“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”(KJV (Matthew 10 verse 16)
“I am sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”(NIV)(Matthew 10 verse 16)
Most preachers have focused more on the quality of humility, being innocent or harmless as doves and left out the wisdom or shrewdness of the snake. People are asked to be humble so many times that one may think that is all there is to being Christian. But this is not exactly what Christ said. He said the follower or disciple needs poses both qualities and one or the other. When one focuses on only one quality, humility as the one important attribute to have, we will not only to fail to survive in the hostile environment (among wolves) but we will also be telling half the truth. This makes us fall into the trap of subtracting from the Word which we are warned against in the book of Revelation 22:19.
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:19 KJV)
The word’s Behold (KJV) and Therefore (NIV) in Matthew 10:16 bring out a sense of seriousness and an intended meaning of caution to the followers of Christ as they go to evangelise and spread the good news of the kingdom of God. Christ was giving the final instruction to his disciples before they went on their mission just like a parent would give advice to her child who is leaving home to a foreign place. He told his disciples, I will not be around to tell you what to do or even protect you, but here is how you should conduct yourselves in my absence.
The verse talks about two qualities that a Christian or follower of Christ needs have to survive the hostile environment. An imagery of a ‘sheep among wolves’ makes it apparent that unless they follow his advice; their chances of survival are very slim if not zero
What is the wisdom of the snake in that Christ talks about Matthew 10 verse 16?
“…. as wise (KJV) or shrewd as a serpent.”
Why would Christ want his disciples to borrow an attribute from a serpent which symbolises the devil? The serpent is associated with the evil, the devil, deceit, lies, untrustworthiness, betrayal and most of the stories about snakes are those with a negative connotation. In-fact most people would be offended if they are called snakes because it would imply that they are bad people.
I have tried to find out why Jesus would want his followers to poses the wisdom of the snake by answering the questions;
1. What Similarities or parallels do Snakes and Christians have?
2. How does the snake protect it self?
Similarities or Parallels
ü Lack of proper first line of defence mechanism, The Snake has a weak skin that makes it Vulnerability to injury.
The snake has a thin weak skin that can easily be punctured eve by a thorn. And once the skin is punctured the wound almost always becomes fatal. This is the same with Christians, when we are not protected by God we are as vulnerable as the snake, there defence can not stand against the darts of the devil as Paul say’s in the book of Ephesians 6:11.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
(Eph 6:11-13, KJV)
Without the protection of the armour of God Christians are as vulnerable, hopeless and doomed as a snake that might only rely on its skin for protection.
The Snake moves in hostile territory
For a creature that dies not have limbs, and with only thin weak skin, to pass through and over thorns and rocks at high speed sometimes is risky business. The snake is food for some other creatures such as pigs and birds of prey. Humans almost always will want to kill one when they it. This is true of Christian and a human today, the world as it is today is very hostile.
This, know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2Timothy 3:1-5KJV)
The Snake has a very poor wound healing mechanism
Once a snake is wounded it has a poor healing mechanism, the wound can only become worse. This is also true for Christians, once they are spiritually wounded, and with no help from God, they can only move from bad to worse. Without divine intervention and power, it is impossible to change ones behaviour.
Pitted against its enemies ‘weapon for weapon’, the snake has no chance of becoming a victor
Strength for strength and muscle for muscle most of the snakes (with the exception constrictors who have no speed), can not fight against their enemies. All they have is the power of the venom. Just like a Christian without the weapon of God is also not a match for the devil. He has no chance at all.
How does the snake protect it self?
The Snake is a very Shrewd Creature
The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary 6th Ed () defines shrewdness as ‘Clever at understanding and making judgements about a situation’. When a snake in the open area with no trees sees an eagle in the sky, it can pretend to be dead by lying on it back and it belly up. This makes the eagles disinterested in a “dead snake” and look for something else. Christians need to be like that, they must be able to quickly read the situation and ask themselves is this worth the effort, what can I quickly do to make most of a given situation be it to help someone or an opportunity to speak to someone about the good news.
