2002-05-28 - Call Terminix
Psalm 58:4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent; like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear.
When his wife found two cobras on their property, Mantu Kasai, who lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh, didn't hesitate to call snake charmer Dudu Miah to capture the venomous creatures. Cobras often nest in houses, so Miah and his assistants searched beneath the floors of two homes and discovered quite a nightmare. Expecting to find two cobras, the stunned snake charmers unearthed over 3,000 deadly, slithering cobras and hundreds of eggs. Panic spread through the neighborhood as residents immediately fled their homes.
There is a common aversion to serpents that many have. However, you can't read your Bible and not encounter serpents over and over again. Generally, they have a negative connotation, but there is one place, that we will touch on, where the reference is not negative. The most common Scriptural reference to a serpent is in the Genesis three narrative of our fall into sin. Satan is also called the "old serpent" in Revelation 20:2. So almost from the first part of the Bible to the end of the Bible, satan is viewed as a serpent.
In the verse we started with and again in Psalm 140:3, the evil of the wicked is compared to the poison of a serpent. Abuse of strong drink is compared to the bite of a viper in Proverbs 23:31, 32. Serpents are mentioned in Ecclesiastes 10:8, 11 in reference to the practice of foolishness. There are several references to rulers or enemies being compared to serpents. For example, God sends judgment upon Judah and those who executed God's wrath upon Judah are called serpents, Jeremiah 8:17.
All of these references associate a negative connotation with serpents and thus it might be confusing that Christ says in Matthew 10:16, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves." We might even wonder how it is possible to be as innocent as a dove and yet shrewd as a serpent. Today I would like to examine what is meant by being shrewd as a serpent.
A serpent has two main areas of vulnerability, the head and tail. And a serpent will do anything to protect these two areas. It will make use of any means available to protect itself. In respect to Christians we are to seek to preserve ourselves by not exposing ourselves needlessly to dangers. We are to avoid snares and traps that might entangle us, both literally and spiritually. In this sense we could translate shrewd as astute. As Christians we are to be astute in our dealings, especially with the world.
However, if we do a little word study we find that the word shrewd being used in the manner of meaning "astute" is a modern development of the word. The traditional usage of the word shrewd is that it means "wicked, or dangerous." This is not the usage the English translators have in mind in the modern translations. In fact, this is probably why the King James translates the phrase, "wise as serpents." When the King James Version came out in 1611, the word shrewd probably meant something considerably different from astute. It may be that the closest rendering of the Greek there would be to say that we are to be without guile. This means that we are to be without deceit.
So if we put this all together, being shrewd as serpents means that we are to be wise, astute, and keen in our use of judgment. It has also the negative connotation that we are to do this without being deceitful or wicked. It is a lot to live up to, but that is our call.
"Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." Ephesians 5:15-17
Soli Deo Gloria,