Adapted from the message preached by Ps Jeff O’Neil 
on the occasion of our 8th Anniversary Sabbath on 1 July 2007

“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” (2 Kings 18:4).

Hezekiah was the son of the wicked king Ahaz. But though he inherited the throne of his father, yet he did not inherit his nature, “for he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (v. 3). And we are told that his real father was David (v. 3), as he did “according to all that David his father did.” That is, he was of the spiritual line of David, a spiritual son. Just as Galatians 3:7 speaks of those “which are of faith” as being “the children of Abraham.”

But although his natural father “did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (18:2), we should not forget his mother, Abi, the daughter of Zachariah. This is thought to be Zechariah, the faithful witness in Isaiah 8:2. So she was brought up in righteousness and holiness, and there is every possibility that Abi was influential in her son’s upbringing. Mothers exert great impressions upon their sons, and it is an inestimable boon if they are godly influences. John Newton, that rebel slave trader, when under conviction remembered his mother’s prayers, when as a young lad he knelt by her knees. Even though a father may be ungodly, according to Paul (1 Cor. 7:14), “the believing wife sanctifies her children.” That is to say, they are covenantally holy.

God can raise up a man after His own heart from unlikely circumstances. That is one of the reasons why we should pray for those in authority, for who knows what God will bring forth from those who govern. But we must also understand what this twenty-five year old young man had inherited. The kingdom was in a terrible and weakened condition. The ten tribes were captives of the Assyrians. Only Judah and Benjamin remained,—an isolated minority under their king. Previously, Pekah, the king of Israel had fought against Judah, and slain 120,000 in one day; also he had taken 200,000 captive to Samaria; and then many of Judah had been transported into bondage of the Edomites; and also the southern parts of Judah had been subdued by the Philistines. So you can imagine what was left of the people of Judah. They were but a handful of corn in the top of the mountain, a ragged remnant! But that did not dismay Hezekiah as he contemplated the growing Assyrian threat towards Jerusalem. He had stopped paying tribute to the Assyrian king, and as a consequence the Assyrian war machine was on the move.

But as you go on into the chapter, Hezekiah’s success obviously was not due to might or power, but rather through his dependence on the Lord God and obedience to Him, for “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel” (v. 5). “He clave to the Lord” (v. 6) and as a consequence, “the Lord was with him, and he prospered whithersoever he went forth” (v. 7). As someone has rightly observed: “A man can only maintain his faith when his practice is answerable to it.” That is the key to our situation in these changed days, when the people of God are but an insignificant minority. The more we trust in God, and really cleave to Him, the more we will spiritually prosper, and be strengthened to combat the enemies of the Gospel, even though they outnumber us.

And yet before this Assyrian threat came to pass, Hezekiah performs a greater work. His faith was not just a subjective faith, but works followed. He outworked what he believed. It was not theoretical, but practical! He began the great reformation of his people, and of the church. And that is what is needed above anything else in our day, even above revival. We have to get back to the Bible, back to the faith and practice of the Puritans and Reformers, because the church, by and large, is in a lamentable condition. And I am not talking about the liberals and the modernists, but about the Evangelical church. As soon as Hezekiah came to the throne, he began the reformation of doctrine and conduct. He did so by taking two steps.

First, …

1. He Removed the False 
Places of Worship (v. 3)

Now this was a remarkably brave thing to do. The high places and groves of trees were where false gods were superstitiously worshipped. And even when there were the remains of true religion in the land, yet people still resorted to these places and practices.

Not even godly Azariah, who also “did that which was right in the sight of God” sought to remove these high places (2 Kings 15:1).

Nor did his father, Amaziah, of whom we are told, “did that which was right, howbeit the high places were not taken away” (14:3).

And before him, the boy king, Joash, “did that which was right, but the high places were not taken away” (12:2).

So it was an action of great faith and courage to eradicate these polluted places, and incur the malice and jealousy of the false worshippers. Perhaps the nearest equivalent in modern history would be the action of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, destroying many monasteries, and melting down their silver plate, and putting it into circulation. It would be like the Queen today, with the power that the monarchy had, ordering the destruction of all places of worship, save only the truly Protestant churches, thereby beginning a reformation of true religion once more.

So here is a man, a godly man, a great leader, determined to reform the land and the church, and knowing that sections of the people, and indeed even of the church, would resent such an action.

