Wise as Serpents?

Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

This verse has always confused me. I don’t understand why Jesus would reference the serpent.

In the context of the verse Jesus is talking about the risk of being a disciple and the coming persecution. I can understand being gentle as doves, but I don’t really get why the serpent is so wise. Is it because snakes are hard to grab? Not saying that Christians are supposed to be evasive, but we should also not try to cause trouble.

I know it’s not saying that we should strike like a serpent, because that’s not gentle like a dove. When the disciples where arrested in Acts we never saw them fighting the arrest.

I don’t know, this verse has always confused me.

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3 thoughts on “Wise as Serpents?

  1. Jason, hows the kid. Hope all is well. I wanted to reply to your inquire in a passage I found from barnes notes that i thought was interesting.
    Matthew 10:16

    Matthew 10:16

    Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

    [Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves] He who is called to preach the Gospel is called to embrace a state of constant labour, and frequent suffering. He who gets ease and pleasure, in consequence of embracing the ministerial office, neither preaches the Gospel, nor is sent of God. If he did the work of an evangelist, wicked men and demons would both oppose him.

    [Wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.] (
    phronimoi
    , prudent) This is a proverbial saying: so in Shiyr hashirim Rabba, fol. 16, “The holy blessed God said to the Israelites, Ye shall be toward me as upright as the doves; but, toward the Gentiles, as cunning as SERPENTS.”

    There is a beauty in this saying which is seldom observed. The serpent is represented as prudent to excess, being full of cunning, Gen 3:1; 2 Cor 11:3; and the dove is simple, even to stupidity, Hos 7:11; but Jesus Christ corrects here the cunning of the serpent, by the simplicity of the dove; and the too great simplicity of the dove, by the cunning of the serpent. For a fine illustration of this text, see the account of the Boiga:

    “This species is remarkably beautiful, combining the richest colours of the finest gems with the splendour of burnished gold, mingled with dark brown shades, which contrast and heighten its brilliant ornaments. The whole under surface of the head and body is of a silver white, separated from the changing blue of the back by a golden chain on each side, the whole length of the body. This fine blue and silver, ornamented with gold, by no means give a full idea of the beautiful embroidery of the boiga. We must take in all the reflected tints of silver colour, golden yellow, red, blue, green, and black, mingled, and changing in the most extraordinary and beautiful manner possible; so that, when about to change its skin, it seems studded with a mixed assemblage of diamonds, emeralds, topazes, sapphires, and rubies, under a thin transparent veil of bluish crystal. Thus, in the rich and torrid plains of India, where the most splendid gems abound, nature seems to have chosen to reunite them all, together with the noble metals to adorn the brilliant robe of the boiga.

    This is one of the most slender of serpents in proportion to its length. The specimens in the royal collection, which exceed three feet in length, are hardly a few lines in diameter. The tail is almost as long as the body, and at the end is like a needle for fineness; yet it is sometimes flattened above, below, and on the two sides, rendering it in some measure square. From the delicacy of its form, its movements are necessarily extremely agile; so that, doubling itself up several times, it can spring to a considerable distance, with great swiftness. It can twine and twist itself, most readily, and nimbly, around trees or other such bodies; climbing, or descending, or suspending itself, with the utmost facility. The boiga feeds on small birds, which it swallows very easily, notwithstanding the small diameter of its body, in consequence of the great distensibility of its jaws, throat, and stomach, common to it with other serpents.

    It conceals itself under the foliage of trees, on purpose to surprise the small birds, and is said to attract them by a peculiar kind of whistling, to which the term of song has been applied; but we must consider this as an exaggeration, as its long divided tongue, and the conformation of its other organs of sound, are only adapted for producing a hiss, or species of simple whistle, instead of forming a melodious assemblage of tones. Yet, if nature has not reckoned the boiga among the songsters of the woods, it seems to possess a more perfect instinct than other serpents, joined to more agile movements, and more magnificent ornament. In the isle of Borneo, the children play with the boiga, without the smallest dread. They carry it in their hands, as innocent as themselves, and twist it about their necks, arms, and bodies, in a thousand directions. This circumstance brings to recollection that fine emblem of Candour and Confidence imagined by the genius of the ancients: a child smiling on a snake, which holds him fast in his convolutions.

    But, in that beautiful allegory, the snake is supposed to conceal a deadly poison; while the boiga returns caress for caress to the Indian children who fondle it, and seems pleased to be twisted about their delicate hands. As the appearance of such nimble and innocent animals in the forests must be extremely beautiful, displaying their splendid colours, and gliding swiftly from branch to branch, without possessing the smallest noxious quality, we might regret that this species should require a degree of heat greatly superior to that of our regions, and that it can only subsist near the tropics, in Asia, Africa, and America. It has usually a hundred and sixty-six large plates, and a hundred and twenty-eight pairs of small plates, but is subject to considerable variation.
    (from Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

    • Matthew 10:16
      Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

      The bible says in Genesis that the serpent used to be more subtitle than it is now. That means less aggressive. God punished the serpent for deceiving Eve by putting it on its belly therefore causing it to be very vulnerable. Matthew 10:16 tells us to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. In my opinion wise in this verse means cautious. A snake / serpent is always very cautious because it doesn’t have the advantage of being able to run from / escape harm’s way like most animals do. Even with its venomous poison, a serpent is still at a disadvantage. Jesus called some of the Jewish leaders serpents / vipers. In my opinion those are some of the wolves that Matthew 10:16 is referring to. In this verse Jesus is telling us that we’ll encounter some mean, ungodly people in this world who will do their best to destroy us so we need to beware, be cautious of them, but never be aggressive, never retaliate when they revile us. That’s where being as harmless as doves comes in. How we react when someone disagrees with us or says all manner of things against us is crucial when it comes to being an effective witness for God. One last thing. Just because we’re being cautious doesn’t mean that we’re afraid. God will never send us to a place that He knows we’re not ready and able to be.

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