Archive for the ‘Brass Serpent’ Tag

Devotion for the Eleventh and Twelfth Days of Lent, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments


Above:  Stained-Glass Window:  Moses and the Snake, St. Mark’s Church, Gillingham, Kent, England

Image in the Public Domain

Grace and Obligations

MARCH 6 AND 7, 2023


The Collect:

O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism

you bring us to new birth to live as your children.

Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your

Spirit we may lift your life to all the world through

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 21:4-9 (11th Day)

Isaiah 65:17-25 (12th Day)

Psalm 128 (Both Days)

Hebrews 3:1-6 (11th Day)

Romans 4:6-13 (12th Day)


Happy are they all who fear the LORD,

and who follow in the ways of the LORD!

–Psalm 128:1, Book of Common Worship (1993)


The story in Numbers 21:4-9 is a good place to start this post.  It sent me scurrying to commentaries.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) tell me of the Rabbinic discomfort with the sympathetic magic in the account.  Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah (2011), makes the connection between the bronze serpent and the incident concerning the snake in the court of the Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-10).  Friedman also refers to 2 Kings 18:4, in which King Hezekiah orders the destruction of the bronze serpent, to which some people had been burning incense.  Volume 2 (1953) of The Interpreter’s Bible says that the bronze serpent was an example of spiritual homeopathy or at least an example thereof, one which

rests on a sound basis in human experience


wounds heal wounds.

–page 243

The best, most helpful analysis, however, comes from Walther Eichrodt, as translated by J. A. Baker:

The terrifying power of God, who will turn his weapons of leprosy, serpent and plague (cf. Ex. 4.1-7, Num. 21:6ff; 11:33) even against his own people leaves men in no doubt that the covenant he has created is no safe bulwark, behind which they can make cunning use of the divine power to prosecute their own interests.  The covenant lays claim to the whole man and calls him to a surrender with no reservations.

Theology of the New Testament, Volume One (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1961), pages 44-45

Thus this post continues a line of thought present in its immediate predecessor in order of composition.  God calls the blessed people to function as blessings to others.  The faithful, redeemed people of God have a mandate to cooperate with God in reforming society for the common good and divine glory.  In the Bible righteousness and justice are the same thing.  Hence we read prophets’ condemnations of economic exploitation and judicial corruption as opposites of righteousness.  To live in the household of God is to have both privileges and duties.

One task for those with a slave mentality is to abandon it and to embrace freedom in God.  I know that eating the same thing repeatedly gets old rapidly, but at least the Israelites were not starving.  God does provide; gratitude is in order, even if manna is crystallized insect feces.  Often our mentalities stand between us and God, whose manna does come with the condition of servitude to the source.  What we receive from God might not be what we want or expect, but it is what we need.  May we accept it gratefully and accept the obligation to serve God and leave our world better than we found it.








Thirtieth Day of Lent   20 comments

Stained-Glass Window:  Moses and the Snake, St. Mark’s Church, Gillingham, Kent, England

Image in the Public Domain

The Brass Serpent

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Collect and lections from the Episcopal Lesser Feasts and Fasts Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints


Follow the assigned readings with me this Lent….

Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Numbers 21:4-9 (Revised English Bible):

From Mount Hor they [the Israelites] left by way of the Red Sea to march round the flank of Edom.  But on the way the people grew impatient and spoke against God and Moses.

Why have you brought us up from Egypt,

they said

to die in the desert where there is neither food nor water? We are heartily sick of this miserable fare.

Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them, and they bit the Israelites so that many of them died.  The people came to Moses and said,

We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and you.  Plead with the LORD to rid us of these snakes.

Moses interceded for the people, and the LORD told him to make a serpent and erect it as a standard, so that anyone bitten by a snake could look at the bronze serpent and recover.

Psalm 102:15-22 (Revised English Bible):

The nations will revere your name, LORD,

and all earthly kings your glory,

when the LORD builds Zion again

and shows himself in his glory,

when he turns to hear the prayer of the destitute

and does not spurn their prayer.

