western world thinking of being completely saved at that moment. The original word salvation described a journey not a moment. ￼The definition that we want to give salvation (in our modern thinking) is actually better given to the definition of biblical sanctification.
Later, on the cross, when Christ introduces the power of healing by accepting new life in Him, it’s not going to be a one and done, it’s going to allow you to enter into that healing process that might or might not take some time. In other words, the first step of healing is also the first step towards sanctification. If you didn’t notice God often wants this process to take a little bit of time. I’ve written an entire post on this. In the Hebrew mindset you were more blessed by the longer that it took. Our American “want to have it right now” way of thinking is actually counter Biblical. God may grant healing quickly, but if he does you should consider it a reason beyond your expectation as it is not the biblical norm. I’ve also found that when God chooses to quickly heal its for his greater kingdom purposes… it probably has very little to do with you. But with that being said God honors the prayers of those that are fervent and faithful. we get a picture in the Bible that those who have a very deep fervent relationship with him ask him to intercede and he does so. If God grants quickly it’s because he has a specific reason to do so, and maybe it’s your relationship with, but even then; that immediate result is not the expected biblical norm. In ancient Hebrew thinking this was a very selfish thought to ask for yourself. It’s also contrary to Jesus in an act of servitude at the cross. he asks that we take on the same mindset towards others (not necessarily ourselves.)
Your prayers were better geared towards the communal good of the people towards God rather than your own afflictions. A better prayer (and perhaps the only unselfish prayer) is that your hardship might be turned to a spiritual sense of joy for his kingdom. Paul rarely asked that his afflictions be removed, he was honored by them. That’s hebraic thinking of hardship. In some ways you don’t pray that it goes away, you pray for the blessings that it might bring… and this is why in Hebrew we often understand that people are deeper blessed for their enduring hardships. There is almost a since they didn’t want to be physically healed yet.
There’s a lot of things here that are really interesting when we study them. The first is the idea that God is going to use something of a pagan culture and He’s going to meet people where they are and transform the most evil of things into something beautiful in his kingdom. This is the regaining of what has been lost (and become greatly defiled by this world) making it into something beautiful (not of this earth). Let’s not forget that eventually even the earth which seems to be the symbol of the world and evil is going to be reclaimed and re-created into a new earth for heavenly beings. It’s also a reference that our God is above everything else.
The snake represented perhaps the greatest of the Egyptian gods that is now under the power of the one true God. That reference is still true today that our God is stronger than anything that the world has. I can’t stand it when people want to make the devil out to be God’s equal opponent.
Moses was asking for a sign of allegiance for each person to signify that they were putting God above everything else in their life in order to accept the power that came with this transformational healing. It was a cognitive decision that they were going to be “all in” putting God first in their hearts and in their minds. It was a picture of entering into a beautiful covenant relationship were you would be cared for through and through.
Squirrel… I want to just step back and say that this is still very elementary in our walk with the Lord. This is what God is asking for as the “first step” -to believe that he is stronger than the rest of the world and wants to completely heal you through and through; and eventually through sanctification, He will heal you of all things. Christ is the picture of the ultimate physician at the cross.
Fast forward to when Jesus died on the cross and makes a reference to the healing of the snake through Moses. The cross in Roman culture was the ultimate symbol of death. It was the worst form of death in history. That’s where we get the word excruciating from. There’s never been such a symbol in history. Jesus is going to take the most powerful symbol of power over life and transform it showing that He is stronger than that and now replaces the worst power on earth with the greatest gift of new and everlasting life. There’s also the idea here that if you accept this in allegiance, that healing comes with it; it’s the first step in the journey of sanctification; which is your transformation from a worldly being into a healed spiritual being.
In Hebrew the word healing signifies the transformation of being marred or ruined by the world and being healed by God through Jesus.
So what he does is transforms this icon that shows pagan control over life into healing by a greater power in Jesus. Not only was he linking the idolatry of Egypt to the idolatry of Rome but in the same way he was asking that a person place allegiant faith in this symbol to receive healing. Today when we look at the icon of the cross that represents ultimate healing.
The cross not only shows God‘s final authority over death, the greatest thing the world or evil powers can dish out…. toil or hardship towards a believer; but it gives us the exact opposite; it transforms something of severe hatred and evil into the most beautiful thing that we’ve ever experienced. This is the message of the Contronym of the cross in Hebrew scripture.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to settle the great debate of whether we simply have spiritual healing in the cross or whether there’s also physical healing in the cross. But I do know that it’s the ultimate symbol of transformation in coming to the kingdom of the Lord; and then that kingdom will be transformed to spiritual beings completely healed conquering the elements of this world and all of evil. In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether you interpret them as spiritual or physical because in the end both are given to you.
May you walk faithfully today in the dust of the rabbi.