[If we look at how the serpent is portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures in relation to the serpent’s symbology in Egypt, and if we investigate the statement by Jesus about the bronze serpent in John 3, one discovers how the serpent was used by God to show His power and His ultimate healing through Christ.]

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” John 3: 14, 15

The first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Pentateuch, contain several references to serpents, or to creatures often interpreted as serpents, using different Hebrew terms. The significant passages include the serpent in the Garden of Eden tempting Eve in Genesis, chapter 3; Jacob’s blessing on Dan in Genesis 49:17, that he would be a “serpent by the way;” the miraculous sign given to Moses and Aaron when their rods are turned into serpents in Exodus, chapters 4 and 7; the fiery serpents of Numbers, chapter 21, who bite the children of Israel, and the bronze serpent that brings them healing.

Moses was born in Egypt and grew up in the royal household of Pharaoh. The first part of Acts 7:22 states “And Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians.” The Hebrews who left Egypt with Moses in the exodus were also familiar with Egyptian culture and life. A look at the use and meaning of serpents in Egyptian beliefs will help in bringing us a deeper understanding to the Biblical passages that refer to serpents in light of Moses’ background and the Egyptian milieu of the Israelites.

Hebrew Terms For Serpent

Several different Hebrew words that are translated as “serpent” or “snake” are used in the Pentateuch. The most common term is nahash, used in Genesis 3:1, 2, 4, 13, 14; Genesis 49:17; Exodus 4: 3, 7:15; and Numbers 21: 7, 9.1 It is found at least 30 times in the Old Testament,2 and means “to make a hissing sound,” as well as a “venomous reptile with deadly fangs.”3

A more ambiguous term is tannin, which can also be translated “monster,” “dragon,” “sea serpent,” “crocodile,” and can mean any large sea creature or reptile, as in Job 7:12.4 It derives from the Ugaritic tnn, referring to mythological sea monsters. This word is found in the creation account in Genesis 1:21, where it is usually translated as “sea monsters;”5 in Exodus 7: 9, 10, and 12, where Aaron’s rod turns into a tannim, and is usually translated there as “serpent;” and in Deuteronomy 32:33, where God pronounces judgment on Israel’s betrayal of Yahweh, saying that their wine is the “venom of serpents” and “the deadly poison of cobras,” (New American Standard Bible translation, hereafter referred to as NASB).

Outside the Pentateuch, tannin is also used to represent the foes of God. In Jeremiah 51:34, it is used of Nebuchadnezzar, and it refers to Egypt as a dragon (in several translations) in Isaiah 51:9. In Ezekiel 29:3, God calls Pharaoh “the great monster that lies in the midst of his rivers, that has said, ‘My Nile is mine, and I myself have made it,'” (NASB), a clear reference to the deity claimed for Egypt’s pharaohs. Tannin is again used to rebuke Pharaoh in Ezekiel 32:2 as “the monster in the seas,” (NASB).6

Saraph is most well known in the Pentateuch in Numbers 21:6 and 8, as the description of the “fiery serpents” who bit the children of Israel in the wilderness.7 According to Egyptologist John D. Currid, this term comes from the Egyptian noun, srf, meaning “warm” or “hot,” from the verb that means “to heat up,” or “to inflame.”8 This word is a noun, not an adjective, and means a poisonous snake.”9 These serpents may have been called fiery due to their painful bite, which injected poison and possibly caused a burning fever.10 The name also could have referred to a shiny appearance11 or to the puff adder, which has yellow, flame-type markings.12 The term saraph is used again in Deuteronomy 8:15, referring to the episode in Numbers, chapter 21.