The Snake is Decisive
The snake knows that it can’t afford to be indecisive because it may not have a second chance after striking. It always has to make a decision and stick to it. If it is to run away it will do just that. If it is to strike or scare an enemy it does just that. Most Christians in most cases are on the wall, you can’t tell whether they are for the devil or for Christ.
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. (Rev 3:16)”
Christ say’s that the Christians are lukewarm; they are neither hot nor cold, they are not passionate about his work but at the same time they are not opposing it. And because of this God does not know what to do with them except to spew them out of his mouth (care and protection). They must learn from the snake and be decisive. They have to decide to strike or not to and what ever they chose, they must stick to it.
The Snake Maximises on chances by being patient and preparing adequately
The snake knows that in most cases it has at the least half a chance, but takes it any way. It prepares it self and can wait for it’s pray for hours on end until the right moment to strike. When the moment comes, it strikes with all the might and strength it has, it will strike as if all its life depends on it. For a snake it is now or never. If Christians and indeed humans put a lot of effort in preparation and waited patiently for the right time to take an action, the results from their efforts would be amazing.
The Snake uses Speed
Once the snake finds the right opportunity to strike, it strikes with a lot of speed. In life time determines survival or death, even when you have the proper medication if you give it late, you can lose a life. Once you have a clear short you need to act with speed because in life we are always shooting at a moving target. There are times as Christian when we need to act with speed at avoiding sin, or saving a life, and intervening in a situation, there is no chance of procrastination, this is when we need to learn from the snake. When the opportunity is there cease it fast.
Sometimes the Snake walks away (runs)
The snake has the ability to access the situation and sometimes when it sees that it is out numbered or does not have the muscle to put up a fight or better still it is not necessary to fight back it walks away from the fight. This gives the snake dignity and sometimes saves its life. We are told to die fighting sometimes it is not necessary to die for a poor cause when you could still have to fight better and bigger wars. Fight only when the victory will count. Someone once told me that ‘it is worthless to win an argument and lose a friend. There are times in the bible where Christ walked away from a challenge because he knew there would be no real benefit except boosting ones pride or ego.
The Snake attacks when least expected
The snake will in most cases attack its prey when they least expect, when they are comfortable and have lowered there guard. Some times it gets so close to its prey such that its prey becomes comfortable with the snake around. When nee to develop this as Christian, people must feel comfortable with us before we talk about our beliefs; they must develop trust in us first, that way they will be willing to hear us out. People talk about shooting from the hip, to survive in hostile environments you have to do that if it comes to that.
Looks and action speaks louder than words
The king cobra has a loose muscle and skin around its neck which is used to scare away adversaries. When attacked or when it senses danger, the snake will make hissing noises or like the king cobra tightens the neck muscles such that it looks bigger and scary. That way enemies run way. The other thing is that when the snake strikes, is has not time to stick around, but the effect of is actions will be seen. It is high time that Christians stopped making noise about who they are and what they are capable of doing, the world has heard a lot about Christians but what is need is to see them in action.
The Snake Maximises on its weapons (talents)
The snake only has Venom or Muscle Strength for the constrictors. These are the only things the snake will use for both defence and survival (food). They have maximised on the special sharp of fangs to inject venom and to grab, food when swallowing. The constrictors crush the victim to death using their muscles. Christians must use their talents, to evangelise and help people within their vicinity and reach. They must not wait until the have millions of dollars to help people but with what ever they have. Some people are hospitable, use that you make a difference in your society.
The snake sheds its outer skin as it grows
As Christians and people in general, we need to shed off old habits that are detrimental and are a hindrance to our progress be it spiritual or social. This will enable us to be more effect and productive in our lives
The Snake Hides in rocks
The snake can not make build or make any dwelling; the only safe place is to hide in rocks, between them and in caves. This fortress is weather and season proof. If Christians would learn from the snake and make Jesus the ‘rock of ages’ their only weather and season proof Rock in their lives, we would be more happy and less stressed about the cares of the world.
The wisdom of the snake is what keeps the snake alive against a lot of odds. If the snake had not been wise, it could not survive a day in the wild. One can now be able to conclude that if we combine this trait together with humility of Christ, we can make a lot of progress in the work of God and in changing people’s lives. We can also become better people.