The Serpent On The Pole, WHO logo

When I was rather young, for a long time I couldn’t figure out why there were symbols of a snake in medical centres, on badges of paramedics and ambulances; even the World Health Organization has one on their flag, see left.  Aren’t snakes dangerous and venomous? Aren’t they dirty and “evil”? Aren’t snakes the ones that inflict pain and death instead of dispensing healing and life? What irony, right?

What has the snake symbol got to do with humanitarian medical entities internationally whose sole purpose is about health and healing? Not many people can answer me, those who did mumbled some mythological Greek deities who magics on healing that they themselves barely understands. Of course, that was before the internet age and Google  was a spelling mistake for goggles in school.

Snake On The Pole; See Jesus As Your Curse, Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo, Jordan

Finally, I found my answer in the Bible.

Some background first; following the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites thought that they were good enough to be on their own to adhere to God’s law instead of relying God’s repeated grace extended over and over again during their short journey so far. So in their ego, they requested Moses to ask God to give them the laws to follow, where they prided themselves to be able to; and God did, Deuteronomy 5:27-31. Well, the Israelites didn’t last even a month and a half (forty days) in their committment. While Moses was still downloading God’s commands, decrees, and regulations up on Mount Sinai; they built a golden calf; breaking the first and most important command God had given, “You must not have any other god but Me“, see here. And ever since Mount Sinai, whenever the Israelites sinned; complained or murmured, God had to send judgment. They, afterall asked for it.

Fast forward about 39 years later, the Israelites were still wondering in the desert. In their impatience after long and hard journeying around the land of Edom, they spoken against God and Moses yet again. They also complained about the “horrible” manna God has been providing, Numbers 21:4-5.God had to judge, so He sent poisonous snakes among the people and many were bitten and died. When the people repented of their sins, they pleaded with Moses to pray for forgiveness from God. Moses did, and the Lord then instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and set it on a pole. Moses did what God said and the bronze serpent (nahash) was produced. Then those who were bitten by the snakes, doomed to die, had only to look upon the bronze snake and lived. Not only did they not die but even their bite wounds were miraculously healed, simply by glazing upon that bronze snake on the pole.

And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.   John 3:14-15

The Serpent On The Pole, The jungle books: Snake Kaa

Jesus drew a parallel between the bronze snake on the pole and His own crucification on the cross. Like the Israelites looking upon the bronze snake to be saved and healed, sinners who looked upon the cross will be saved from eternal doom to have eternal life and healed of all afflictions caused by sin. The bronze snake illustrated a prophecy of the cross that the very instrument of judgment became the very means of deliverance. The symbol of pain and death became a symbol of healing and health over 3500 years ago. Indeed, the bronze snake in the days of Moses may very much have later influenced the Caduceus symbol for medical arts in Greece.

But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.   Galatians 3:13

The next time you happen to see such a logo of a snake on a pole, be glad that health and healing belongs to you because Jesus took upon Himself the curse on the cross.

  1. The curse of the cross gave us deliverance through Jesus Christ! The medical field uses the symbol of the snake as you say for health and healing but how far have they come from that to the murder of innocent children in the womb?

  2. King David says:

    Without Christ, human’s best effort is nothing but filthy rags.

    We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6

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