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According to the Bible, Nehushtan was a metal serpent mounted on a staff that Moses had made, by God's command, to cure the Israelites of snake bites while wandering in the desert. The symbol of snakes on a staff or pole is a motif that is widespread in both the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean. This symbol held such cultural power that it is still around today in our modern world, like other ancient symbols we encounter almost daily, often without even realizing it. Humanity has a way of collecting images and holding onto them, subtly changing their context to fit the contemporary cultural system.

In our modern world, a staff with a snake wrapped around it is used as a symbol for medicine, a remnant of Greek and Roman mythology. It is the staff of an ancient healer god, known as Asklepios in Greece and Aesculapius in Rome. Another symbol from ancient Greece and Rome is the staff of Hermes/Mercury (respectively) which is seen on the back of ambulances. This symbol is a pole with two snakes wrapped around it and wings at the top. While both are often called a caduceus, technically only the staff of Hermes/Mercury is a caduceus. Additionally, both are often assumed to be medicinal in nature, but Hermes/Mercury was a messenger god known for speed and escorting the dead to the afterlife. One can easily see the connection between our modern use of these symbols with their sources from ancient Greece and Rome.

Moses & the Snake

God instructed Moses to create a serpent & put it on a pole. When people would look at it, it would cure them of their poison.

The story of the biblical snake on a staff is first introduced in a brief couple of verses in Numbers 21, during the Exodus story. This passage is believed to have been written by the E source, in approximately 850 BCE. (For an explanation of biblical sources, see “Torah”.) The Israelites, while traveling to the Promised Land from Egypt, complained about the lack of food and water and, as punishment, God sent fiery serpents to bite and kill many of them. The people then pleaded with God for mercy and, deciding to grant it, God instructed Moses to create a serpent and put it on a pole. When people would look at it, it would cure them of their poison. Moses complied and made the serpent out of nechôsheth, which means bronze, brass, or copper in Hebrew. From here on, this text will use “copper” as the translation.

This narrative is reminiscent of ancient Canaanite sorcerers who would fight alongside serpents to protect people from snakes and scorpions, as described in texts found from Ugarit. These texts also included a large portion of spells which were used to cure snake bites. This incident in the exodus story is quickly passed over in the Bible, and this snake is not heard of again until 2 Kings 18 when King Hezekiah of Judah (who reigned from either 727-698 or 715-687 BCE) destroys it because it had by that time become a pagan cult object. It is also in this passage that it is given the name Nehushtan. Hezekiah destroyed many cult objects and places in an effort to reform the Israelites back to monotheism as they were slipping into idolatry and paganism. It is unknown how the object came to have a proper name.

Translation & Philology

The philology and translation of some of the Hebrew words in this discussion is both fascinating and complicated, yet it is necessary to begin to decode the meaning of Nehushtan. (The Hebrew words in this article were extracted from the Interlinear Bible on BibleHub.com, which uses the Westminster Leningrad Codex.) In Numbers 21:8, God orders Moses to make a sârâph, which derives from sâraph, a verb meaning “to burn” or “to be on fire”. Technically, in this verse, God told Moses to create a “fiery (or burning) one”. It is often figuratively translated to mean “poisonous one”, as conveyed in Strong's Concordance. Although in all other contexts, aside from being paired with snakes, it is translated as “burning” or “fiery”. In verse 6, it was “fiery serpents” (nechâshim serâphim) which were plaguing the people, and in verse 9, Moses creates a copper serpent (nâchâsh nechôsheth). This makes the order of appearance: fiery (poisonous) serpents, a fiery one, and a copper serpent.

It is often assumed that, because according to the text the object did indeed heal people, Moses had created it according to God's specifications and therefore a “fiery one” was a serpent. However, that is a bit of an assumption, albeit a fairly common and accepted one. There are passages in Isaiah where the serâphim (standing alone without nechâshim) are also listed under “serpent” in Strong's Concordance. While the words do seem to correlate, it seems too simplistic to interchange them. As stated above, Numbers is believed to have been written roughly around 850 BCE. In Isaiah 6, 14, and 20, sârâph and serâphim are used with other mythological descriptions such as flying or with wings and feet. Isaiah 14 and 30 is believed to have been written no earlier than the mid-6th century BCE while Isaiah 6 may have been written as early as the late 8th or early 7th century BCE.