In the passage of the fiery snakes, Moses is instructed by God to make a bronze serpent and set it on a standard. The Hebrew word for bronze, nehoshet, comes from Egyptian thst, meaning copper, and often referred to mountings on a flagpole or standard.13 It is interesting to note that nehoshet is similar to the word used for snakes in this passage, nehasim, which may mean the serpents were a bronze color.14 This could also be a play on words between the words for “bronze” and “snake” in verse 9 of Numbers 21 (n’has n’hoset).15

In Deuteronomy 32:23, the term zahal, means “to shrink back,” “crawl away,” or “crawling thing.”16 God is passing judgment on Israel for their unfaithfulness, announcing that they will suffer “the teeth of beasts,” and “the venom of crawling things of the dust,” a reference to venomous snakes.17

The Serpent in Egypt

According to Currid, the author of Exodus and Numbers was familiar with Egyptian practices and beliefs; the Exodus and Numbers accounts dealing with serpents “properly reflect ancient Egyptian customs” of the New Kingdom period.18

Information on Egyptian religion is very uneven, with more data from later periods and from higher social stratas. There are also difficulties in understanding the religious literature; therefore, no one can know for sure how specific Egyptian beliefs were followed and practiced.19 Egyptian gods varied over the centuries and according to the ruling Pharaoh’s preference of a particular deity. Local gods were worshiped only in certain regions, while other gods had widespread acceptance throughout Egypt. Local gods would sometimes rise in importance, and become adopted in other areas. Additionally, gods often were merged with each other, and merged with gods of other cultures; therefore, the blending of various gods over time and in different regions complicates the process of discovering consistent universal gods for study20

Egyptian religion was polytheistic, honoring animals as gods, and worshiping gods that personified forces of nature and that embodied abstract concepts such as wisdom and justice.21 Animals were also used to represent various attributes of the gods, such as the falcon for Horus, the cow for Hathor, the jackal for Anubis, and the crocodile for Sobek.22

The Serpent’s Many Roles

The role of the serpent was prominent in Egyptian culture. The serpent symbolized the beginning and end of time, and symbolized fertility. In ancient Egypt, as in many cultures, the ouroborus, a snake swallowing its tail, was a symbol of rejuvenation and eternity, an endless cycle of beginnings and endings.23 The serpent represented both good and bad: life energy, resurrection, wisdom, power, cunning, death, darkness, evil, and corruption.24

Perhaps the most potent symbol in Egypt was the uraeus, worn by the Pharaoh as a golden emblem on the forehead as a sort of crown; it was the symbol of supreme rulers, and a symbol of Pharaoh’s power.25 Depicted on the uraeus was a cobra, a fiery snake that spit fire at Pharaoh’s enemies.26 Serpents at the side of the uraeus represent the goddesses who drove out the enemies of Ra, the sun god.27 The uraeus was also thought to possess magical powers since Egyptians believed it to be the magical eye of the god Horus.28 Also shown wearing the uraeus was the powerful goddess Isis, consort of the god Osiris.29

Most demons in Egyptian lore were “fanciful creations,” but the greatest demon was the serpent Apophis, enemy of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, whose attacks on the sun god Ra were repelled by serpent spells and weapons cast by the four sons of Horus.30 Water snakes were associated with chaos: the four members of the primeval gods were sometimes shown as serpents.31 Serpents play a role in The Egyptian Book of the Dead: as the Sun journeys through the sky, it becomes a serpent in order to battle other serpents along the way.32

From early life to after death, the gods pervaded Egyptian life. Egyptians feared and revered snakes, seeing some as protectors and others as enemies;33 therefore, some gods were given serpent attributes to show their power and to give protection against enemies. The serpent’s shedding of its skin caused it to be associated with gods of time, such as Nehebkaw.34 Nehebkaw, also known as Nehebu-Kau, was a minor snake god from about 1500 B.C., the son of Geb, god of the earth. He ate seven cobras, and so offers protection against snakebites. Nehebu-Kau is also one of the guardians of the Egyptian kings in the afterlife.35

