Lectionary Year B
March 30, 2003
Step IV: Cross-Section
A. Primitive Christianity
(JFC) The Passover leading to the Exodus of the tribes from Egypt continued well
into the early church to be an important memory and celebrative remembering in the Eucharist. Serpents are said in I Corinthians 10:9 to have destroyed some with whom God was displeased on the wilderness wandering, a part of which our text at hand reports. And in this Sunday's Gospel Lesson, John 3:14-21, Jesus expands Moses' lifting up the serpent in the wilderness into an additional interpretation of that Old Testament event, by stating, "so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life." Another figurative use of food and water along with fire to purge and/or cleanse and/or convert sinners is a part of Paul's formulas in Romans 12:20. Revelation 20:2 likens "the ancient serpent to the Devil and Satan." It remains a symbol of evil, danger and something to be avoided. When believers refocus onto signs for God's solving problems, symbolized even by idols on poles, life becomes their ramifications.
B. Old Testament and Judaism
(JFC) The tribulations the people encountered through the Sinaitic Peninsula are
told in many Old Testament Books, from Exodus 19:1, Deuteronomy 29:5, Psalms 78:52 and 136:16 and Hosea 13:5. They declare God's care of the wanderers in that wilderness tour. Of course, we find the figure of the serpent representing evil, etc., from Genesis 3:1, Psalm 58:4 and Proverbs 23:32, etc. Food and water needed and elements figuring cleansing/conversion = fire = serpents? Are also prominent in Proverbs 25:21f. Such pictures are indelibly affixed in the recollections of Israel of old. For example, in II Kings 18:4 the new and young King Hezekiah broke the serpent on the pole Moses made because the people were making offerings to it. Then in the latter part of the first century BCE, The Wisdom of Solomon 16:1-7 explains that difficulties besetting the disobedient are overridden by God's and even serpents solving the problems they face. God always protected the obedient.
C. Hellenistic World
(JFC) These aristocrats must have wondered whether this story's ascribing to God the
attack of the fiery serpents and their biting the people just because of their complaints and questioning why they suffered in the wilderness was really God's doing. These rather creative thinkers might have worked on such stories' meaning(s) long enough to come to find the good news outlasts the judgment, like when and where Philo (15 BCE - 50 CE) wrote in Concerning God, "Moses says still more clearly: 'The Lord your God is a consuming fire' - a fire that consumes not to annihilate, but for salvation, for God's way of working is not to destroy, but to save." Furthermore, symbolism really captures the attention of these philosophers. So, they must have enjoyed discussing the meaning(s) of the significance of the serpents. Also, the mind-eye coordination of the peoples' looking at the serpent on the pole could appeal to their customarily engaging more in mental gymnastics than in manual labor, etc.
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