And not only so…

2. He Also Removed Idolatrous 
Worship (v. 4)

This was worship that had crept into the church itself! The brazen serpent that Moses was commanded to make, had been preserved and passed down the generations. It was an antique!

You remember the story. Because of the people’s murmuring, God had sent a plague of serpents into the camp there in the wilderness. And the only way people could be healed and saved from the bite of the serpents, was by looking at the brazen serpent which was lifted up on a pole. But now in the days of Hezekiah, the people, probably with the compliance of the priests, had attached divine power to this antique. And they reverenced, worshipped and burnt incense to it.

You see the same thing in Catholicism with their relics, the shroud of Turin, the Black Madonna, a multitude of pieces of the cross, and the adoration of the host, attributing miraculous powers to these carnal pretences. Because of sin, there is in man that which is prone to crave a visible, mystical religion. Things he can see, touch and bow down to. I remember vividly the sight of grown men and women stroking the belly of an idol of Buddha, and then dropping their coins in a box in the hope of receiving good luck. So Paul tells the Romans, “Man became vain in their imaginations, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image like to corruptible man, and birds and creeping things: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (Rom 1:23).

Such is the foolish, darkened heart of man, bowing down in idolatrous worship, to something that has eyes, yet sees not, and there is no breath in its nostrils. Hezekiah’s subjects failed to see that the brazen serpent was a type of Christ. They could not grasp what the symbol represented. Christ, in His own words, interprets for us “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:14,15).

What happened to Israel in the wilderness was, that the bite of the serpents spread poison throughout the veins of the rebellious Israelites. Which is a similitude to the perishing condition of all men through the poison of sin. Bitten by a serpent, they were healed if they but looked up to the brazen serpent on the pole. So it is in salvation; by man came death, and through a man comes life! As the serpent was lifted on a pole to the physical gaze of men, so if any man by faith looks to Christ crucified, lifted up on Calvary’s Cross, he will be healed of sin and saved from death. Looking in Scriptures means believing: “Look unto me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth” (Isa 45:22).

But the people of Hezekiah’s day continued to look upon the serpent as sacred and having magical divine power in itself, and so they worshipped the creature more than the Creator. Then Hezekiah took that ancient and venerated keepsake, and broke it in pieces. He dismisses it as inconsequential, and as a snare to the people with this word—“NEHUSHTAN,” which means, “a piece of brass.” Just a piece of brass!


Now this is what Reformation is about:

a. The Removing of all that has Invaded the Church, the removing of all that has stolen the minds and hearts of the people of God.

b. The Removal of all that is Idolatrous in our personal lives which does not give the glory and honour to Christ; a placing of other things before Christ, and all that which consumes our interest and relegates Christ to second best. So John exhorts, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn 5:21).

a. Removal of False Worship

In the first place, the Reformation of the Church proceeds by the removal of all false worship. It is one thing to worship at God’s footstool, another to worship the footstool itself. It is one thing to use the means, another to worship the means. As there was no divine power in the brazen serpent, for it was just an image, it could not heal nor save, so too, any form or ceremony has no power in itself, save that it is used to attain what it directs to, i.e. Christ. Forms, ceremonies and order are only profitable when they are used in love and obedience to the command of God, and used with a whole heart.

The second commandment teaches us, “thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or in earth beneath. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them.” But that is not only a restriction upon worshipping of statues, icons, or idols. It includes any innovations or misplaced and misrepresented manner of worship.

Now, in Reformed circles, there may be the steadfast adherence to biblically regulated worship, in principle and in doctrine, but they can be so used in a repetitive, coldly orthodox way, so that God is not praised. Therefore, there is a form of godliness, but a denying of its power. Such an attitude is idolatrous. Let us look at the Pharisees as an example.

The Pharisees used the correct order or means, but there was no saving value in the means themselves—NEHUSHTAN!

The Pharisees cried, “the Temple, the Temple, the Temple of the Lord,” but they were merely appreciating the glory and the tradition of the building than what it represented, for it portrays Christ —NEHUSHTAN!

They scrupulously kept the Sabbath, but never enjoyed the rest in Christ that it signifies—NEHUSHTAN!

They were meticulous in tithing, but ridiculous in their conception, even giving one tenth of mint and cumin; giving because of the imposition of the Law rather than with a willing heart—NEHUSHTAN!