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From this graph, a clear connection can be seen between “copper” and “snake”, which Strong suggests may be from relating “hissing” to the ringing of a metal bell or from the red under a serpent's throat. We can also see a connection to magic (augury & incantations). Magic was frequently denounced in the Bible, specifically by Isaiah, the prophet to King Hezekiah who later destroyed Nehushtan. What we do not see is a linguistic connection between “fiery” and “snake”, a connection as mentioned above is derived from context only. However, it is possible that in the culture and language of the time, the connection may have been obvious, either because of etymology, mythology, or both. For the sake of simplicity and to move forward with the discussion at hand, this article will conform to the traditional translations and suspend doubt about the connection between fiery ones and snakes.

Although the snake was often used in the ancient Near East as a symbol of fertility & blessing, it was also seen quite frequently as a monster being defeated by a god.

While we know that snake cults did exist in the ancient Near East, as of yet there does not seem to be an overwhelming amount of archaeological material to explain if there was a cultural reason why there is a linguistic connection between snake and augury. Two examples of material artifacts for such cults include an Iron Age ceramic stand with snakes slithering up it from Beth Shean and a copper snake with a gilded head from Timna. Perhaps there was a specific form of divination using snakes which made the two words inextricably linked.

It is important to note that the original Hebrew did not have written vowels. Nâchash (“to whisper”), nachash (“incantation”), and nâchâsh (“snake”) originally did not have any written difference. One could question whether there was a vocal difference, but the linguistics seem undoubtedly connected, so too there may have been a cultural context. Throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible, both nâchash and nachash are heavily condemned and grouped with other evils such as child sacrifice and wizardry. (See Genesis 30:27, 44:5, and 44:15, Levicitus 19:26, Deuteronomy 18:10, 1 Kings 20:33, 2 Kings 17:17 and 21:6, and 2 Chronicles 33:6.)

Sea Monsters & Chaos

In addition to their association with “burning”, serpents were the monsters of the sea in the Bible, sometimes with multiple heads, and were great primordial fiends trampled on by God. A common polytheistic approach to dealing with primordial evil was a great cosmic battle in which a benevolent god fought and conquered over the monsters of chaos (often associated with water and/or the sea). While the Bible's view of inherent good in the cosmos differs from the surrounding pagan view of inherent evil and chaos, the Bible does borrow the cosmic battle motif from surrounding cultures. These verses contain some examples: Isaiah 27:1, Isaiah 51:9, Job 26:13, Psalm 74:13-14, Psalm 77:16, and Job 26:13.

Although the snake was often used in the ancient Near East as a symbol of fertility and blessing, it was also seen quite frequently as a monster being defeated by a god, often the storm god. In the ancient Ugaritic texts, supernatural entities could be largely divided into benevolent and destructive entities. Destructive deities were primarily animal gods, monsters, and undomesticated animal species which included snakes and serpents, while the benevolent deities were anthropomorphic and domesticated animals, such as the bull, calf, bird, and cow. This cosmic battle between a benevolent god and evil snake is seen throughout the ancient Near East, over thousands of years.

In early Bronze Age Old Anatolian and Old Syrian seals, the storm god was associated with snakes and often depicted as defeating a snake. In Syrian myths, the goddess Anat, as well as the god Baal, was described as defeating the seven-head serpent Lotan. Lotan (also, Litan) is the Canaanite equivalent of the Hebrew Bible's sea monster Leviathan. Compare Isaiah 27:1 with the Ugaritic text: “When you killed Litan, the Fleeing Serpent, Finished off the Twisting Serpent, the seven-headed monster, the heavens withered and weakened, like the folds of your robe.” In other Ugarit texts, Tunnanu was also a monstrous snake-dragon with seven heads. This passage in Isaiah is just one example of cosmic battles of God against primordial chaos and the forces of nature.

Another example of this cosmic battle from Babylonian mythology is hinted at in Genesis 1. In the Babylonian creation epic the Enuma Elish, Tiamat is the goddess of saltwater who wages war on the gods for killing her consort Apsu (god of freshwater). Marduk becomes the hero of the gods because he is the only one able to defeat Tiamat. Interestingly in Genesis 1:2, the Hebrew word for “deep” is tehom, a direct translation of “Tiamat”. Tehom is never used with a definitive article in the original Hebrew, suggesting a relationship to a proper name. This word is also used in mythological battle contexts in the Bible, such as in Habakkuk 3:10, where it is listed as one of the forces of nature fought by God. There can be almost no doubt that Genesis 1 contains remnants of the Enuma Elish.

