He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan. (2 Kings 18:4)
“Nehushtan” means “brass”. Hezekiah showed considerable spiritual insight: he was able to look at something that was being worshiped—something explicitly given of God through Moses to Israel and see that it was just “brass”.
The Lesson of Nehushtan is this: it may be given of God, it may have been God’s provision for a time, it may have been a tool through which God acted miraculously; but it’s not God. It’s not to be worshiped. It’s just brass. The Lesson of Nehushtan is a difficult lesson, because it reveals our hearts in a painful way: it shows how quick we are to raise up an idol; and sometimes we make idols of very good things.
The children of Israel made an idol of the brass serpent God had commanded Moses to make. A painful lesson to learn is, idolatry comes naturally to the flesh. We all have the flesh in us, and idolatry is bound up in that:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told [you] in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
The tendency for us to raise up idols is no less than it was in the Old Testament: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”(1 John 5:21). And, just like in the Old Testament, we have a tendency to raise up idols thinking they are part of Scriptural worship of God. Remember Aaron at the bottom of Sinai? “And when Aaron saw [it], he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow [is] a feast to the LORD.” (Exodus 32:5). Aaron established the worship of the golden calf at Sinai, then told the people they were celebrating a “feast to the LORD”. This is the pattern of idolatry in the Old Testament: it is repeatedly mingled with worship of the Living God.
We think we are worshiping the Lord, when we have actually set up an idol. With this in mind, the lesson of Nehushtan becomes even more painful: we tend to set up idols and confuse them with worship of the Lord, and we tend to make idols of good things the Lord has given us.
Even good things can become idols. It is a grave disservice to idolize anything or anybody. Even preachers can become idols. The result is God’s wrath, on you and the idol. God will not be eclipsed.
13 And in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; turn away from me; whatever you impose on me I will pay.” And the king of Assyria assessed Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria. (2 Kings 18:13-16)
So Hezekiah submitted, and emptied his treasures, and sent the money, as supposing he should be freed from his enemy, and from any further distress about his kingdom. Accordingly, the Assyrian king took it, and yet had no regard to what he had promised (The Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, Chapter 1:1)
Hezekiah hoped that this policy of appeasement would make Judah safe. He was wrong, and his policy only impoverished Judah and the temple and made the King of Assyria more bold than ever against Judah.
34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim and Hena and Ivah? Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’” (2 Kings 18:34-35)
It was one thing to speak against Judah, its people and leaders. It was another thing altogether to mock the LORD God of Israel this way, and count Him as “just another god.” Rabshakeh was going well until he simply overstepped his boundsBack to Bible Commentary