Perhaps the most important and feared god was the sun god Ra (or Re),36 who was portrayed as a man with the head of a hawk or falcon, crowned with a solar disk surrounded by the sacred asp, the serpentine form of cobra goddess Wadjet.37 Ra, the creator god and sun god, was worshiped circa 3000 B.C. until 400 A.D., but in an earlier form was known as Amun, a god revered at Thebes as a snake deity, representing immortality and “endless renewal.”38 Ra was sometimes depicted as an underworld god, “Ra in Osiris,” riding his boat in human form with a ram’s head, and accompanied by snake goddess Wadjet.39 Wadjet, also known as Edjo or Ejo, was the goddess of Lower Egypt, and was usually depicted as an asp, a name for the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje).40 Wadjet created the papyrus swamps of the delta and was the wet nurse of the god Horus. Her serpent symbol coiling around Ra’s sun disc symbolized Ra’s power of destruction and ability to deliver quick vengeance against enemies.41 Wadjet was often depicted as a snake that spewed out flaming poison.42

Several gods of the underworld were associated with snakes. Kebechet, a chthonic snake goddess, was involved in the cult of the dead and depicted as a serpent.43 Neheb-Ka, a goddess usually represented with the head of a serpent, was identified with by the dead person.44 Renenutet, who guarded the pharaoh in the form of a cobra, was connected to both life and death. She was a snake goddess with fertility aspects, depicted as a human or in the form of a hooded cobra, causing her to resemble Wadjet. Her gaze had the power to conquer enemies. Her connection to death was that she was considered a magical power in the linen bandages swathing pharaoh in death.45

Some gods were not given attributes of serpents, but were portrayed with serpents to show their power, or presented as having the powers to repel snakes and other threatening creatures. Uatchit, a form of the goddess of love, Hathor, and identified with the northern sky at sunrise, was sometimes shown with a serpent around her scepter.46 A more important god, Horus, the sky god worshiped throughout Egypt from about 3000 B.C. until 400 A.D, was the son of Osiris and Isis. He was revered in two forms, as Horus the Child (Harpokrates) and Horus the elder. As a child, commonly depicted suckling on Isis’ knee, he appeared on amulets giving protection against crocodiles, snakes, scorpions, lions and other dangerous animals.47 Some steles and plaques show Horus standing on or next to serpents he has overcome.48

Magic and Serpents

The role of magic was significant in Egypt, and cannot be overlooked in connection to their beliefs, to serpents, and particularly to the Exodus passage of Aaron’s rod and the magician’s serpents. Many texts refer to the books of secret knowledge of Thoth, and numerous magical spells and references to magical spells are common in Egyptian literature.49 Some spells were used to ward off snakes, scorpions and crocodiles.50 In fact, literature with magical purposes is the most common genre in the body of ancient Egyptian writings; incantations and spells are interwoven with prayers and hymns.51 There are spells throughout The Egyptian Book of the Dead, which was often buried with the deceased as a magical aid.52 There was also the widespread use of amulets, used for protection; and omens and dream interpretation were important, though it is difficult to know exactly how these magical rites and rituals were enacted, or what was involved.53

There is archeological evidence that snake charming was practiced by Egyptian magicians; this was done by putting the serpent, usually a cobra, into a paralyzed, rigid state, then awakening it in some way so that it returned to its natural state.54 Thus, there are depictions of men or gods holding stiff serpents, and a text refers to a king using a serpent-staff.55 The Westcar Payprus, documents whose composition is from 1991-1783 B.C., and dates to the Hyksos period before 1550 B.C.,56 relates stories of magicians in Egypt changing wax crocodiles into real ones and then back to wax again after seizing their tails.57 Egyptian scarabs, representations of beetles, show snake charmers holding stiff serpents before various deities, and amulets show cobras being held by the neck.58

The Serpents in the Pentateuch

The Hebrew words used for snake, serpent, and sea serpent or monster (nahash, tannin, seraph) appear as a significant part of several passages in the Pentateuch: Genesis 3:1; Genesis 49:17; Exodus 4:3, Exodus 7:9, 10, 12, 15; and Numbers 21:6, 7, 9. Hebrews probably regarded most or all snakes as poisonous.59 In Egypt, they were also surrounded by people who worshiped snakes as the attributes or personifications of various gods.60 Yet, does this mean all serpents in the Pentateuch are symbols of evil?

