The Ten Commandments has been a political and religious hot potato for years. There are a number of times various parties have used the Ten Commandments to score political points. There have been those that state that the Ten Commandments are what the Constitution is based on. Some have even made, it seems, a political career about Ten Commandment statues and placements.
Many Christians (cultural and actual) have claimed if we were to just follow the Ten Commandments, we would be fine. Yet, in the case of the statue above, the Ten Commandments seemed to have become more of an idol, rather than a definer of a relationship with God.
In the Ten Commandments, God directs that the Israelites should not create an object of worship that resembles something created. This is so that people are not deceived by stone and wood, and that their hearts pursue the God who creates all and is uncreated.
Something strange happens later. God directs Moses to create the bronze serpent. This is an object made to resemble a created being. Depending on how one interprets the Ten Commandments, this directive violates the Ten Commandments.
The nuance is that the bronze serpent was not meant to be worshiped. It was a symbol of God’s healing, grace, and mercy, and a reminder that the Israelites were reliant upon God. The living serpents were a punishment. The bronze serpent a tool of healing and a symbol of grace and mercy.
However, as many good things do, the good became bad. The symbol of God’s grace, mercy, and healing became the exact kind of object that was prohibited by the Ten Commandments…an object of worship.
There are many good things in the world. Many of them (trees, mountains, animals, etc.) have become objects of worship and have been elevated in human thinking to the level of a god. This perversion of their nature does not make them bad, just as the perversion of the bronze serpent did not make it automatically bad.
The story of the bronze serpent, however, is a morality tale that any God-follower should pay attention to. There are many who appear to hold the Scriptures, the Ten Commandments, the church in a way that is worship. This is where a non-church attender could reasonably say, “I can worship God in the middle of a stream, better than in a building with a whole bunch of hypocrites.”
The moral of the story is that anything that was once good can become bad. Something that once led us to God can become our god instead. Something that used to give us the language to talk about God can become a barrier to share the story of God.
This is a serious matter. It also is not a new issue. One of the gifts that the Reformation gave us (along with many not-so-good things) is the concept of Semper Reformanda, always reforming. In other words, we should always be looking for anything—even the stuff we think is good—that keeps us from or inhibits our relationship with God.
1) What does reform mean to you?
2) What can you think of that is objectively good, but can also inhibit a healthy relationship with God?
3) Why is the story of the bronze serpent important to your life as a follower of Jesus and a member of Christ’s Body on Earth (the church)?
Heavenly Father, help us to chisel away any hardness or edge or characteristic that prevents us from fully following and worshiping you. Amen.