The Garden of Eden

The story of the snake (nâchâsh) in the Garden of Eden in the 3rd chapter of Genesis hardly needs an introduction; however, there are some interesting things to point out. In verse 14, when God is cursing the snake, He says, “upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” This implies that the snake was not on his belly and therefore, in one way or another, not on the ground. Perhaps the snake was in a tree. This interpretation fits in nicely with our snake-pole symbol, but it must be pointed out, that with the other connections to sea-serpents and to wings (as with the serâphim), being on the tree is not the only explanation for the snake not being on the ground. Although it does seem to be a reasonable explanation, as this particular nâchâsh does not have any other mythical descriptions attached to it, aside from it being able to speak.

Snakes on Staffs in Egypt

Before the poisonous snake incident in the desert with Moses, while the Israelites were still in Egypt in Exodus 7, Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and it turned into a snake. This was a miracle given by God to show Moses and Aaron's authority to Pharaoh. (A test of this miracle was performed by Moses in Exodus 4, before returning to Egypt to free the Israelites.) The Pharaoh's sorcerers were capable of the same miraculous feat but Aaron's staff ate the others. In the text, it is technically the “staff” that ate the other “staffs”. We are not told when the snakes turned back into staffs or how this devouring occurs.

This event may appear to be a random act for those unfamiliar with Egyptian archaeology; however, the idea of a serpent staff was common throughout Egypt. Ancient Egyptian artwork contains presentations of serpent staffs, including the gods Thoth, Nehy, and Heka holding them. Snakes and other animals such as crocodiles and scorpions were used in ancient Egypt to protect against venomous animals. Serpent symbolism in ancient Egypt is very diverse and is also associated with the gods Apophis, Hathor, Isis, Mehen, Meretseger, Nehebkeu, Nephthys, Renenutet, Shay, Wadjet, Wenut, and Werethekau.

Snakes on Staffs in Mesopotamia

In ancient Mesopotamia, entwined serpents on poles were represented from early Sumerian and Neo-Sumerian times all the way through the 13th century BCE. A perfect example of this can be from the Sumerian city-state of Lagash where a vessel was found that was dedicated by King Gudea in the 21st century BCE to the Sumerian god Ningishzida. On this vessel is an image of two snakes wrapped around a pole.

Ningishzida was a chthonic god, associated with the cult center at Gishbanda in southern Sumer. In later Babylonian times, both Ereshkigal, queen of the netherworld, and Ningishzida were associated with the constellation of Hydra, which the Babylonians visualized as a snake having lion paws in front, wings, and a head reminiscent of a mušḫuššu dragon. Mušḫuššu dragons were long used as symbols for various gods and as protective agents from the Akkadian Period into Hellenistic times. The mušḫuššu dragon had the head and body of a snake with horns, lion feet in the front, and bird feet in the back.

Ninazu, father of Ningishzida, was known as” King of the snakes” in Old Babylonian incantations and the father-son pair shares the mušḫuššu dragon, the same way the god Marduk and his son Nabû share the same dragon in later texts. On Gudea's vessel mentioned above, beside the snakes on either side are dragons. This type of dragon was called a bašmu and was similar to a mušḫuššu. The bašmu figure in ancient Mesopotamian art and mythology was modeled after the real-life horned viper and was represented in a range of places and times including as Assyrian protectors, on Kassite kudurrus stones (which were inscribed with land grants), on Neo-Assyrian seals and figurines, and in Akkadian artwork (with forelegs).

Perhaps these representations of Ningishzida are the origin of Nehushtan. While separated by a large expanse of time, the common symbolism is uncannily striking. One more piece of evidence potentially connecting the two is the etymology of the name Ningishzida, which means “Lord of the Good Tree”. In addition to the visual similarities, there is also this linguistic connection between the snake god and a tree, as seen in Genesis. If it were proven that Ningishzida has a direct link to Nehushtan, we would still have to wonder whether this snake-staff motif in Numbers was used because of previous knowledge of Ningishzida at the time of Moses or if the evolution of the snake-staff into the deity Nehushtan in 2 Kings was influenced from the Ningishzida myth possibly known to the Israelites at that later time.


