I have a “Chronological” Bible reading plan going on over at YouVersion (the name which I think is dreadful, but which is, nevertheless, a helpful tool) and right now I’m smack in the middle of Isaiah and Amos and the second of the Kings and Chronicles. It’s pretty interesting to read them all mixed together like this. This morning I had some Kings and Chronicles readings, and in 2 Kings 18 they introduce Hezekiah.
Hezekiah was one of the “good kings,” relatively speaking. Actually, the passage in question says there was no one like him among all the kings of [Judah], nor had there been among those before him (verse 5, CJB) , even though when he got sick later in life he got kind of wimpy and whiny . . . but don’t so many of us?
In the verse right before this assessment, the Bible talks about how he got rid of the idol paraphernalia that was being actively used all over the land of Judah, including breaking into pieces the bronze serpent that [Moses] had made; because in those days the people of Isra’el were making offerings to it, calling it N’chushtan.
For some reason, this verse just jumped out at me . . . like a snake . . . this morning, and I had to stop and think about it for a while. The bronze serpent that Moses had made had to have been beyond antique by that point, but in spite of having mislaid the written law of God (as we discover a few kings later), they’ve still got this bronze snake.
The bronze snake was made back in the days of 40-years-in-the-desert, when the Israelites and God were having one of their lovers’ quarrels and these poisonous snakes started attacking the people. After they called out to God (via Moses) for help, He told Moses to make this bronze snake and put it up on a pole, and when the people looked at it, they were healed. Cool. Maybe we’d hang onto a piece of memorabilia like that, too.
So . . . in spite of the fact that God had issued a command not to make “graven images,” it seems like it can’t have meant “for any reason,” because He also told Moses to make this thing. What was more, He used it to help heal His people. The thing itself was obviously not evil, because Jesus used it as a symbol of His own self, much later (being raised up, and people looking to Him for life), even though snakes don’t generally have the best reputation in the Bible. But here comes righteous Hezekiah, breaking the thing to pieces.
I got to thinking about this, I guess, because I was thinking about how those of us have some kind of “God-affiliation” can sometimes get hung up on something significant that God did in our past and end up worshiping that thing instead of God Himself. That snake was useful for the particular instance God commanded it to be used. But He really doesn’t seem to work in the same way twice too often, and that snake didn’t have any power in itself. It was just a tool, which accomplished its purpose so the Israelites could live another day and see what God was going to accomplish through them next.
I’ve been sitting here thinking about various communities I’ve been involved with, and how some have not, but many have, gotten stuck on a time in their history, or a particular ministry they had, or a particular person God used for a time in their existence, and how that ministry or person or time get inflated far beyond what’s inherently there. Those things were good and God should be thanked for them, and maybe even some person should be honoured. But if we stay there too long, we’re going to end up losing sight of the God who made that time or person or ministry significant, and things are going to go downhill really fast. I guess it’s not just churches who do this . . . I guess I do this as an individual sometimes.
I don’t think God is into novelty for the sake of novelty. For one thing, it’s hard to imagine anything actually being new to Him. But I do think He wants to move us beyond ourselves, and beyond our comfort zones and beyond our known experiences. If the known experience is a bronze snake that you end up naming (like my car?!) and offering incense to, like a glorified pet, well then, maybe He’ll decide it’s time to shake things up a little bit . . . send out a Hezekiah. Isaiah (who, as the chronological reading plan at YouVersion so helpfully points out, was prophesying during the time of Hezekiah) once quoted God as saying, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43.19, NIV).
I get scared when I get a hunch that God’s going to do “a new thing.” I go look for a N’chushtan, because offering incense is sure easier than changing course or changing an attitude or a habit. (Also, it smells kinda good.) But maybe I just need to go all Hezekiah on my pet comforts and nostalgia. Because how do I get those memories in the first place, unless I let God in to start making them?