The Serpent in the Garden

The serpent, a nahash, that tempts Eve in Genesis, chapter 3, is described as crafty, the Hebrew word being arum, a word which is not necessarily negative, but suggests wisdom and adroitness, or being shrewd or clever.61 According to some ancient Jewish interpretations, the serpent walked erect and had the power to speak, as did all the animals in the Garden, so that it did not seem unusual to Adam and Eve when the serpent spoke.62 Views differ as to whether this was a snake inspired or manipulated by Satan, or was Satan himself,63 while others note that the serpent is described as one of the beasts of the field and so is not a supernatural being, but a real serpent.64 One commentator, in stating that the serpent was Satan, declares that though Satan lost his sanctity, he “retains the sagacity of an angel, and is wise to do evil.”65 However the serpent may be seen in this passage, the serpent was later identified with Satan, one who tempted man to go against God’s will and who lied about God’s word.66 The woman, in believing the serpent, comes to the point of deciding the tree is good, whereas before, it was God who was declaring what was good; however, what results is not good but evil, and the serpent’s wisdom leads to a curse and to death.67 The serpent becomes cursed above every beast (Genesis 3:14), and in tempting Eve to eat what she shouldn’t, now he must eat dust, a reference to defeat.68

The Blessing on Dan

When Jacob blesses his children before his death in Genesis, chapter 49, part of his blessing to Dan in verse 17 is: “May Dan be a snake beside the road, a viper by the path, that bites the heels of the horse so that its rider falls backward,” (NET Bible). The generic term for serpent, nahash, is used here. Although Dan later becomes a tribe that worships false gods in Judges 18, and though King Jeroboam of Israel in 1 Kings, chapter 12, places golden calves for worship in the city of Dan, most commentators believe that the serpent image in this passage is positive since this is a blessing. Dan, though a small tribe, will be as shrewd as a serpent, able to bite its enemies’ heels so that they are defeated.69 Bible commentator Leupold proposes as well that the serpent imagery is almost neutral, a tribal trait that could be used for good or for bad, and was an oblique warning about Dan’s potential for treachery.70

Moses and Pharaoh

In Exodus, nahash is used in Exodus 4:3 when God tells Moses in the desert to throw down his rod, and it becomes a snake; whereas tannin is used in Exodus 7: 9, 10, and 12 for the serpents transformed from staffs by Aaron and the magicians before Pharaoh. In Exodus 7:15, when God commands Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the release of His people, God alludes to the episode of the previous day, referring to the staff as turning into a nahash. Since tannin is also translated as “monster” or “crocodile,”71 some scholars believe that in Pharaoh’s presence the staffs became crocodiles, while Moses’ staff became only a snake in the desert; others declare it a poetic exaggeration.72 It is interesting to note that Moses’ rod in Exodus 4:3 becomes a nahash, but it is Aaron’s staff in Exodus, chapter 7, that is turned into a tannin.73 However, because God refers in Exodus 7:15 to the staff having turned into a nahash, the terms could be interchangeable.74 The term tannin is broad enough to be interpreted as “snake” in the seventh chapter of Exodus.75

One commentator believes that tannin is used to describe the staff changing into serpents in Pharaoh’s presence because tannin was probably an Israelite nickname for Egypt and its king; this word is used by God to rebuke Egypt in other passages.76 According to this commentator, the serpents in Exodus should not necessarily be connected to the serpent in the Garden, or even to the serpent in Pharaoh’s crown, the uraeus.77 The same commentator notes that Moses is told in Exodus 4:3 to grasp the serpent by the tail, but normally the serpent would be picked up by the neck.78