There is a patchwork of connectedness across the ancient Near East that gives context to the mystery of Nehushtan, although few definitive answers. The peoples of the ancient Near East were diverse, but they frequently embraced similar motifs. While correlations are easily presented, there may always be a mystery about how snakes, staffs, copper, fire, and sea monsters became intertwined.

Caduceus as a symbol of medicine

The caduceus is the traditional symbol of Hermes and features two snakes winding around an often winged staff. It is often used as a symbol of medicine, especially in the United States, but this is incorrect. (The correct symbol for medicine is the Rod of Asclepius, which has only one snake and no wings.) The two-snake caduceus design has ancient and consistent associations with trade, liars, thieves, eloquence, negotiation, alchemy, and wisdom.

The modern use of the caduceus as a symbol of medicine became established in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century as a result of documented mistakes, misunderstandings and confusion. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

Nehushtan - History

NEHUSHTAN nĭ hoosh’ tən ( נְחֻשְׁתָּֽן , bronze one). A Mosaic brazen serpent.

Though as yet unnamed, Nehushtan’s origin is described in Numbers 21:4-9. There, in the fall of 1407 b.c. , Israel’s last year in the wilderness, as the nation was journeying to the S of the Dead Sea around the N end of Edom (cf. Y. Aharoni and M. Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, map 52), the people in their discouragement “spoke against God and against Moses, ‘why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?’” (Num 21:5). God, as a result, sent among them נְחָשִׁ֣ים שְׂרָפִ֔ים , fiery serpents, i.e., snakes with a burning venom (BDB, 977 cf. KB, 932) and these caused considerable death (v. 6).

Upon Israel’s repentance, Moses interceded with Yahweh who instructed him in turn to make out of copper or bronze a שָׂרָ֔ף , “burning serpent” (see Seraphim), perhaps so called because of its flashing in the light (KD, Pentateuch, III:139). It was, in any event, elevated upon a standard and anyone who had been bitten, “when he sees it, shall live” (v. 8). To its contemporaries, Nehushtan therefore symbolized a looking to God in faith for salvation and into the future it typified Christ’s being lifted up on the cross, “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15 cf. Luke 23:42, 43).

With the passage of time, however, Israel lost sight of the symbolical and typical function of Nehushtan and by the later eighth cent. b.c. , were burning incense to it, as if it were in itself a deity (2 Kings 18:4). As a part, therefore, of Hezekiah’s overall campaign against the high places and their idolatrous objects, begun in the first year of his reign (2 Chron 29:1) in the spring of 725 (see [http://biblegateway/wiki/Chronology of the Old Testament CHRONOLOGY OF THE OT] , IX. C. 6 BS, 126 [1969], 40-52), the king broke the serpent into pieces (2 Kings 18:4). The name Nehushtan was then assigned to it, prob. in disparagement: it was not נָחָשׁ֒ , H5729 , the “serpent,” but simply נְחֹ֫שֶׁת֒ , H5733 , a “bronze” something (on the -ān ending, cf. J. Montgomery, JAOS, 58 [1938], 131). Nehushtan thus exists as an example of how an originally good, redemptive ritualistic object may be perverted into its opposite and become detrimental to true saving faith.

Bibliography On associated theories of negative criticism: H. H. Rowley, “Zadok and Nehushtan,” JBL, 58 (1939), 132-141.

🔼 Nehushtan meaning

The meaning of the name Nehushtan is very obvious. The final letter ן (nun) serves as a diminutive, but not in the sense of making it small or cute but rather in the sense of its value. The core of the name consists of both a reference to the material it was made of, but also the overestimation of the technology it was made with.

The name Nehushtan may originally have been a simple reference to its revered origin (bronze-craft), but to the critical author of Kings, it clarifies, relativizes and accuses, and that's why he wrote it down. To him the name itself becomes a character in the story, and it means Overrated Piece Of Destructive Junk.

For a meaning of the name Nehushtan, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads a modest Piece Of Brass and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes A Little Brazen Serpent.

BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't offer an interpretation of the name Nehushtan, but does list it under the verb נחש (nahash III), and submits "probably = bronze god" (their italics).


ne-hush'-tan (nechushtan compare nechosheth, "brass," and nachash, "serpent"):

1. Traditional Interpretation:

The word occurs but once, namely, in 2 Kings 18:4. In the account there given of the reforms carried out by Hezekiah, it is said that "he 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." According to the Revised Version margin the word means "a piece of brass." If this be correct, the sense of the passage is that Hezekiah not only breaks the brazen serpent in pieces but, suiting the word to the act, scornfully calls it "a (mere) piece of brass." Hezekiah thus takes his place as a true reformer, and as a champion of the purification of the religion of Israel. This is the traditional interpretation of the passage, and fairly represents the Hebrew text as it now stands.

There are at least three considerations, however, which throw doubt upon this interpretation. In the first place, the word Nehushtan is not a common noun, and cannot mean simply "a piece of brass." The point of the Biblical statement is entirely lost by such a construction. It is emphatically a proper noun, and is the special name given to this particular brazen serpent. As such it would be sacred to all worshippers of the brazen serpent, and familiar to all who frequented the Temple. In the second place, it is probable that Nehushtan is to be derived from nachash, "serpent," rather than from nechosheth, "brass,"

(1) because the Greek VSS, representing a form of the Hebrew text earlier than Massoretic Text, suggest this in their transliteration of Nehushtan (Codex Vaticanus Nesthalei Codex Alexandrinus Nesthan)

(2) because the Hebrew offers a natural derivation of Nehushtan from nachash, "serpent" and

(3) because the name of the image would more probably be based on its form than on the material out of which it was made. In the third place, the reading, "and it was called," which appears in the Revised Version margin, is decidedly preferable to that in the text. It not only represents the best reading of the Hebrew, but is confirmed by the similar reading, "and they called it," which appears in the Greek version referred to above. These readings agree in their indication that Nehushtan was the name by which the serpent-image was generally known during the years it was worshipped, rather than an expression used for the first time by Hezekiah on the occasion of its destruction.

Whichever derivation be adopted, however, the word must be construed as a proper name. If it be derived from "brass," then the translation must be, not "a piece of brass," but "The (great) Brass," giving the word a special sense by which it refers unequivocally to the well-known image made of brass. If it be derived from "serpent," then the translation must be, "The (great) Serpent," the word in this case referring in a special sense to the well-known image in serpent form. But the significance of the word probably lies far back of any etymological explanation of it that can now be given. It is not a term that can be adequately explained by reference to verbal roots, but is rather an epitome of the reverence of those who, however mistakenly, looked upon the brazen serpent as a proper object of worship.

In view of the foregoing it may be concluded,

(1) that Nehushtan was the (sacred) name by which the brazen serpent was known during the years "the children of Israel did burn incense to it"

(2) that the word is derived from nachash, "serpent" and

(3) that it was used in the sense of "The Serpent," paragraph excellence.


Nehushtan (Hebrew, NChShThN, “brass object”) is the serpent of brass made by Moses and placed on a pole (Numbers 21:8-9) to cure the Israelites of the venomous bites of the fiery serpents in the wilderness. The word Nehushtah “thing of brass” contains a Hebrew pun, the first three letters, NChSh, mean “serpent” and the final two, ThN, mean “dragon.”

In Christian interpretation, the lifting up of the brass serpent on a pole is generally held to be a prefigurement of Christ, to cure humanity from the “snakebite” of original sin. By Hebrew gematria there is some basis for this assumption, the numerical value of MShICH, “Messiah” and NChSh “serpent” are identical, 358.

During the first and second centuries CE the serpent was worshipped with reverence by the Christian Gnostic sects of the Ophites and Naasseners. These sects worshipped the Biblical serpent of the Garden of Eden that gave knowledge to Adam and Eve. The serpent was considered the hero because he supplied “gnosis” to the first people which God, considered the demiurge, kept from them.

The Hebrew Meaning of the Mysterious Serpent (Guess What It Has To Do With Guessing?)

The third chapter of the Book of Genesis tells the story of the sin of the Garden of Eden. It opens with the following words:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made…” (Genesis 3:1)

The serpent is one of the most intriguing animals to be found in the Hebrew Bible. According to some Bible commentators, in the story of Adam and Eve, it represents the evil inclination. Those Bible commentators usually based their assumption on the words of the Prophet Isaiah, which includes the serpent within the list of the THREE demonic animals which are mentioned in his prophecy of the end of times:

“In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword, Leviathan the gliding SERPENT, Leviathan the coiling serpent he will slay the monster of the sea.” (Isaiah 27:1)

Having said that, it is important to mention that the serpent can be found in the Hebrew Bible also in ‘positive’ references – or ‘neutral’ at a minimum – such as in the case of the ‘bronze snake’ as can be found in the Book of Numbers:

“The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole anyone who is bitten can
look at it and live.” (Numbers 21:7-9)

What is the connection between the serpent in Genesis and Isaiah to the snake in Numbers, you ask?

