I don't like snakes. I really don't. I don't know what it is, because I've never been bit by one, I've spent less than a minute and a half in the company of one, and they were behind glass at a zoo, but it's the one thing that freaks me out the fastest. More so than liars, more so than an unbalanced checkbook, more so than the color yellow on clothes.
(Now that those of you who know me in real life know my greatest fear, should we ever have a falling out, you know how to get revenge. I should've said Ryan Gosling freaks me out. Ryan Gosling pouring a tequila shot, and giving me a backrub freaks me out. TOTALLY.)
So to inaugurate our last GIPIAN series of the year "Animals Of The Bible," lets start it off with the one thing I hate most - snakes! I will try to counter every picture of a snake with a nice one of Ryan Gosling, so I won't have the worst dreams ever tonight.
Arguably the most famous snake is ye old trickster serpent slithering around Genesis 3. He's a serpent, not a snake. Go ahead, look it up. Nowhere in the story of Adam and Eve does it say "snake." It says "serpent."
And if you’re like me, you may think that snakes didn’t exist until God went on His cursing tear after discovering Adam and Eve disobeyed. Because He says this to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:14) So a serpent who has to crawl on his belly sure sounds like a snake to me, right? And maybe this would be the birth of snakes, and that means the snake is officially the last animal in the Bible created, and he must be the youngest, and isn’t it just LIKE your youngest child to be your biggest disappointment and la la laaaaaaa.
However you would be wrong! Because saying “crawl on your belly,” was another way to say “your downfall is certain.” A similar phrase is used in Micah 7:17.
So why is it whenever you see the serpent depicted, it’s commonly as a snake, such as Wolfgang Krodel’s “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden”? Possibly because snakes are, gulp, prettier looking than your average Gila monster.
Snakes showed up in the face-off between Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh’s priests, when they do the literal throw-down of the staffs turning into snakes in Exodus 7.
Snakes also showed up on the Israelites' trek to the Promised Land in Numbers 21 - snakes bit and killed a bunch of Israelites on the road from Mount Hor to the Red Sea. The Israelites that were left asked Moses for help, who then crafted a bronze snake to put on a pole so that everyone who looked on the Bronze Snake would live. And if you're like me, you may think "Hey, I thought one of the Ten Commandments was that you should have no idols before me." Ding ding, ding, you are correct, because in 2 Kings 18, that Bronze Snake is destroyed by King Hezekiah of Judah, one of the good kings.
After that, snakes are mostly used as metaphors in Psalms 58:4, Proverbs 23:32, 30:9, Ecclesiastes 10, and many others.
In the New Testament, Jesus says in Matthew 10:16 that "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." So Jesus, at one time, wanted his disciples to be wise/cunning/wary/depending on your translation as snakes.
But just a few chapters later in Matthew 23:33, he's warning against the teachers of the Law and the Philistines, saying "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" So be wise/cunning/wary as a snake, but don’t BE a snake.
Paul also gets into the act in Acts 28, when a viper bites him as he's trying to build a fire on the island of Malta. Verse 5 and 6 tell us "But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god."
And then there’s the good old Confuse EVERYBODY, Why Don’tcha verses of Mark 16: 9 -20. (The usual disclaimers about how this section may or may not belong in the Bible apply.)
The beginning of Mark 16:18 says “They will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all.” This is supposed to be Jesus’ promise to his followers that they would be protected from whatever evils might befall them as they went out into the world (hopefully as wise/cunning/wary as snakes).
Some Pentecostals have taken this literally, and snake handling is practiced with varying degrees of success in a small number (and getting smaller all the time) of churches in the U.S. And if you’re like me and think, “There is no way in HELL I would ever do that,” then you and I can grab tequila shots while discussing Ryan Gosling any old time. :)