According to Egypt historian Currid, many passages in Exodus reflect the author’s familiarity with Egyptian beliefs and customs. He points out the use of the Egyptian word hry-hbt as a basis for the term hartom used for the Egyptian magicians, and the understanding that the plagues were sent by God as an attack on the gods of Egypt.79 The constant refrain that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened is a reference to the Egyptian beliefs about the heart as the seat of the soul, particularly to the importance of the heart being weighed in judgment in the afterlife.80 Since Egyptian documents such as the Westcar Papyrus and archeological evidence have uncovered evidence of snake-charming and magic spells performed to turn staffs into serpents, and due to the power believed to be represented by the cobra on Pharaoh’s uraeus and by Pharaoh himself, the transformation of Aaron’s rod into a serpent was a direct assault on Egyptian magic and beliefs, especially since Aaron’s serpent swallowed the magician’s serpents.81 As Aaron’s serpent swallowed the magicians’ snakes, so later would the Red Sea swallow the Egyptians pursuing the Hebrews.82

The question arises as to whether the Egyptian magicians were using trickery, such as snake-charming, or actual supernatural demonic powers; there are arguments for both views.83 Snake charming was not unknown in Old Testament times, as can be seen in explicit references to it in Eccl 10:11, Ps. 58:4, 5, and Jer 8:17. Currid states that although serpent-charming is a possible explanation, it is not a certain one, as the text gives no clear indication of this.84 What is clear is that what God did was real. When Moses casts his rod down and it becomes a snake in Exodus 4:3, he runs from it, indicating this was no illusion.85 The mythological feats of magicians in the Westcar Papyrus become real to the Egyptians in Exodus, but the feat that shows true power does not have its source in Egyptian magic, but in the God of Israel, and His might vastly overpowers the skills of the magicians.86 In fact, the Egyptian gods (and Mesopotamian gods) themselves had to rely on magic to defeat foes; their own power was insufficient,87 in contrast to the God of Israel who was able with ease to triumph over the magic and power of Egypt.

Changing Aaron’s staff into a serpent is significant for another reason. This is the same staff that will be used with God’s power to initiate the plagues and to part the Red Sea, events which will give protection and life to Israel but bring death to the Egyptians.88 As Currid states, the contest was not between Moses and Pharaoh, or between Israel and Egypt, but between Yahweh and Pharaoh, who was considered a god, and who was supposedly imbued with the special powers of his station. The miraculous signs given to Moses and Aaron challenged the potency and deity of Pharaoh, who personified the power of Egypt and whose crown bore the cobra, symbol of supremacy.89

The Fiery Serpents and the Bronze Serpent

Following the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites suffer a bitter consequence in the form of serpents. They become impatient after journeying around the land of Edom, and complain about the manna God has been providing. God’s anger is provoked, and Numbers 21:6 states that He sends “fiery” (saraph, also translated “venomous” and “poisonous”) serpents among the people. Many are bitten and die. Moses is instructed by God in verse 8 to make a bronze poisonous or fiery serpent (also saraph) and set it on a standard or pole, so that those victims who look on it may live. Obeying God, the bronze serpent (nahash) is produced by Moses and those who look on it live, as recounted in verse 9.

The serpents may be called fiery due to their bite, due to the fever caused by the bite, or due to their appearance. One source90 evaluates the various serpents of the region the Hebrews might have been in, and proposes that these serpents could have been the saw-scaled viper Echis, which are quite numerous in certain areas. The venom of this particular snake is more powerful, weight for weight, than any other viper, and this snake is easily aggravated. It tolerates heat and is active in the day. Its venom affects the blood, causing death by massive internal hemorrhage, but death can be slow in coming. This would have given Moses time to fashion the bronze serpent, and to broadcast the news to the great number of afflicted people that they could look on the bronze serpent and live. This bronze serpent later became an object of worship and was destroyed by King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:4.

