We find that this brazen serpent had become an object of idolatry, and no doubt was supposed to possess, as a telesm or amulet, extraordinary virtues, and that incense was burnt before it which should have been burnt before the true God.
And he called it Nehushtan - נהשתן . Not one of the versions has attempted to translate this word. Jarchi says, "He called it Nechustan, through contempt, which is as much as to say, a brazen serpent." Some have supposed that the word is compounded of נחש nachash, to divine, and תן tan, a serpent, so it signifies the divining serpent; and the Targum states that it was the people, not Hezekiah, that gave it this name. נחש nachash signifies to view, eye attentively, observe, to search, inquire accurately, etc.; and hence is used to express divination, augury. As a noun it signifies brass or copper, filth, verdigris, and some sea animal, Amos 9:3; see also Job 26:13, and Isaiah 26:1. It is also frequently used for a serpent; and most probably for an animal of the genus Simia, in Genesis 3:1; (note), where see the notes. This has been contested by some, ridiculed by a few, and believed by many. The objectors, because it signifies a serpent sometimes, suppose it must have the same signification always! And one to express his contempt and show his sense, has said, "Did Moses hang up an ape on a pole?" I answer, No, no more than he hanged up you, who ask the contemptible question. But this is of a piece with the conduct of the people of Milan, who show you to this day the brazen serpent which Moses hung up in the wilderness, and which Hezekiah broke in pieces two thousand five hundred years ago!
Of serpents there is a great variety. Allowing that נחש nachash signifies a serpent, I may ask in my turn, What kind of a serpent was it that tempted Eve? Of what species was that which Moses hung up on the pole, and which Hezekiah broke to pieces? Who of the wise men can answer these questions? Till this is done I assert, that the word, Genesis 3:1, etc., does not signify a serpent of any kind; and that with a creature of the genus Simia the whole account best agrees.
He removed the high places - This religious reformation was effected in a violent and tumultuous manner (marginal reference). The “high places,” though forbidden in the Law (Deuteronomy 12:2-4, Deuteronomy 12:11-14; compare Leviticus 26:30), had practically received the sanction of Samuel 1 Samuel 7:10; 1 Samuel 9:12-14, David 2 Samuel 15:32, Solomon 1 Kings 3:4, and others, and had long been the favorite resorts of the mass of the people (see 1 Kings 3:2 note). They were the rural centers for the worship of Yahweh, standing in the place of the later synagogue;, and had hitherto been winked at, or rather regarded as legitimate, even by the best kings. Hezekiah‘s desecration of these time-honored sanctuaries must have been a rude shock to the feelings of numbers; and indications of the popular discontent may be traced in the appeal of Rab-shakeh 2 Kings 18:22, and in the strength of the reaction under Manasseh 2 Kings 21:2-9; 2 Chronicles 33:3-17.
The brasen serpent - See the marginal reference. Its history from the time when it was set up to the date of Hezekiah‘s reformation is a blank. The present passage favors the supposition that it had been brought by Solomon from Gibeon and placed in the temple, for it implies a long continued worship of the serpent by the Israelites generally, and not a mere recent worship of it by the Jews.
And he called it Nehushtan - Rather, “And it was called Nehushtan.” The people called it, not “the serpent” נחשׁ nāchâsh but “the brass,” or “the brass thing” נחשׁתן nechûshtān Probably they did not like to call it “the serpent,” on account of the dark associations which were attached to that reptile (Genesis 3:1-15; Isaiah 27:1; Psalm 91:13; etc.).
In sharp contrast with the reckless rule of Ahaz was the reformation wrought during the prosperous reign of his son. Hezekiah came to the throne determined to do all in his power to save Judah from the fate that was overtaking the northern kingdom. The messages of the prophets offered no encouragement to halfway measures. Only by most decided reformation could the threatened judgments be averted. PK 331.1
In the crisis, Hezekiah proved to be a man of opportunity. No sooner had he ascended the throne than he began to plan and to execute. He first turned his attention to the restoration of the temple services, so long neglected; and in this work he earnestly solicited the co-operation of a band of priests and Levites who had remained true to their sacred calling. Confident of their loyal support, he spoke with them freely concerning his desire to institute immediate and far-reaching reforms. “Our fathers have trespassed,” he confessed, “and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken Him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord.” “Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us.” 2 Chronicles 29:6, 10. PK 331.2Read in context »
The words spoken against the apostate tribes were literally fulfilled; yet the destruction of the kingdom came gradually. In judgment the Lord remembered mercy, and at first, when “Pul the king of Assyria came against the land,” Menahem, then king of Israel, was not taken captive, but was permitted to remain on the throne as a vassal of the Assyrian realm. “Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria.” 2 Kings 15:19, 20. The Assyrians, having humbled the ten tribes, returned for a season to their own land. PK 287.1
Menahem, far from repenting of the evil that had wrought ruin in his kingdom, continued in “the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Pekahiah and Pekah, his successors, also “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.” Verses 18, 24, 28. “In the days of Pekah,” who reigned twenty years, Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, invaded Israel and carried away with him a multitude of captives from among the tribes living in Galilee and east of the Jordan. “The Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,” with others of the inhabitants of “Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali” (1 Chronicles 5:26; 2 Kings 15:29), were scattered among the heathen in lands far removed from Palestine. PK 287.2
From this terrible blow the northern kingdom never recovered. The feeble remnant continued the forms of government, though no longer possessed of power. Only one more ruler, Hoshea, was to follow Pekah. Soon the kingdom was to be swept away forever. But in that time of sorrow and distress God still remembered mercy, and gave the people another opportunity to turn from idolatry. In the third year of Hoshea's reign, good King Hezekiah began to rule in Judah and as speedily as possible instituted important reforms in the temple service at Jerusalem. A Passover celebration was arranged for, and to this feast were invited not only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, over which Hezekiah had been anointed king, but all the northern tribes as well. A proclamation was sounded “throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written. PK 287.3Read in context »