Snake On A Pole

A Biblical Perspective

Have you ever driven by a medical facility and notice the symbol of a snake on a pole and wonder what are they thinking or what does that symbol mean. At first glance it might seem ill-fitting to have such an emblem as a symbol for decoration in hospitals or on pharmaceutical packaging. A Biblical view will enable us to overcome the adulterated worldview which is blinding the afflicted to the truths God has for people who are battling illnesses.

Christians want to be careful not to go beyond what is written, “Have nothing to do with godless myths…” (1 Timothy 4:7)  Yet at the same, encourage, support and enable Bible teachers who have the Biblical call to “Preach the Word” so they can patiently and unashamedly correct error. (Ephesians 4:7-16;1 Timothy 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 4:2) It must be understood while teaching on the Biblical truths of Snake on a Pole Christians and non-Christians must recognize there are people who “will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around themselves a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn… to myths…” (2 Timothy 4:3-5)  The Bible holds a command ordered by God to Timothy which is also for Christians who have the gift to teach God’s Word, “…command certain men not to teach false doctrines… nor devote themselves to myths… (μῦθος múthos)” (1 Timothy 1:3-4)

A key word worth taking note of is “myths” (μῦθος múthos) a word from which “mythology” is derived. “In the New Testament, “myth” does not have the meaning of being a vehicle of some lofty truth. Mostly “myths” are denoting a story of falsehoods and pretense. (Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.) The term “myths” (μῦθος múthos) is often translated “simply as untrue stories or false tales and is always place in an unfavorable connotation.” (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 389–390). New York: United Bible Societies.)  Merriam-Webster gives this definition, “…myths dealing with the gods, demigods, and legendary heroes of a particular people. A branch of knowledge that deals with myth, assumptions or beliefs that has grown up around someone…”

Regarding The Snake on a Pole, Monica Reyna, Communication Coordinator for American Medical Association wrote a response about the Asclepius and Caduceus which are emblems used as symbols representing the medical profession. She writes, “The single-serpent of Asclepius is the symbol of choice by scholars and those in the medical profession.” Kristen Elise Ph.D wrote, “…The other hypothesis dates to the Bible. In Biblical Lore, Moses carried a bronze staff, around which a bronze serpent was wound. Anyone bit by a serpent need only to look at the staff to be healed of the snake’s venom.” (Kristen Elise, PH.D Author of Historical and Medical Thrillers) From Wikipedia, we read, The Asclepius is, “Not to be confused with Caduceus.” In Greek mythology, the Rod of Asclepius (Ράβδος του Ασκληπιού Rábdos tou Asklipioú; U+2695 STAFF OF AESCULAPIUS) is also known as the staff of Asclepius which is a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. The symbol is continued to be used in modern times. (Wilcox, Robert A; Whitham, Emma M (15 April 2003). “The symbol of modern medicine: why one snake is more than two”. Annals of Internal Medicine. 138: 673–7. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-138-8-200304150-00016. PMID 12693891. Retrieved 2007-06-15)      

Monica Reyna, Communications Coordinator for American Medical Association also wrote, “The AMA symbol or staff of Asclepius is one serpent around a staff. However, there is also the “Caduceus.” According to Wikipedia, “The Caduceus “is the traditional symbol of Hermes and features two snakes winding around an often winged staff. It is often mistakenly used as a symbol of medicine…. especially in the United States. The two-snake Caduceus design has ancient and consistent associations with trade, eloquence, negotiation, wisdom… and the passage into the underworld. The modern use of the Caduceus as a symbol of medicine became established in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century as a result of documented mistakes, misunderstandings and confusion…”  According to Symbols, Signs & Flags, Yigal Ben Efraim writes, “The Caduceus is the staff carried by Hermes in Greek Mythology. The Caduceus is often mistakenly used as a symbol of medicine and medical practice (especially in North America), due to historical confusion with the traditional medical symbol, the rod of Asclepius.”

Monica Reyna writes, “The general agreement among scholars that the snake, whether it is one or two around a staff, is an appropriate symbol for the healing art. In addition to representing wisdom, learning, and fertility, it stands for longevity and the restoration of health.” (Medical Logo Change; Monica Reyna, Communications Coordinator for American Medical Ass.)  The Greeks regarded snakes as sacred and used them in healing rituals to honor Asclepius, as snakes venom was thought to be remedial and their skin shedding was viewed as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. (LIVESCI=NCE, Why Is The Medical Symbol A Snake On A Stick By Remy Melina, March 09, 2011)

A person can read all they want about the Asclepius and the Caduceus along with it claims of their origin and myths. There are truths found in the Holy Scriptures about a Snake on a Pole which intrigues those who have Biblical belief in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Knowing and believing these truths establishes a saving faith in God, enriches a person’s relationship with the Lord and embraces fellowship with God and Christ through the Holy Spirit of Christ, Whom indwells believers because of genuine belief. The Message Bible says, “In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to Him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.” – (Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (John 3:14–15). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.)