The significance of looking on the bronze serpent and living is that the healing is based on faith, not on the copper serpent itself; this was emphasized later in John 3:14, 15, when Jesus refers to this incident to say that the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that all who believe on Him will have eternal life.91 The bronze serpent illustrates that the “instrument of judgment becomes the means of deliverance.”92 In this episode, the symbol of pain and death becomes a symbol of healing. Indeed, the bronze serpent may have later influenced the Caduceus symbol for medical arts in Greece.93

Currid sees several connections to Egypt in the Numbers report of the fiery serpents. He notes that whenever the Israelites murmured, they mentioned Egypt and how much they missed it.94 There were Egyptian stories of serpents that belched or engendered fire, in particular the serpent on the Pharaoh’s uraeus that spit fire, and the fire-spitting serpent Kheti that protects Ra.95 Even the pole or standard was used in Egypt in connection to their gods, and was believed to embody the power of the god; many standards displayed serpents on top.96 These standards, which were shown with Egyptians going into battle, stood for the protection of Egypt and represented Egypt’s fury toward its enemies.97 Currid posits that the bronze serpent was a standard for Israel, giving healing to the Israelites and representing judgment on the Egyptians.98 Currid even proposes that the bronze serpent was a reminder of sympathetic magic, which was practiced by the Egyptians, since figures of animals were often used magically to protect against the same animal, whether scorpion, snake, or crocodile.99 Yahweh was not only showing his power to heal, but also showing his power over Egypt.100

From Death to Life

In Egyptian beliefs, serpents were enemies and protectors. The fear of dangerous serpents can work two ways: when its bite brings death, the serpent is the archetypal enemy; but precisely because of this power of death, the serpent is symbolically a potent ally against one’s enemies. In the magical worldview in which power is king, then a serpent can become an amulet protecting one from other serpents. The serpent’s sinewy movements and ability to quietly sneak up on victims cause fear and fascination; thus, the serpent becomes a two-pronged symbol of both evil or death and of protection.

The serpent in the Garden, either acting as Satan or as an agent of Satan, is clearly evil; it acts against God and entices man to sin. Yet it is also one of the beasts of the field, leading to the conclusion that perhaps the serpent itself was only used by Satan, or that Satan was able to inhabit it briefly. The serpent is cursed, but part of that curse is the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, that the serpent will taste defeat, a reference to Christ’s overcoming Satan. The serpent itself, as a non-human creature with no moral capacity, is not evil, but it is associated with evil in this passage.

Jacob’s blessing of Dan seems at first negative, since Jacob is asking that Dan be a serpent in the way, one that bites the heels of a horse and causes the rider to fall backward. But Jacob’s words come as part of a blessing, and it points to the might of the small tribe of Dan in overcoming its enemies. Although the tribe of Dan later betrays Yahweh by worshiping an idol, there is no clear indication that the serpent imagery in the blessing is foretelling this; the imagery is, at most, ambiguous.

In the Exodus confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh, Aaron’s serpent is a duplication of the legendary magicians’ power of turning a staff into a serpent, but it is also more than a duplication. When Aaron’s serpent swallows the magicians’ serpents, it is God trumping Pharaoh at his own game, both realistically and metaphorically, since the cobra is a symbol of power in Egypt and its figure decorates the crowns of both Pharaoh and sun god Ra. The serpent is used as an instrument of God’s power. Rather than show His power in a way divorced from their culture, Yahweh challenges Pharaoh using the very elements of Egyptian beliefs in serpents and magic to turn the situation around to His advantage.