So it behoves us to beware of that kind of reformed idolatry that would keep the brass serpent of the Puritan and Reformed model, but used to the wrong ends and purpose, or used out of a matter of routine and compliance. Even the Lord’s Supper can degenerate in our thinking and practice, by either partaking superstitiously, ignorantly, routinely, lightly, or even repetitively, so that we do not discern the Lord’s body. And it becomes,— NEHUSHTAN! Just a piece of brass!

b. A Reformation of our Lives

Secondly, there must also be reformation of our lives, by the removal of any personal idols. Our conduct must match our profession. The only subject that should steal our hearts is Christ! One wrote “that ever since his first sight of Christ, his heart was stolen, and Christ had run off to heaven with it.” This man’s affections were in heaven where Christ sits on the right hand of the majesty on high.

I have been rereading the life of John Fletcher of Madley in England. Now, he was a Swiss who came to England in the 18th century and was converted. He became a vicar in the Church of England. The Wesleys were great friends of his and he became the first Principal of Howell Harris’s college in Trevecca, Wales. Such was his piety and conformity to the Scriptures that he displayed, that whoever came into contact with him saw an embodiment of holiness, the like of which was Apostolic. Now my impression of him is that if I could only be as he was before he was converted, then it would be a great improvement in my life. He would not, after he was converted, suffer anything, or anyone, or any affliction and circumstance to steal his affections from Christ.

We can so easily and readily be deceived and diverted from dedication to the Lord, even by legitimate things. Young people today are beguiled by pop-star idols, and football idols, and they imitate their dress and manners, and so are led astray. But we as Christians are prone to our own idolatries:-

The love of money can be a temptation that would prioritise our thinking and lifestyle — NEHUSHTAN!

Ambition, whilst perfectly acceptable, can so overpower that it dampens our ambition for Christ — NEHUSHTAN!

Pride can prevent us humbling ourselves on every necessary occasion, and set up its rule instead of Christ’s reign— NEHUSHTAN!

The great ogre, self, can establish its throne on our hearts to the exclusion of others, and to the relegating of the Lord Jesus — NEHUSHTAN!

We are reminded of Cowper’s words,

“The dearest idol I have known,

whate’er that idol be.

Help me to tear it from thy throne,

and worship only Thee.”

What about the preserving of our pride, that prevents us repairing injured relationships in the church?—NEHUSHTAN!

Or the resistance to full-blooded commitment to the work of the vineyard, because of prejudice about some aspects of the work—NEHUSHTAN!

All these diversions and distractions are things that are inconsequential and trivial, compared to the glory of God, and the preservation of the Church in this world. Allowing our molehills to become mountains—NEHUSHTAN!

Where will we all be in fifty years time, when all the trivial impediments that blight our lives and mar our lives, will be of no consequence?— NEHUSHTAN! Just a piece of brass!

Idols come in different forms and dress, and allure so as to diminish and deteriorate our worship of the incomparable Christ. What beauty can measure against His loveliness, for “He is altogether lovely”? What wealth can compare to His unsearchable riches? What prospects outmatch his eternal vistas? In the last analysis, “All is vanity”—NEHUSHTAN! John Owen wrote, “Idolatry is the yielding unto the creature, the service and worship due to the Creator.” It is a form of unbelief, corrupting worship and life, and inducing conformity to the world. Misdirecting our worship and life away from Christ, to suit our preferences—NEHUSHTAN!


My friends, as once again we come before, and under the authority of God’s Word, let faith have her perfect work. Resist any lethargy, controversy, apathy, animosity and idolatry, and seek to glorify Christ with purity of motive. Let faith cry, “NEHUSHTAN” to anything that would separate us from evangelical love to Christ and His commandments, and from members of the body of Christ.

Let us lift Him up, and not a brazen serpent. And as a church, magnify Him before the world, before our families, and testify that there is no other way, no other truth, and no other life! When He is lifted up – He will draw all men unto Him. Why is it that the church in general is in such a low state, and stagnating? Is it because we are not lifting Him up personally as members? We would rather let the Nehushtans excuse us from total dedication to Christ and His cause. Brethren, let this be an Anniversary of our intention to individually, and as a church, set forth Christ alone as all our desire, and all our salvation. With Paul, to assuredly say, “For to me to live is Christ!”

—Jeff O’Neil