Well, both ‘serpent’ and ‘snake’ are called in the original Hebrew ‘Nachash’ <נחש>and that is the origin for the English term ‘Nehushtan.’

The association of the ‘Nehushtan’ or simply ‘Nachash’ (as appears in the original Hebrew) with the ability of curing or healing is well represented in our culture. A very good example for that can be seen in the international symbol of medicine – a snake on a pole – which became the official emblem of the alchemists in the 16th century (back then it was considered a part of
the field of medicine). The alchemists took it from the famous Greek mythology symbol which is known in English by the name ‘Herald’s staff’.

Interestingly, in Biblical Hebrew there is a fascinating strong etymological connection between the ‘Nachash’ and supernatural forces. The Biblical Hebrew word for ‘sorcery’ or ‘witchcraft’ is… that’s right…the SAME as the word for ‘SERPENT’ – meaning ‘Nachash’!

In Modern Hebrew, the old verb ‘Le-Nachesh’ <לנחש>– which meant ‘to make a witchcraft’ in the Hebrew Bible – changed its original meaning and is used today in the meaning of ‘to guess.’

The reason for this is probably connected to the usage of this verb in the Hebrew Bible in the context of telling the future by fortune tellers. Therefore, it is strongly associated with the concept of ‘guessing’…

Nehushtan - History

The temple at Jerusalem was the national museum of the Jews. It was fitting that it should be so, for the treasures of that God-governed nation were all of a sacred kind. Among the most prized of all the objects contained in that great sanctuary, there was the brazen serpent, that image which belonged to the pilgrim-passage of their history, and which was connected with a very striking incident in the experience of their fathers. The fact that it was so long preserved, proves of itself that no slight feeling was entertained about it. One generation handed it down to another through several centuries. It might well have served the people of God as a kindly beacon, warning them against rebellious murmurings, and also as a friendly token, attesting the readiness and power of Jehovah to redeem them in the time of their calamity and distress. But between what might have been and what was, how wide and deep the gulf! That image of brass, instead of rendering an important spiritual service, became the occasion of idolatrous homage. Instead of leading the thoughts of men's minds to God, it drew them from Him and instead of reverencing Him, they worshipped it. So the brave and wise king brake it up before the eyes of the people, and, in the act of destruction, called it "Nehushtan," i.e. a bit of brass. The principle which lies at the root of this somewhat dating and very decisive act, is this — that no good thing, however good it be, must be allowed to come between our souls and God, to rob Him of His service that, if anything does so come, a strong hand must be used — if need be, a destructive one — to take it away: or, to put the truth in a more positive form, that whatever means we use for worship or instruction, must not be turned into an end, but must be resolutely and determinedly employed as a means to bring the mind into the presence of God's truth and the heart into communion with Himself. Let us apply our principle to —

I. OUR TREATMENT OF THE BIBLE. Wherein resides its virtue? There is nothing in the words which are employed more sacred than in those which are found in any book of devotion. There is no virtue or charm in the mere sound of the sentences which it contains. If we suppose that we are any better for having a Bible on our shelves, or on our tables, or in our hands, apart from the use we make of it or if we think that we are any better before God because we go regularly and perhaps slavishly through an allotted portion of it, casting our eyes over it, or uttering in regular sequence the sounds for which the letters stand, whether or not we take its truth into our minds, then are we making the same kind of mistake which the children of Israel made in burning incense to the brasen serpent: we are making an end of that which is only valuable as a means. We are putting our trust in an outward observance, we are "having confidence in the flesh," we are assuring our hearts vainly, mistakenly, dangerously. This principle will apply to —



IV. OUR PROFESSION OF PERSONAL PIETY. Only too often is this regarded as the attainment of an end, rather than the employment of a means of good. Men are apt, having reached that stage, to settle down into a slumberous state of spiritual complacency, instead of feeling that, by taking this step, they have entered into a wider realm of privilege and opportunity, where their noblest powers may engage in fullest exercise. It becomes a haven of indolent and treacherous security, instead of a sanctuary for intelligent devotion, a field for active Christian work, and thus it is perverted from a blessing to a bane.


