Most people don’t like snakes. The picture above is probably triggering some of you right now.
They just look scary.
They are also sneaky, which means they often surprise and frighten us.
In the Bible, they have many negative associations, too. Satan appears to Adam and Eve as a snake (Genesis 3:1; cf. Revelation 12:9). The legalistic Pharisees and troublesome Sadducees are referred to as a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). In Luke 11:11, a snake is listed as one of the worst gift ideas ever.
One time in the Gospel accounts Jesus tells his disciples they should act like snakes!
It is in Matthew 10:16.
Here, Jesus is sending out his 12 disciples to minister in his name, and he tells them this: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
The disciples are to be wise like snakes. How are snakes wise?
The word for “wise” here (φρόνιμος, fronimos) has the sense of being “thoughtful” and therefore “cautious” or “careful.” So, snakes are wise or smart in the sense that they are cautious and careful.
Certainly, this is true. You never see a snake darting around like a reckless squirrel. You never see a snake skipping along like an innocent deer. No. A snake carefully and craftily slithers along. It then coils up, ready for anything. It seems forever leery. Always wary. Tongue licking the air, ever ready to strike.
Jesus says to his disciples, as you head out into the world, be like a snake: Be careful and cautious. Don’t just go running blindly in. Go in carefully. To be innocent of sin like a dove, you must be shrewd like a snake.
So, I think we can learn from that Jesus’s advice.
When we go into a new situation, we should go slowly, cautiously, slithering in like a snake. When a friend says they have a great idea, rather than lunge in headlong, we can slither in cautiously to see if it really is a good idea. When we are watching TV, we can carefully, cautiously slither towards a selection.
Whatever the situation, we can take the stance of a snake. Cautious, slow, poised.
When it comes to the dangers of this world, may we all be crafty like a snake!