Christians who love the Lord will have the same heart as His disciples did and ask, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28) Jesus’ answer was, “The work of God is this: To believe in the one He has sent.” (John 6:29)  “Believe” (πιστεύω pisteúō) means to put trust in the declarations and character of God. (Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers; Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

The declarations of Jesus about His call from God our Father is, “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14) True Biblical belief causes us to have a trust which enables us to apply God’s declarations. Let the Holy Spirit put in you a desire to know what Jesus was teaching about the Snake On A Pole!

Jesus was referring to Numbers 21:4-9, From Mount Hor they set out to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’ Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery [bronze] serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, and looks at it, will live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze serpent, they lived.”  (Number 21:4-9)  Many scholars have placed this account to be around the eight century B.C. during the reign of Hezekiah. Numbers (Vol. 3B, p. 347). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

Knowing or arguing about the times and dates will only cause people to miss the truths in this passage of Scripture. What we do know is that Satan cannot create anything for he can only adulterate what God has created. From the very beginning in Genesis we read of evil’s handy work, the voice of Satan using the serpent’s craftiness to cause Eve to question God’s Word. (Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, p. 234). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers; Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 19). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.; The Outline Bible; Genesis 3:1-20) The Apostle John gives us the identity of the source of evil in Genesis which laid down the foundation for us to live in a sin cursed world, “…I saw an angle coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and the holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan and bound him for a thousand years.” (Revelations 20:1-2)

Let us catch the truths of Numbers 21 and what Jesus did on the cross.

1.) Just as Satan through the serpent moved Eve to question God, the people of God became impatient and they spoke against God and His servant Moses. They questioned His provision, they were upset because they did not have the food they wanted and they detested the food He provided calling it miserable to eat.

2.) The Bible says the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people of which many were bitten and died. God had sent quail when they complained about not having meat to eat, of which made them sick and God sends venomous snakes punishing their sins.

3.) Once the sting of sin brings death, the people of God confess their sin and they went to Moses saying, “We sinned when we spoke against God and you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away.” The Bible says, Moses prayed for the people.” God told Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole…” The Bible says, “anyone who is bitten by a snake looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” Notice God did not answer the prayer of the people, He left the snakes among the people, letting us know the consequences of sin has a lingering affect, but looking to God will help us overcome the sting of death. This Biblical account includes four truths, judgement, repentance, forgiveness and deliverance. The major theological theme is the Lord’s provision to cover the sting of death and bring deliverance so man can overcome the cost of sin. The truth to grasp is not a magical formula for healing, but the serpent on a pole is only a symbol of salvation which would be offered by God and Christ alone.

The bronze serpent appears again in 2 Kings 18:4, “[Hezekiah] broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelite’s had been burning incense to it.”  Just as King Hezekiah had to reform the people of his day, the teachers of God’s Word need to reform what the world view has adulterated and teach the truths of what God was doing in placing a bronze serpent on a pole along with what Jesus was teaching about Himself dying for the sins of the world. Mankind is always being drawn into the worship of religious relics which rob people of Holy Spirit illumination – thus needing be reminded of what Jesus said, [The time] has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in the [Holy] Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

When Jesus was stating He was, like the snake (which represents sin and evil) was going to be lifted up He was fulfilling His calling. The Bible says, He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25) The people of God were overtaken by their sins, they were suffering the consequences of it. However, they could look to God and have the expectancy of forgiveness and deliverance. Now Christians have the promise of God’s Word, “I write this to you so that you do not sin. But if anybody does sin we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only our sins, but the sins of the world.” (1 John 2:1-2)   

The Holy Spirit enlightened child of God sees a Snake on a Pole only has a symbol of the God who judges, Eliphal (el’-i-fal), the God whom is salvation and the God of deliverance, Eliphalet (e-lif’-a-let). (Smith, S., & Cornwall, J. (1998). In The exhaustive dictionary of Bible names (p. 65). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos.)

In his work among those whom were intrigued with many gods, the Apostle Paul said, “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23) Then he goes on to proclaim the truths of God to a culture that is intrigued with “myths.”  

We live in a time of which people can learn about many viewpoints, it is imperative that we like the Apostle Paul – Biblically address all false teachings and myths with the whole council of God’s Word.  For many have had their viewpoint adulterated by a world view. Although it is God who has given people the gift of healing it is imperative to know God is Jehovah-Rephael – God is healer; medicine of God. Our prayer is that all will hear His truth in their spiritual hearts, “I am the Lord who heals you.” (Exodus 15:26)