Nehushtan – “A Piece of Brass”

2Kings 18:1 Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, [that] Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.
2Kings 18:2 Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also [was] Abi, the daughter of Zachariah.
2Kings 18:3 And he did [that which was] right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did.
2Kings 18:4 He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.

In Easton’s Bible Dictionary, the entry for Nehushtan states:

Of copper; a brazen thing, a name of contempt given to the serpent Moses had made in the wilderness ( Num 21:8), and which Hezekiah destroyed because the children of Israel began to regard it as an idol and “burn incense to it.” The lapse of nearly one thousand years had invested the “brazen serpent” with a mysterious sanctity; and in order to deliver the people from their infatuation, and impress them with the idea of its worthlessness, Hezekiah called it, in contempt, “Nehushtan,” a brazen thing, a mere piece of brass ( 2Ki 18:4).

Numbers 21:8 And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
Numbers 21:9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

At one time, Moses was commanded of God to make the brass or brazen serpent, and the Lord blessed it to the people as a means of healing. When the people idolized the brazen serpent, godly Hezekiah called it Nehushtan, and was commended for destroying it.

As an application, I take the idolizing of means of grace, such as historical vows, to be a snare to God’s people, as the old brazen serpent made by Moses became to the Israelites. One means of grace to God’s people is the swearing of covenants which more specifically bind to duties. These public social covenants, which are an aid to performing duties, are of great use, as long as they may be used. But when circumstances have changed to such an extent that men can no longer keep them, they must not be idolized, and made to be more than what they are. They are not a representation of God’s covenant of grace. They are not Scripture. They are MEANS OF GRACE.
In the Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 22 Of Lawful Oaths and Vows, Section 3, we read:

Whosoever taketh an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act; and therein to avouch nothing, but what he is fully persuaded is the truth. Neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believeth so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform. Yet is it a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority.

The Scripture proof for the italicized portion is Genesis 24:2-9, in which Abraham holds his servant responsible to bring home a wife for Isaac only if the woman is willing to leave her homeland and travel to the land of Canaan. He does not bind the servant to perform that which is impossible.

Nehemiah 5:12 Then said they, We will restore [them], and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise.

It was not enough that the priests made a vow. They had to actually be able to do what was promised, and then do it.

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