The Bible endorses monuments of some kinds and condemns others.
They erected a pile of stones a day’s journey from the Jordan as a reminder of God’s leadership during the Exodus. In fact, they even set up a similar pile in the middle of the Jordan so that, in times of drouth when the water level dropped, everyone would see that as a reminder that God led them through those dark days.
They set up a stone memorial and called it Ebenezer, “stone of help,” as a testimony to God’s provisions. They had no “graven images,” of course, but they had plenty of other memorials.
They tore down altars to false gods, statues of false gods, and relics used in worshiping those gods.
And they sometimes destroyed something that had been good and noble and holy. Yep. Sometimes, they destroyed a good thing.
Please read on.
The story is found in Second Kings chapter 18. Hezekiah, age 25, is the new king. He reminds me of fresh, young pastors who can sometimes be brash and impulsive and get themselves in trouble quickly. In this case, God liked what He saw in this youthful royal…
“He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done” (18:3).
So far, so good. But it’s in the specifics that the fur began to fly…
He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it and called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him…
Hold on just a cotton-picking minute there.
He did what? He took the bronze serpent which Moses–Moses!! The man himself!–had made and broke it in pieces. And he did not even put it up to a vote of the people! (We smile at the name Scripture gives it. Nehushtan literally means That Bronze Thing.)
You remember that bronze serpent, don’t you? The story is found in Numbers 21–
(As they traveled) the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people and many of the people of Israel died.
Therefore the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
That’s the full story. Six short verses from Numbers 21. I find it fascinating that the holy writer of Scripture left behind not one word of commentary on the story. It happened, he recorded it, and moved on.
Not until our Lord’s chat with Nicodemus in John 3 does Scripture tell us what to make of that strange incident involving a snake on a stick. Jesus said to the holy man, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (3:14).
That snake-on-a-stick was what we call a type of Christ. A symbol of a sort, that pointed ahead to the cross. Once we got to the cross and saw our Lord’s sacrifice, we could look back and realize it was all planned, all part of the eternal scheme of the ages for our salvation. (Bible students know that the Old Testament is filled with “types,” visual aids or practices that pointed ahead to Jesus. Even Melchizedek himself was a “type of Christ,” according to Hebrews.)
Isn’t God wonderful?
Jesus’s statement about the snake-monument reminds us of the line from 2 Corinthians 5:21. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. As the bronze snake represented the snakes that had bitten the people, Jesus “became sin for us.” And one more thing. All the people had to do was to “look” at the bronze serpent and they were healed. No works, no words, just “look.” Is that grace, or what? God said, “Look unto me and be saved, all you ends of the earth!” (Isaiah 45:22) That is the text God used to convert the young Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Okay, now. Back to the rash thing Hezekiah did.
In his youthful exuberance to rid the nation of symbols of idolatry and paganism, King Hezekiah takes something good, something noble and holy, something historical and of great value, something with an amazing narrative behind it, something that was inspired of God and prefigures the death of Jesus on Calvary, and destroys that.
The young king destroyed a holy relic. He didn’t ask anyone’s permission, didn’t put it up for a vote, but just did it. And we assume, he never looked back.
And he was right to do so.
Why? Why was this the right thing to do?
–It had become a stumblingblock. It had become an object of worship to the people, and interfered with their worship.
–It interfered with their obedience.
–It fed their superstition and interfered with their love for the Lord and their faith.
Need one more? Look at Joshua 7. At Israel’s defeat of Jericho, unbeknownst to Joshua, one of his men, Achan, violated the Lord’s instructions and stole treasures from the city and hid them. As a result of this disobedience, Israel was defeated in their next battle against tiny Ai. When they sought the Lord on this matter–What’s going on here, Lord?–God said…
Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned…. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies…. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed thing from among you…. (Joshua 7:10ff)
One man’s disobedience affected the nation. Amazing, don’t you think? Makes us wonder what one man’s obedience could accomplish. Let’s find out as you and I do all we can to show our obedience to Him.
Some of the lessons in these scriptural incidents…
- Holy things can become wicked when they are no longer instruments of worship but objects of worship.
- The question about any relic, monument, or practice should be: Does this glorify God or compete with Him? Does this help or hinder my service to God? What does God want?.
- Disobedience is never justified and should never be rationalized.
- Some matters do not require a vote of the people; just do it. Get rid of the accursed thing that is hurting people, causing some to stumble, interfering with the work of the Lord.
- We must not sit around waiting until everyone is on board and the vote is 100 percent or we’ll never do anything.
Hezekiah and Joshua are two of God’s heroes, two men almost with no blemishes on their record. I said “almost.” No one was perfect. But in these instances, ridding the nation of the priceless artifact from Moses’ day, hundreds of years earlier, and dealing with the rebellion of Achan, both Hezekiah and Joshua were on solid ground. God was pleased.
Jesus said to the Pharisees of His day, You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. (Matthew 15:6) There is always the danger of that when we elevate tradition too highly.
Whatever we do, in word or deed, let us do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17).