I often meet profoundly confused people. Sometimes a fellow isn’t sure if he is ready for marriage or a woman is struggling to deal with her difficult neighbor. Sometimes we need to make a business decision and we’d like to believe that both choices are equally honorable. The right course of action is seldom readily visible. Truth and falsehood; right and wrong; these are not simple distinctions. People take opposing attitudes on politics or social issues, everyone convinced to the depths of their souls that they are absolutely doing what is good, right, and noble.
Not surprisingly, Scripture offers us a tool to help cut through the confusing fog.
The nation spoke against the Lord and Moses,
“Why did you take us from Egypt to die in the desert,
there is no bread or water and our souls are disgusted with this lightweight bread.”
This complaint is about the miraculous Manna from Heaven, one of God’s great blessings! In response, the Lord sends venomous snakes to attack the nation, killing a great number of people. Realizing the gravity of their ingratitude, the nation approaches Moses and acknowledges that they erred in grumbling. Moses then prays to God on their behalf. God instructs Moses to make a serpent and place it on a stick. Moses makes a copper snake and miraculously, any stricken person who looked at this snake survived.
Notice that the solution to the plague of snakes did not involve getting rid of the snakes themselves. Why offer a cure for the snakes rather than simply removing them?
Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that the words for copper and snake are made up of the same root letters.
In other words, the word snake blends right in to the word copper. A person looking at the word copper could easily miss the snake concealed in there!
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the serpent represents the inclination to do evil that is present in man. Yet, very few of us openly choose to do wrong. Instead, we rationalize our choices and convince ourselves of our righteousness. Humans struggle to make the right choices due to the lure of the wrong choices. Just as the snake blends right into the underbrush so that he simply can’t be seen, so does evil blend in with good. The serpent lures us into believing that his voice inside of us is in fact our better instincts speaking.
The solution is to take the serpent and place him up on a pole. Take him out from the copper hues of the underbrush where he hides and identify him for the fraud that he is. That part of man that tells him to make mistakes and urges him to choose the fleeting over the eternal is not really a part of him at all!
There is no getting rid of the snake; perplexing challenges are here to stay. This world is confusing. Frequently, we need a mentor to help us remove the snakes from the ground and raise them in the air. When wrong is no longer couched in the underbrush, it can no longer be as easily presented as good. For example, ‘moral’ political stances regarding abortion are increasingly becoming blatantly evident as evil. When a man or woman realizes that the reasons that they are avoiding marriage stems from their lower rather than higher self, that the juicy gossip they want to pass on is the talk of a foreign snake, or that one economic choice incorporates integrity, they are better equipped to make wise decisions.