by Joshua Tilghman
Have you ever wondered why Moses had to “lift up” the bronze snake in the wilderness in order for the Israelites to be healed? This is perhaps one of the most puzzling scriptures in the entire Bible. Pastors and Bible study teachers alike have been stumped as to why it is there, and it seems that traditional Christianity has no proper explanation. Is there one? Yes, but the answer lies beyond the literal interpretation, and it contains a wonderful spiritual truth!
The scene unfolds for us as the Israelites journeyed to Edom by way of the Red Sea. Without access to food or water, they complained against God and Moses. The Lord became angry with the people and sent fiery serpents to bite them. The Israelites began to pray for God to take the serpents away. God then gives Moses the remedy:
“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…” (Numbers 21:8-9).
This entire scene begs the questions:
1) If the serpent is traditionally supposed to represent Satan in the Bible, then why would God tell Moses to lift it up and then heal all the people who looked on it?
2) Why would God tell Moses to cast the bronze serpent in the first place since it is clearly and idol and God said:
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath…” (Exodus 20:4).
This is just another instance where the literal interpretation poses contradictory ideas, and it is scriptures like these that demand we look beneath the surface to find out what treasures the Biblical authors hid beneath the surface of the text.
Let’s review a small portion in the story of Adam and Eve to help us grasp the full implications of God’s command to Moses about the brazen serpent.
There have already been several discussions on this site dedicated to showing that the serpent represents man’s ego, not a literal being named Satan. Therefore Adam’s fall represents the activation of the ego. Now remember how God cursed the snake so that it would crawl on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life? That scene becomes important for Moses’ actions later. Briefly consider the two points below:
1) The snake was originally upright.
2) It was cursed to eat dust.
Symbolically this imagery teaches us that the ego is responsible for keeping us grounded in the realm of the fives senses, or the physical realm. The Bible states we are made from the dust of the ground, and that is the reason the snake is cursed to eat the dust of it. As long as our lives are ruled by the ego, we are symbolically eating this dust.
Now let’s return to Moses and the brass serpent. Why would God have him do such a thing? When the Israelites were complaining in the desert, they weren’t relying on faith. They were relying on their egos which only trust in the physical senses. It appeared that they would die of starvation and thirst. Numbers 21: 4 states that “…the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.” This entire scene illustrates the condition of the soul in the dessert (physical life). The soul in “the way” simply means the soul that travels from Egypt (bondage of the ego) to the Promised Land (a heavenly awakening from this bondage). In other words, the Israelites’ travels represent the individual who is on a spiritual journey to shed the ego and experience the Promised Land (spiritual resurrection). The Biblical author gives us the imagery of Israelites being cursed and bitten by snakes because they were operating in the ego to get them through the desert of life.
So God gives Moses a symbolic representation of what would heal them. That symbol is the brazen snake on the pole lifted up! In the story of Adam and Eve, the snake was cast down, but as we’ll see in a moment, it must be lifted up (symbolically transforming the ego) to restore the spiritual aspect of man’s soul.
Large portions of scripture are metaphors for the holy temple which is your human body and brain. This scripture is no exception. If you stood a snake in the upright position, it would resemble the spinal cord which extends up the back; the head of the snake would resemble the pineal gland (understood by the ancients as a spiritual organ) at the bottom center of the brain. (More information on the Bible and the pineal gland here).
In deep meditation practices, spiritual energy (kundalini, Holy Spirit) rises through the spinal column and proceeds to open the seven chakras (seven churches of revelations) along the spine until it reaches the pineal gland, symbolizing a spiritually-resurrected individual. This process can also be seen as the serpent that becomes transformed from the ego into the fully realized and awakened spiritual being (the shedding of the ego). Such an experience raises the conscious awareness of an individual beyond the senses. This is a real experience that ancient spiritual peoples—even the earliest Christians—were aware of.
This entire process is also why Jesus made the following statement:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up…” ( John 3:14).
Remember, the kingdom of God is not outside of you, but it is “within.” (Luke 17:21).
“Lifting up the Son of Man” is another way of symbolizing the path to Christ consciousness, a state of BEING beyond the senses, emotions, and intellect.
How this knowledge can help you…
The Christ nature within us must be exalted in order to realize the spiritual resurrection! This is an actual experience that takes commitment and faith. Many Christians will argue that all these concepts are New Age teachings. But what many Christians don’t realize is that New Age concepts aren’t new at all. In fact, they have been around tens of thousands of years, and many of the same concepts are taught through both the Old and New Testaments. I advise you to study deeply the Biblical passages that seem to contradict the traditional Christian interpretation. They can’t be argued away and don’t be afraid to question their purpose. This is the beginning of your search to a higher understanding of the soul contained within the scriptures.
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