NEHUSHTAN (Heb. ןָּתְשֻחְנ), the name of the *copper serpent which King Hezekiah broke into pieces (ii Kings 18:4). The name suggests both its serpentine shape (naḥash) as well as the material (neḥoshet) of which it was made. Since the smashing of the copper serpent parallels the shattering of the pillars and the cutting down of the Asherah (ibid.), it was probably located in the Temple court in Jerusalem. It was thus one of the cultic symbols of the people who assembled in the Temple courts. Like the local shrines (bamot), however, and like the two other objects named in the verse, it was illegitimate in the Deuteronomic view, in accordance with which Hezekiah abolished the former and destroyed the latter (ibid.). The Nehushtan probably stood in the Temple court, and the people believed that it had the power of curing sicknesses. Serpents are also associated with fertility. In this respect the copper serpent differed from the *cherubim, whose location was in the innermost sanctum of the Temple, hidden from human sight. Some scholars hold that the copper serpent in Jerusalem was set near "the stone of Zoheleth ("the crawler's [i.e., serpent's] stone"), which is beside En-Rogel" (i Kings 1:9), that is, outside the Temple enclosure. However, there are no grounds for connecting the copper serpent with the stone of Zoheleth. At the latter, sheep and oxen were sacrificed (ibid.), whereas only meal-offerings were offered to the copper serpent.

The account in Numbers 21:6–9 states that its form was that of a saraf, traditionally, a "fiery serpent." It probably had wings, for so serafim are described in the Bible (cf. Isa. 14:29 30:6). Herodotus (2:75 3:109) also states that in his day people told of the existence of flying serpents in the Arabian desert.

Some scholars assume that the copper serpent entered the Israelite cult as a Canaanite heritage and only popular belief ascribed it to Moses, but this is to assume that we know more about "popular" vs. "official" religion in ancient Israel than we do. (For the problem of "official" vs. "popular," see Berlinerblau.) M. Noth contends that this tradition is somewhat later than the others associated with the Exodus from Egypt, since it can only have arisen after David had captured Jerusalem. H. Gressmann suggested that Moses adopted the copper serpent from the Midianites, but this has been rejected by other scholars. Ackerman believes that Asherah was connected with serpents so that the destruction of Asherah and the serpent would likewise be connected. Note that Nehushta, a name similar to that of the serpent, was borne by the mother of King Jehoiakin (ii Kings 24:8). For serpent iconography and the Bible, see Williams-Forte.

God’s Power

Hezekiah further enjoyed God’s power. “He subdued the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territories, from watchtower to fortified city.” Verses 9-12 give us further evidence of how he enjoyed God’s power in his war against the Assyrians.

Hezekiah was an effective leader and God’s people experienced wonderful victories because he would not sell out to the world. He had true freedom. When God rather than Nehushtan is your object of confidence, you can do the unthinkable!

🔼 Etymology of the name Nehushta

The name Nehushta is the noun נחשת (nehoshet), meaning copper or bronze, embellished with an inconsequential final א (aleph). This noun comes from the root group נחשׁ (nahash):

The most fundamental meaning of the root נחש (nahash) is that of intuitive knowledge and near-accidental skill. It describes an ability to achieve a great technological feat &mdash particularly smelting bronze &mdash but crucially without truly understanding what makes the magic happen: the fire or the prayer, the air blasted into the furnace or the zealous faith of the technicians.

Dictionaries commonly spread the following words out over four separate roots, but to the ancients, these words all expressed the same core meaning:

The noun נחש (nahash) is the Bible's most common word for snake. Snakes in the Bible always represent some kind of mental process, usually intuitive and usually impure or otherwise detrimental.

The identical verb נחש (nahash) means to divine or soothsay. Its derived noun, again identical, נחש (nahash) means divination or enchantment.

Either this same verb נחש (nahash), or an identical other one, also appears to have described the production of bronze. It's not used as such in the Bible but the following derivations are: Noun נחשת (nehoshet) refers to copper or bronze, or items made from bronze. Adjective נחוש (nahush) means bronze. And noun נחושה (nehusha) or נחשה (nehusha) means copper or bronze.

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Watch the video: Nehushtan (January 2022).