Put that Snake on a Sign?

Did You Know?

It is interesting how many times the same words are used in Greek and Hebrew, but our English translations don’t bring it out.  Here’s one such example.

The Israelites are whiners.  Plain and simple.  And then finally God has enough of their nonsense, and sends fiery serpents among them, and those serpents start biting the Israelites, and people die.  Then they realize “Oh, we messed up!” and beg for Moses to do something about it.  So, Moses talks to God, and God tells him to make a brass serpent and put it on a pole.  Right?  Well, sort of.

The exact same word translated “pole” in Numbers 21 is translated as “sign” just five chapters later.  You might remember that Korah and company tried to rebel and overthrow Moses’ leadership.  Then Moses called for the ground to open up and swallow Korah and his crew alive.  It happened, and God said that this was done as a sign to the people.

The word in Hebrew almost always refers to something done or raised for others to see.  It is called a standard (a.k.a., battle flag), an ensign (a.k.a. flag of conquest), or a banner (you’re noticing a trend here, right?).

God told Moses not just to put the snake up on a pole, but to put it on a sign, raise it up for people to see the power of God, who through the snakes had declared war on the complaining Israelites.  The brazen serpent served as God’s battle flag.

Did you know?

-Bradley S. Cobb

2 thoughts on “Put that Snake on a Sign?”

  1. Yes, and did you know this is likely how the Greek symbol of medicine was messed up? That’s right, Aesculapius, the son of the god Apollo, raised many ill mortals, so many that Hades complained directly to Zeus. As things frequently did in ancient Greek times, one thing led to another and finally Zeus had to set things right. So many people were cured of their ills, no one was dying. So Zeus dispatched his grandson with a lightning bolt!

    The staff Aesculapius used was unique in that it had a serpent running up it. The Greek medicine man had used it to heal his patients and all who gazed upon it were healed. Somewhere along the line, though, wires were crossed and, as things are wont to do in modern times, one thing led to another and the medical profession didn’t end up being represented by the staff of Moses…er…Aesculapius, but by the staff of the god Hermes, the Caduceus, which not only had one serpent on it, but two! Known as Mercury to the Romans, Hermes was Zeus’ messenger and the one who escorted the dead to the gates of Hades. His staff also had wings, which suggested speed, an attribute not necessarily associated with many doctors outside of an emergency room.

    But the medicinal staff was not the staff of Aesculapius. The medical profession kept the staff of Hermes and even sued delivery companies who used it to deliver messages, but they lost. The American Medical Association, however, attempted to set things right by using a staff with a single serpent on it, thus giving homage to Aesculapius and YHVH, the God of Moses, who showed it to the recalcitrant Israelites and raised them up, an everlasting symbol of the healing power of Jesus Christ and his power to save.

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