I teach a weekly Sunday School class to a bunch of youth age 14 to 18. This week I wanted to jazz things up a bit to catch their interest, so I started the lesson off with a brief Hebrew lesson. And I gave them a couple of fun things to do with Gematria. Because Hebrew characters each have a numerical value, you can add up the letters in a word and get a numerical value for the word itself.
For example, the word for "water," mayim, adds up to a value of 18. So does the word chai, meaning "life." So water equals life. This is certainly true in a desert culture, but it also brings new meaning to John 4:10 when Christ says he would give living water.
As another example, the word for "serpent"(nun cheth shin) adds up to a value of 358. So does the word for "messiah" (mem shin yod cheth). So the serpent represents the messiah (think of the story when Moses lifts up the brazen serpent on the staff for the people to look to and live). And notice that in 3 Nephi when Christ appears to the people, he doesn't tell them he was crucified; he tells them he was "lifted up." It's a reference to the Moses serpent story, and he is declaring himself as the messiah.
However, in Genesis, when Satan tempts Eve, he is also represented as a serpent. So one serpent is fallen, and one is raised up. It makes sense to me, considering Satan wanted to be the messiah. At the great Council in heaven he volunteered to be the saviour of mankind, but on his own terms. And in the Adam and Eve story, we see Satan's still trying to pass himself off as a messiah. He calls himself the god of this world. And there's the serpent image.
This brings another observation to mind. Several times in the scriptures Christ talks about how oft he would gather his people as a chicken gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but they would not. And the letter mem represents a bird or hawk as well as the messiah. So you have both a bird and a serpent representing the messiah. It brings to mind the Mesoamerican feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl.
The kids in the class found it interesting, anyway, and seemed to pay extra attention to the rest of the lesson. I'm not great at Hebrew or Gematria, but I know just enough to realize how many rich treasures enfolded in the scriptures I am missing!
(Gematria references taken from Joe Sampson in Written by the Finger of God.)