Saturday, February 7, 2009

Shrewd Snake

As you may know by reading or keeping up with me that I am on this new venture to rediscover the Gospel that I say I believe and live my life for. I prayed and pray continuously that God would let me read this like it is the first time and open up truth and understanding to me. It’s been a couple weeks, maybe even close to a month and I am only in chapter 11. I have been amazed by the things I am learning. If you read my blog, Education, then you know how I feel about Christians being intelligent and knowing their stuff. Along those terms I discovered something amazing that Jesus says that many have misunderstood, including myself, and applied incorrectly and in such a way that limits it true meaning.

First let’s play catch up. John the Baptist preaches that one is to come grater than He is and that the kingdom is near. Jesus comes and says the kingdom is near. Then Jesus teaches what we modern day readers have refer to as The Sermon on the Mount that describes what the kingdom is like. The n He heals the lame to fulfill prophecies and to show what the kingdom looks like. After all this He talks to His disciples and sends them out. This is where we find ourselves and this little piece of brilliance God showed me. It is pretty cool if you ask me.

Jesus is talking to His disciples in chapter 10 verse 16. I’ve listed several versions of the same verse for those of you who like to see different translations:

Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove (MSG).

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

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (ESV)

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (NIV).

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves (NASB).

My first reaction to this…”What the heck does that mean?” Wise as a snake? Innocent as a dove? Obviously Jesus did actually speak these words to me so I am curious as to what the original writer recorded Him saying. The New Testament would have been recorded in Greek since that was the major language of the day. The original word used in Greek that we read as cunning, shrewd, or wise is phronimos which means prudent

Ok so be as prudent as a snake. Well what the heck does that mean? Is there another place in the Bible that the word prudent and a snake are used together or is this some kind of ancient hip lingo I don’t understand?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made (Genesis 3:1a, NIV).

The Hebrew word used here for crafty is aruwm, it looks like this ערום in Hebrew and means…prudent. The snake is more prudent than all the other animals.

What des prudent mean? These lexicons I use to look up all these cool ancient terms always translates to English. So naturally I went to English dictionary to find out what prudent meant. Prudence is characterized by being marked by wisdom and judiciousness. Take a look at the rest of the Bible and you will see this word prudent and some of its derivatives are used quite often. The Bible is all about wisdom, especially the book of Proverbs.

Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, [a] get understanding (Proverbs 4:7, NIV).

Prudence/wisdom is a big deal in the Bible. But what was the result of this prudence and the fact that the snake had more so than any of the other animals God had created? The serpent was able to fool man into betraying God. That is a pretty smart snake I’d say. The serpent was more prudent than all the other animals it was created among and therefore possessed great power to convince man.

So Jesus is telling them to be smarter than the others they will be among.

Jesus sends these man out with a command to be like the serpent, wiser than all the other animals. Jesus uses this parallel brilliantly because men who knew and grew up on the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) would know exactly what He meant by telling them to be as wise or prudent as a snake among the people they are being sent into. Like for me, a croissant and vennti mocha from Starbucks are the major things that I eat and drink. The same rings true for Jewish people and wine.

The Greek word for innocent used in this verse as a characteristic of the dove is the word akeraios which means unmixed in the context of wines. Jewish culture knows wine. It was one of the primary dietary elements, along with bread.

I tried to be a refined gentleman once and go on a wine tasting tour. You know when you don’t like the wine you are tasting, that really big bottle that is covered in paper that they allow you to spit into? I filled that bad boy up. The contents of that bottle are disgusting. The wines are mixed along with saliva and maybe bits of cracker and cheese. Bottom line…ewwwwww! On the other end of the spectrum there are very expensive wines that are aged and are made with a specific grape and fermentation process. Mixed wine is no good! Basically the idea of innocence like a dove means unmixed wines. What that means to these disciples is that they are not to become one and mix themselves with the people they will be among. Among those people they are to live and work, but not become like them.

Shrewd as a snake and innocent as a dove. What a brilliant statement right? May you be prudent, more prudent than all the others you are among, but may you be unmixed and pure. May you go like Jesus commands and be wise.


  1. "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." - Proverbs 9:10

    You bring up good points (and interesting parallels) in your discussion of being as wise as a snake and I would go a step further to point out that this statement follows directly behind "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves" - the sheep would need to look to their shepherd for guidance and protection the way that we need to look to God for guidance and protection... and ultimately wisdom.

    Thanks for this reminder, brother. God bless!

  2. Thank you very much for the comparison among different versions of the Bible.
    God bless

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  4. Thank you for this study, when I put in "wise as a snake and innocent as a dove" your blog was the only thing that came up, thank you. I have been a student of God's Word since 1974, but did not really start to learn well until 1985. I was given 6 months to live, the doctors sent me home to die but God brought me home to learn how to live for Him. His Word is life to our mortal bodies. I met an 82 year old man who claimed to have read the Bible more than 2,000 times and said he was still finding things he did not see before. God tells us that He builds precepts upon precepts and concepts upon concepts, that His Holy Spirit would bring into remembrance His Word, so in the admonition of His Word we are to read it daily and we cannot exhaust its power of learning in our life time, so a lifestyle of learning from His Word is our spirit life's blood, we cannot survive behind enemy lines (this world) without it. God bless you.
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