Ryan Booth, a conservative white Evangelical, writes:
[Hezekiah] broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). – 2 Kings 18:4
At Mathnasium a couple of years ago, we had a sweet little girl enroll who had just immigrated from India. We let all of our new students design their own binder spines to help them find their binders, and she proceeded to draw a swastika on hers. Shocked and confused, I quickly went online and found out that the swastika in Eastern cultures has meant “good fortune” for many centuries, and indeed, it basically had the same meaning in Europe, which is why the Nazis chose it as their symbol. Unfortunately for that little girl, the symbol that she drew as good luck symbol will not be interpreted that way by Americans who naturally see it as a symbol of hatred and evil.
Symbols don’t have an intrinsic meaning. The meaning comes from a cultural understanding, and those understandings change over time, as the culture changes.
When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, some of them spoke against God, so he sent venomous snakes among them, and they bit people who died, but God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole, and anyone who looked at it was healed.
In John 3:14, Jesus said that the serpent was a symbol of him. It was a symbol of his death on the Cross. We will all die, but those of us who can gaze upon his sacrifice on the Cross will live. What a wonderful symbol the bronze serpent was — a promise of eternal life!
Unfortunately, by the time of king Hezekiah a thousand years later, the serpent had become a false idol. Instead of a symbol of God’s salvation, the serpent itself was being worshipped as a god, which they called Nehushtan. As such, it was better for it to be destroyed, rather than be an occasion for the people of God to fall into idolatry.
The Confederate battle flag, and monuments to Confederate generals, were not constructed as symbols of racial hatred. For many Southerners, the Civil War was not about slavery, and many Confederate generals were honorable men fighting for what they believed to be a good cause.
But, unfortunately, the little Indian girl doesn’t get to choose what a swastika means in America, and those of you who think that a Confederate flag honors Southern heritage, or who think that Confederate monuments honor valiant men and are an important part of our history — you don’t get to decide what those symbols mean to our culture.
And what’s happened is that the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments have become a Nehushtan. They have become gods to a group of people bent on hate and violence. As such, we’re better off without them.
On principle, I am against taking down monuments. I think it was wrong to take them down in New Orleans recently. Yet I agree with Ryan Booth. After Charlottesville, the “heritage, not hate” argument is never going to be taken seriously. The Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right protesters in C’ville have made it much harder to defend those monuments and Confederate insignia.