We are told that Moses raising the brazen serpent for the Israelites to be healed from their snake bites was symbolic of Christ’s being “lifted up” for us. Is there a specific reason for the use of a serpent to represent Christ? It seems a strange choice to me.
It is an interesting choice, certainly, but not entirely shocking.
Throughout the scriptures, symbols are used to mean different things at different times. This is part of the tremendous power of symbols and parables. An example of this is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Most people think of it as counsel to us as to the kind of people we should be. However, another interpretation is that we are the man who when down from Jerico and fell among thieves. The Good Samaritan represents Jesus Christ. Which interpretation is correct? Both.
Another example is the Iron Rod in Lehi’s dream. Nephi was told that the Iron Rod is “the Word of God,” we typically take that to mean the scriptures. But in the intro to John 1:1 it says that “the word of God is Jesus Christ”. Therefore the Iron Rod represents Christ as well. So is the Iron Rod the scriptures or Jesus Christ? Since the purpose of the scriptures is to testify of Christ, I don’t really think there is any conflict here.
So getting back to your specific question. I think people object to this symbol because of the “serpent in the Garden of Eden”. However, those people may also be forgetting that the Israelites were getting bitten by serpents on the ground. We also need to remember why the Lord sent the serpents to bite them in the first place (their disobedience) thus making the serpents servants of the Lord (in a sense). With a little effort, one could find all kinds of symbolism and meaning in those facts and in the idea of something representing one of these serpent servants being raised up to heal those who would believe. Perhaps Moses lifting one up to represent Christ was to suggest to them that He could be their Savior, or if they choose not to follow Him–He will be their judge and they will be brought low. There is also the simple understanding that some would not look up because it was “too simple” to be true. Likewise in our day, some struggle to keep faith in Christ because they think they are too learned and wise for such “childish traditions.” Perhaps you could come up with another possibility….and we would both be correct.
The beauty of symbols and parables is that Heavenly Father can use them to teach me one lesson, and teach you another (to fill our personal needs) and both will be correct. If we can learn both of these interpretations, then that can bring us to an even greater level of understanding. This is why symbols are so powerful.