Brazen Serpent

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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

An image of polished brass, in the form of one of those fiery serpents which were sent to chastise the murmuring Israelites in the wilderness, and whose bite caused violent heat, thirst, and inflammation. By divine command "Moses made a serpent of brass," or copper, and "put it upon a pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived,"  Numbers 21:6-9 .

This brazen serpent was preserved as a monument of the divine mercy, but in process of time became an instrument of idolatry. When this superstition began, it is difficult to determine; but the best account is given by the Jewish rabbi, David Kimchi, in the following manner: From the time that the kings of Israel did evil, and the children of Israel followed idolatry, till the reign of Hezekiah, they offered incense to it; for it being written in the law of Moses, "Whoever looketh upon it shall live," they fancied they might obtain blessings by its mediation, and therefore thought it worthy to be worshipped. It had been kept from the days of Moses, in memory of a miracle, in the same manner as the pot of manna was: and Asa and Jehoshaphat did not extirpate it when they rooted out idolatry, because in their reign they did not observe that the people worshipped this serpent, or burnt incense to it; and therefore they left it as a memorial. But Hezekiah thought fit to take it quite away, when he abolished other idolatry, because in the time of his father they adored it as an idol; and though pious people, among them accounted it only as a memorial of a wonderful work, yet he judged it better to abolish it, though the memory of the miracle should happen to be lost, than suffer it to remain, and leave the Israelites in danger to commit idolatry hereafter with it. On the subject of the serpent-bitten Israelites being healed by looking at the brazen serpent, there is a good comment in the book of Wisdom, chap.  Numbers 16:4-12 , in which are these remarkable words:—"They were admonished, having a sign of salvation," that is, the brazen serpent, "to put them in remembrance of the commandments of thy law. For he that turned himself toward it, was not saved by the THINGS that he saw, but by THEE, that art the Saviour of all,"  Numbers 16:6-7 . To the circumstance of looking at the brazen serpent in order to be healed, our Lord refers,  John 3:14-15 : "As Moses lifted up the (brazen) serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [2]

An image in brass prepared by Moses, resembling the fiery serpents so destructive to Israel in the desert, and set up in the midst of the camp in the view of all, that whosoever would evince penitence, faith, and obedience by looking to it, might live,  Numbers 21:6-9 . Our Savior has shown us that this was typical of himself and of salvation through hima gratuitous salvation, free to all, on the easy terms of faith and obedience,  John 3:14,15 . The brazen serpent was long preserved, as a memorial of the gracious miracle wrought in connection with it; but being regarded as an object of worship, it was broken to pieces by king Hezekiah, as Nehushtana mere piece of brass,  2 Kings 18:4 .

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

Bronze Serpent

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [4]

Brazen Serpent . See Serpent [Brazen].

Morrish Bible Dictionary [5]

See Serpent Of Brass

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [6]

( נְחִשׁ נְחשֶׁתּ , Nechash' Necho'Sheth, Serpent Of Copper, Ὄφις Χαλκοῦς ). On the way from Mount Hor to the Elanitic Gulf, the Israelites were bitten by venomous serpents ( שְׂרָפַים , Seraphin'), and many of them died. (See Serpent). Moses therefore, at the Divine command, erected (hung on a pole) the metallic (" brazen," i.e. copper-cast) figure of one (such) serpent, and every one that had been bitten who looked toward it was cured ( Numbers 21:5 sq.; comp.  Wisdom of Solomon 16:5 sq.;  John 3:14). This "brazen serpent" was still (under the name הִנְּחֻשַׁתָּן , Han-Nechushtan'), in the time of Hezekiah, an object of idolatrous reverence among the Israelites ( 2 Kings 18:4). This miraculous relief is interpreted by the Jews (comp.  Wisdom of Solomon 16:7) as the result of a lively faith in Jehovah on the part of the beholders (see Onkelos, the Targums, Jerome, and the rabbins, in the younger Buxtorf's Hist. Serpentis Cen. v, 5, in his Exercitt. p. 458 sq.), while others of them regard this serpent-form as a talisman which Moses was enabled to prepare, from his knowledge of astrology (see Rabbi Samuel Zirza in Deyling's Observatt. ii, p. 210). From the notice in the Gospel ( John 3:14), most Christian interpreters have rightly inferred that the "brazen serpent" was intended as a type of Christ as the Redeemer of the world (see Menken, Ueb. Die Eherne Schlange, Brem. 1812; Kerns, in Bengel's Archiv, v, 77 sq., 360 sq., 598 sq.). For various futile attempts to explain this miracle on natural principles, see Bauer, Hebr. Gesch. ii, 320; also Ausfiihrl. Erkl&R. Der Wunder Des A. 7. i, 228; Paulus, Comment. IV, i, 198 sq.; Hoffmann, in Scherer's Schriftforsch. i, 576 sq. (See Moses). Parallels more or less complete have been traced between the brazen serpent and similar ideas among other nations, which, although not strictly illustrative of the Biblical narrative, are yet interesting, as showing that the fact was not at variance with the notions of antiquity. From  2 Kings 18:4, it would seem to have been eventually looked upon by the degenerate Jews themselves as a symbol of curative power (comp. Ewald, Isr. Gesch. ii, 177); as among the ancients the figure of a serpent appears to have been derived from the East, as a type of Esculapius, i.e. health (Macrob. Sat. i, 20; see Junker, in Meusel's Museum, ii, 127 sq.; Muller, Archaol. p. 597). In the Egyptian theology the (innocuous) serpent was early an emblem of sanatory virtue; such were worshipped in the Thebald (Herod. ii, 74), and they appear on the monumental delineations in various connections, sometimes with the beneficent Isis, sometimes ingrafted upon the figure of Serapis [? as a benign deity] (Creuzer, Symbol. i, 504 sq.; ii, 393). So Philo interprets,the serpent of the wilderness ( Σωφροσύνη Ἀλεξίκακος ). See further Funk, De Nechustane Et Esculapii.Serpente (Berol. 1826); Wochter, Naturce et Scripturce concordia (Leips. 1752), p. 116; Nova Biboth. Lubec. iii. I sq.; Hengstenberg, Beitr. i, 164. (See Nehushtan).