This will be written down for future generations,

that people yet unborn may praise the LORD:

The LORD looks down from his sanctuary on high;

from heaven he surveys the earth

to hear the groaning of the prisoners

and set free those under sentence of death.

So shall the LORD’s name be declared in Zion

and his praise told in Jerusalem,

when peoples are assembled together,

and kingdoms, to serve the LORD.

John 8:21-30 (Revised English Bible):

Again he [Jesus] said to them [the people],

I am going away.  You will look for me, but you will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.

At this [some of] the Jews said,

Perhaps he will kill himself: is that what he means when he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?

Jesus continued,

You belong to this world below, I to the world above.  Your home is in this world, mine is not.  That is why I told you that you would die in your sins; and you will die in your sins unless you believe I am what I am.

They asked him,

And who are you?

Jesus answered,

What I have told you all along.  I have much to say about you–and in judgement.  But he who sent me speaks the truth, and what I heard from him I report to the world.

They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.  So Jesus said to them,

When you have lifted up the Son of Man you will know that I am what I am.  I do nothing on my own authority, but in all I say, I have been taught by my Father.  He who sent me is present with me, and has not left me on my own; for I always do what is pleasing to him.

As he said this, many put their faith in him.

The Collect:

Almighty God, through the incarnate Word you have caused us to be born anew of an imperishable and eternal seed: Look with compassion upon those who are being prepared for Holy Baptism, and grant that they may be built as living stones into a spiritual temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


These readings prompted spiritual digestion for a few days.  After some reading, listening, and pondering, however, some coherent thoughts have occurred to me.

1.  The Jewish Scriptures arose from oral tradition, which interpreted certain natural events as the wrath of God.  Snakes bite people sometimes.  Yet God did not send venomous serpents to bite human beings, no matter how irritating they became.  One might think that liberated people would know better than to wax nostalgic about Egyptian leftovers, but one would be mistaken.

2.  “Sacred violence” is a terrible notion.  God does not commit or condone violence, for God is love.  The idea of sacred violence underpins the interpretation in the reading from Numbers, as well as the mindset which led to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Did not the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham make this point clear?  It did not, to the satisfaction of many people, apparently.

3.  Gazing upon the bronze snake was an example of sympathetic magic.  The cure was related to the affliction.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul wrote, “…with the testing he [God] will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”  The way out of affliction is related to the nature of the affliction itself.

4.  The Christus Victor interpretation of the Atonement proves helpful in the context of these readings.  Given the trajectory of Jesus’ life, one outcome was likely.  He would collide with religious authorities and the Roman Empire, and therefore die in a painful and humiliating manner.  Such was the consequence to himself.  (Now to Christus Victor).  The death and resurrection (Let us never forget to move on to the Resurrection.) of Jesus constituted the vanquishing of evil schemes and the liberation of people from the bondage of sin.  (They need to trust in him, of course.)  The Resurrection constitutes a great display of divine power.  Imagine if God were from South Philly:  “What else you got?  Bring it on!”

Just as sin and evil led to the crucifixion, and the crucifixion had to precede the Resurrection, the Resurrection contains the antidote to the power of sin and evil.  Hence we see the connection between a bronze snake on a pole and the cross of Jesus.

5.  Lent is a time for many people to prepare for Baptism, which is Christian initiation, not proverbial fire insurance.  Through the sacramental waters of baptism Christians enter into the faith community.  Other sacraments mark further steps in the journey.  I, for example, have gone through confirmation once and reaffirmation twice.  But I have had only one baptism, and only one is necessary.  And every time I have witnessed a baptism, confirmation, or reaffirmation I have reaffirmed my baptismal vows in the congregational context.  Just as Jesus demonstrated the relative impotence of evil and sin with his bloodshed and glorious resurrection, we of church today, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bury sins sacramentally with water.

6.  My Presbyterian brethren emphasize the sovereignty of God.  They are correct in this.  God will win–perhaps not via Divine Plan A–but God will win.  Deo Gratia!


Written on March 8, 2010