In the wilderness, the serpent is at its sharpest contrast as both evil and good. It is the ancient enemy, biting and bringing death. Yet God uses the bronze sculpture of a poisonous serpent to represent His mercy and power to heal. If “fiery” in this passage refers to the serpents’ deadly venom, then God is telling Moses to make a bronze model of a poisonous snake. Thus, the replica of the very source of poison and death becomes the symbol and means of healing, but the healing is by faith, not occult magic. Yahweh has no need for magic, as do the gods of Egypt. And unlike occult magic in Egypt, the bronze serpent has no powers in itself; it is God who heals, but the people must individually look in faith to that bronze serpent to receive the healing. This episode became the basis for Jesus’ statement in John 3:14, 15, that as the serpent in the wilderness was lifted up, so must He be lifted up, that all who believe on Him shall have eternal life. In both cases, the means of death becomes the means of life.

Just as the New Testament has both good and bad references to serpents (Jesus telling the disciples to be “wise as serpents,” in Matthew 10:16; the allusion to the bronze serpent in John 3:14; Jesus rebuking the Pharisees as serpents and vipers in Matthew 23:33; and Satan identified as the dragon in Revelation, chapter 12), so does the Pentateuch present the serpent as both good and evil. Although the serpent can be a channel of evil, as in the Garden, and can represent evil, as when the terms for serpents are used to rebuke Pharaoh, the serpent itself is not always evil, as the blessing of Dan and the bronze serpent show us. The serpent can be neutral as well, a tool to display God’s power in Pharaoh’s court when Aaron’s rod turned into a serpent and swallowed the magicians’ serpents.

It seems that in the Pentateuch, the serpent is a multi-faceted metaphor and symbol. It does not have a rigid, static meaning, as it is not always used to represent the same thing. The serpent is, after all, a creature created by God. Just as Satan used (or perhaps misused) the serpent for his purposes in the Garden, so did God use the serpent to reproach Pharaoh and to show His power over Egypt, and for the healing of His people in the wilderness. In fact, one can discern a progression, not necessarily intended perhaps, of the serpent in these passages, going from evil in the Garden, to mildly good or perhaps ambiguous in the blessing of Dan, to a more neutral but compelling tool of God’s power in Pharaoh’s court, and finally becoming a symbol or instrument of healing in the wilderness, an image later used by Christ Himself to illustrate His saving power over death. Thus, the deadly serpent is transformed into an icon of healing and life, just as the death that came in the Garden was trounced by the gift of eternal life offered through Christ’s atonement on the cross.


1The software program Gramcord lists Strong’s number 8314, saraph, for Numbers 21:6; the New Strong’s Concordance lists Strong’s number 5175, nahash, for Numbers 21:6 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 1249.

2R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:571.

3Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, eds., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 7, 46.

4Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1990), 347; Theological Wordbook, 2:976.

5Theological Wordbook, 2:976.

6John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 117; Theological Wordbook, 2:976.

7Currid, 146.

8Currid, 147.

9The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 139.

10Herbert Lockyer, Sr., ed., Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), 63; Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, revised and updated, ed. R. K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1161.

11Currid, 147.

12Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 63.

13Currid, 147.

14NET Bible, (np.: Biblical Studies Press, 2001), 354, note no. 16; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2:571.

15Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1990), 879.

16Theological Wordbook, 1:239; Merrill C. Tenney, ed., The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), 5:356.

17Allen, 879.

18Currid, 155.

19Ed Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, 16 vols. (NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987), 5:37-38.

20Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 327; Holman Bible Dictionary, 402-403; E. A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, trans. E. A. Wallis Budge (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967), xcvi-xcv; The Encyclopedia Americana, International Edition, 30 vols. (Danbury, CT: Grolier Inc., 1988), 3:43.

21Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 327, 433; Edward M. Blaiklock and R. K. Harrison, eds., The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archeology (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1983), 172 .

22Eliade, 5:48; Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, 3263.

23Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, 846; Biedermann, 362.

24Cooper, 146-148.

25Ibid.; Currid, 89.

26Currid, 148; Hans Biedermann, Dictionary of Symbolism (NY, NY: Meridian, 1994), 311.

27Cooper, 149.

28Currid, 91.

29Chevalier and Gheerbrant, 851.

30Eliade, 5:49; Currid, 87 .

31Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, 3263.

