Symbolism of snake and staff
I was reading in Exodus 7 when Moses and Aaron throw down their staff before Pharoah and it becomes a snake.
It triggered memories of other scriptures of snakes and/or staffs. I thought of when Moses and Aaron fashion and lift a snake on a pole in the desert when everyone was getting bitten by snakes. If the people looked on the snake they would be healed. And I thought how that was later referenced as a foreshadowing of Jesus being lifted up on a tree for people to look upon and be forgiven and healed.
But then I thought of the snake in the garden of eden, tempting those kids to eat the forbidden fruit of a tree. How are all these connected!!?
I looked up the meaning of snakes to the Egyptians, just cuz I was curious what statement God was trying to tell Pharoah by throwing one down in front of him. And what would you know, it’s can be a symbol of sovereignty! Look, this is just to remind you, I’m more sovereign than you, big guy!
Also, you might now recognize that the symbol for healing when the Israelites were getting poned by snakes in the desert is also similar to the symbol of healing for us today. The snake on a staff is the medical symbol we use! (not to be confused with the similar symbol of double snakes on a winged staff often mistakenly used as the symbol of healing). Is that connected? Apparently, online, people like to say our symbol is from Moses’ symbol, but the more educated sounded commenters and Wiki contradicted that. Hermes, Hyppocrates, Asclepius and stuff. Bummer. Well, maybe it’s connected in an indirect way.
Well, then there was another little occurrence of the symbol in the Bible that was interesting. That very same staff with a snake on it was kept as an artifact of Moses’ miracle but down the line people had started to worship it! They called it the Nehushtan at that point. I guess I can understand why they were prone to doing that. They got mixed up with worshipping the object instead of what it symbolized. So the very righteous king, Hezekiah, orders its destruction along with other items that were being worshipped. (iconoclasts ahh! Even good people can take the fear of art too far!)
So, after trying to synthesize all of this, here are my amateur theologian thoughts.
The symbol of snake and tree is a symbol of sin, but the image is transformed into forgiven sin. In the garden of eden, the snake was at the bottom of the tree, it had not yet been lifted into it. It was Adam and Eve who reached up into sin in the tree. But then God redeems this image of snake and tree and turns it into forgiveness and healing in a chronological progression. Check it out:
He first does it with the staff before the Pharaoh. He throws it on the ground and it becomes a snake to show Pharoah his sin, and to rival the Pharaoh’s perceived sovereignty with Moses’ own (It says “you will be like God to Pharoah”). Moses be like, you’re sinning against my people and to prove it I’ll make a snake more powerful than yours, more sovereign. But at that point the snake still has not yet been lifted up, just a symbol of sin. Then when his peeps are getting bitten up by snakes in the desert (symbolism of their own sin punishing them) Moses holds up the bronze snake on a staff so if they look at it they will be saved. This is like God is saying, this symbol of divinity that you used to show Pharaoh you are more powerful, now I will make it receive all of your sin and take the punishment that is due to you people.
Then later in Kings, Hezekiah destroys the dang thing cuz folks were worshipping the symbol instead of what the symbol represented! And eventually the thing the symbol represented (Jesus covered in our sin) was put up into a tree (the cross) and killed so that anyone who looked on him would be forgiven.
Anyway, now when you drive by an urgent care place or a hospital and you see the snake or two on a staff, even if may not have been directly derived from the Biblical account, you can remember to yourself who the healer of our souls is. We can remember who it is that heals us from the death of our souls, caused by our sin.
Oh and you’ll also know that if they’ve put two snakes and wings on the staff, they’ve confused the symbol of healing with the symbol of stuff like success in commerce and thievery– which I’m afraid some of our medical industry has reoriented around anyway. :( Hmm. Quite symbolic indeed.