Flying fiery serpents?
In the 17th chapter of 1 Nephi you have perhaps the oddest commentary on the Old Testament anywhere. Joseph Smith writes: And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the lord straightened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way of the easiness of it, there were many who perished. (1 Nephi 17:41)
Now this is odd on so many levels. The first thing that caught my attention though was the introduction of the adjective flying serpents. The Bible makes no such reference. Here is what the Bible says about the event in question: “ Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people.  And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live."  So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” ( Numbers 21:6-9 (ESV)
No mention of flying serpents, only fiery serpents which one takes to be a reference to the nature of their bite. I don’t know why you would include flying in here. It is just out of place, it makes no sense. It is adding to scripture already written. It is retelling the story, and fictionalizing it.
But the greater yet sad irony of it is the self fulfillment of this prophecy among the Mormons. It had to be Satan himself who wrote this verse to be a source of merriment for the devilish hordes that are the hosts of hell. For the bronze serpent to which the Israelites looked for their salvation from the bite of the fiery serpents is a type, or foreshadowing of the cross, as Jesus tells us in the 3rd Chapter of John. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14-15 (ESV)
Just as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent and thus were saved from the bites of the fiery serpents, so all who look to the cross, that is put their faith in the cross of Christ, are saved from the bite of that serpent who tempted Eve. That is they are saved from sin, death, and the power of the Devil, who was that serpent in the garden whose seditious bite introduced sin and death into the world. Yet every time you cry faith alone! Every time you extol the work of the Christ on the cross, the Mormons are quick to say that is too easy, works must be involved, you have to do your part. In fact the Mormons refuse to wear crosses, or display them on their ward houses. They would have you look anywhere but to the cross for your salvation. Wearing a cross in Utah will garner you many strange looks. Mormons are positively offended by the cross. And faith to a Mormon is at best only a “first principle of the gospel.”
In a popular Mormon Tract they write “the firs principle of the gospel is faith in Jesus Christ. To have faith means that we firmly believe he is the savior of the world. We accept his atonement and do all he has asked us to do. We want with all our hearts to keep his commandments. We center our hearts on him and follow his perfect example.” Notice for the Mormon faith starts with you, it is something you do. It isn’t the gift of God that works in you, however frail, a fear , love and trust in God, but it is equated with your willingness to do all that Jesus has asked you to do, and it isn’t even faith unless you actually do all he has asked you to do, and want with all your heart to keep his commandments, center your heart on him and follow his perfect example. I dare say if that is faith I have met none that have it. I have never met one person that has done all Christ has asked them to do. Seriously that is a pretty tall order. Sell all you have and give it to the poor! Yet the local “bishop” is more often than not chosen because of his evident success in the business world.
Ever met a person who wanted with ALL THEIR HEART to keep God’s commandments? The apostle Paul didn’t even meet up to that. Go read Romans chapter Seven, “the good that I would.” My heart is so vile that I offend just sharing its more benign desires. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19 (ESV) Notice Jesus puts that in the present tense. Quite frankly my heart embarrasses me. I laugh at it now, it’s a nervous embarrassed laugh, but I do laugh at it knowing Christ accomplished my salvation on the cross. And no matter how awful the thoughts are that come from my heart, even those sins are forgiven by his cross. To simple? Wasn’t for Him. And as tempted as we are to think faith is easy, it really isn’t not for us. It is impossible for us. That’s right faith is impossible, you can’t believe, not without the help of the Holy Spirit: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3 (ESV) That is why faith is a gift and not a work. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” ( Ephes. 2:8-9 (ESV)