32Chevalier and Gheerbrant, 849; Currid, 148.

33Currid, 88.

34Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, 3263.

35Jordan, 180.

36Ibid., 220.

37Ibid., 219-220; Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 433.

38Jordan, 15, 219-220.

39Ibid., 220.

40Currid, 89; The Encyclopedia Americana, 25:101.

41Eliade, 5:49; Jordan, 220, 286.

42Currid, 91.

43Jordan, 132.

44Budge, cxxi.

45Jordan, 220.

46Budge, cxxii.

47Jordan, 95, 107.

48Eliade, 1:244.

49Ibid., 5:49-50.

50Ibid., 5:50.

51Ibid., 5:59.

52Currid, 98.

53Eliade, 5:38, 50, 51.

54Currid, 95; Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 779.

55Currid, 95.

56Ibid, 84.

57Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1990), 347.

58Ibid., 347; Currid, 95; The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5:357.

59Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 77.

60Encyclopedia Americana, 25:100.

61The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 6-7; John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1990), 50.

62NET Bible, 30, note no. 7; The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 6-7.

63Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 2:571.

64NET Bible, 30, note no. 7; Sailhamer, 50.

65Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 10.

66The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 7.

67Sailhamer, 50, 51.

68Ibid., 55; Henry, 13. See Micah 7:17: “They will lick the dust like a snake, like serpents crawling on the ground,” (NET Bible) where God speaks of the defeat of His enemies.

69NET Bible, 131, note no. 6; Sailhamer, 278; Henry, 92; The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 46; H. C. Leupold, Leupold on the Old Testament. Vol. 2, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House and The Wartburg Press, 1942), 1188-1189.

70Leupold, 1189.

71Kaiser, 347.

72Currid, 86, 87.

73NET Bible, 155, note no. 19.

74Currid, 87.

75NET Bible, 155, note no. 19.

76Kaiser, 326.



79Currid, 94, 108. See Numbers 33:4b: “. . . the Lord also executed judgments on their gods.”

80Currid, 96-98.

81Ibid., 93-95, 103, 151; NET Bible, 145, note 18.

82Currid, 85.

83Ibid., 94-95; NET Bible, 155, note 22.

84Currid, 95.

85NET Bible, 145, note 18.

86Currid, 93; Henry 104.

87Currid, 30, 39-40.

88Currid, 85; Henry, 104.

89Currid, 93-94.

90The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5:357.

91Ibid., 878; Holman Bible Dictionary, 212; New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 185.

92Allen, 879.

93The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archeology, 409.

94Currid, 145.

95Ibid., 147-148.

96Ibid., 151, 152.

97Ibid., 152-153.

98Ibid., 153.

99Ibid., 148, 149.

100Ibid., 149.


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Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Trans. E. A. Wallis Budge. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967.

Butler, Trent C., ed. Holman Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991.

Chevalier, Jean and Alain Gheerbrant. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. John Buchanan-Brown. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1996.

Cooper, J. C. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd, 1978.

Currid, John D. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.

Eliade, Ed Mircea, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion, 16 vols. NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987.

The Encyclopedia Americana International Edition. 30 vols. Danbury, CT: Grolier Inc., 1988.

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion. Washington, D.C.: Corpus Publications, 1979.

Harris, R. Laird, ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.

Jordan, Michael. Encyclopedia of Gods. NY, NY: Facts On File, Inc., 1993.

Kaiser, Jr., Walter C. “Exodus.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 2. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 287-497. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1990.

Leupold, H. C.. Leupold on the Old Testament. Vol. 2, Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House and The Wartburg Press, 1942.

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Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Everett F. Harrison, eds. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1990.

Sailhamer, John H. “Genesis.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 2. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 1-284. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1990

Strong, James. New Strong’s Concordance. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.

Tenney, Merrill C., ed. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. 5 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.

Unger, Merrill F. Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954.

________. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Ed. R. K. Harrison. Chicago: Moody Press, 1988.