Got Snake Problems? Look to God and Live!

Moses and the Brass Serpent, by Judith Mehr

Moses and the Brass Serpent, by Judith Mehr

After Moses parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Israelites had a bit of a rough time in the desert for a few years (ok, forty). Many of their trials came because they were slow to remember the Lord and His goodness in freeing them from the Egyptians. Even a parted sea, it seems, can seem unremarkable in hindsight.

During one period of trial, many Israelites died because they were bit by snakes. Desperate for relief, they begged Moses, their leader, to ask God to get rid of the poisonous beasts.

The Lord’s answer to Moses’ prayer, found in Numbers 21:8-9, is very interesting:

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live

And Moses made a serpent of brass, 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.”

All you had to do was take a look at a brass serpent on a pole? Easy peasy! Surely all the wounded Israelites were healed right away and all was well!

Well…it’s a little more complicated than that.

For more information on what happened, let’s turn to the Book of Mormon. According to Nephi,

“…the labor which [the Israelites] had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.” (1 Nephi 17:41)

Wait…what?! Some – many, even – chose to die(!) rather than look? Because it was too easy?

Nephi says the Israelites hardened their hearts (see 1 Nephi 17:41) and this lack of faith evidently blinded them. But come on

Put yourself in the average Israelites’ shoes (sandals?). While sweeping out sand from your tent, a snake sinks its fangs into you. The pain is searing. Your leg quickly swells until it resembles a three-foot sausage. Soon enough, you are shaking and burning up with fever.

Why don’t you just sneak a peak at Moses’ stupid brass serpent? Sure: it’s too easy and your heart is hard as a camel’s skull, but isn’t it worth just a try? Especially since you just begged Moses to ask God to get rid of the snakes for you. Plus, it worked for others!

Knowing the brass serpent represents the Savior and his atoning sacrifice for us (see Helaman 8:14-15), I suspect “hard hearts” isn’t the only reason many of the Israelites chose death over looking. Lack of faith, after all, isn’t just about hard hearts and stiff necks. It’s also connected with a basic human emotion:

Fear.

What if? What if looking at the brass serpent doesn’t work? Or what if it works on everyone but me. What does that say about me?

When I think about the choice to “not look” this way, I get it. I don’t mean to say that a majority of Israelites felt this way. Maybe most of them were just stubborn in their unrighteousness. But if some of them did feel this way, I understand their choice.

I believe in Christ and His atonement for all mankind. But all too often, I catch myself acting according to a subconscious belief, a hidden fear:

What if Christ can heal anyone but me?

And so it becomes easier to not believe. To harden your heart. To not look.

It isn’t easier, of course. At least not in the long-run. But it sure seems easier.

The real truth? It’s much easier to look at the brass serpent and live than suffer physical death. It’s much easier to look to God and live than suffer spiritual death.

We just can’t let fear get in the way of our faith.

“…look to God and live” (Alma 37:46-47)


How can we get better at accepting Christ’s healing balm for our snake-bitten souls?

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