Chullin 2 - 8
A Rule About Rulers
"The ruler who listens to lies, all his servants are wicked." (Mishlei 29:12)
This rule of relationship between an evil ruler and his subjects is cited by our gemara in defining the religious nature of the servants of the idol worshipping King Achav, ruler of the Kingdom of Israel. Its converse is applied to the servants of the righteous King Yehoshofat, ruler of the Kigdom of Yehuda, who Achav had invited to dine with him.
This application is based on the simple meaning of this passage. A ruler who gives credence to lies and evil invites his followers to please him with falsehood, flattery and emulation of his evil ways. It then follows that a righteous ruler will inspire righteousness in his followers.
The commentaries on Mishlei, however, explain this portrait of an evil ruler as being an allegory to the relationship between a mans heart and the rest of his being. The heart is the ruler while mans intelligence, imagination and all his faculties are the servants. Should the heart desire satisfaction of base passions mans imagination will conjure up images for him, his intelligence will provide him with the strategy for achieving gratification, and his faculties will implement it. But if his heart chooses to fulfill the will of G-d then all of these servants will rally to help him achieve this goal.
In both the simple and allegorical approaches King Solomon spoke only of the negative side of the ruler-subject relationship because it is most readily observed in regard to evil and relied on us to understand that the positive converse is also true.
The Brazen Serpent
When the righteous King Chizkiyahu succeeded his idol worshipping father Achaz he set about removing all traces of the idolatry which had proliferated during his fathers reign. One of these actions is described as "he broke in pieces the brazen serpent that Moshe had made, for until that time the Children of Israel burned incense to it; and he called it Nechushtan." (Melachim II 18:4)
This brazen serpent was created by Moshe at G-ds command after He accepted Moshes prayers to put an end to the plague of venomous serpents which had been sent against the people who had spoken rebelliously against G-d and Moshe when they became weary of their journey in the wilderness. A serpent of brass was then made by Moshe and put on a pole. Anyone bitten by a serpent only had to look upon this brazen serpent and he was healed. (Bamidbar 21:4-9)
Long after this incident the brazen serpent was held around as a sort of monument to this miracle that took place in the days of Moshe. But when idolatry became so popular in a later generation someone came up with the idea that the curative power of the brazen serpent indicated a measure of divinity and it soon became the fashion to burn incense to it. Chizkiyahu decided that the danger posed by the brazen serpent as an object of idol worship outweighed the value it had as a reminder of the miracle. He thereupon destroyed it and branded it with the derisive title of "Nechushtan" which is a diminutive form of the word for brass as if to communicate to his misguided subjects that some little brass thing had no power of its own and did not deserve to be worshipped.