What does it mean to be ‘wise as serpents’?

snakeBe wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” What do these words from Jesus mean? What does it mean to be as wise as a serpent? Are serpents cunning? Are they crafty? In what ways are serpents wise?

And while we’re at it, were there specific kinds of serpents that Jesus was referencing? Was He talking about snakes in general, or did He have a particular serpent in mind? Was He pointing back to the craftiness of the serpent in the Garden when it beguiled Adam and Eve?

I doubt it. The archenemy of humanity hardly seems like a potent role model for Christ’s followers.

Dallas Willard suggested something different. He proposed that the wisdom of the serpent lies in its timing. Although snakes can strike and bite from any position, the true accuracy and potency of their attack diminishes if they are uncoiled. It is when a snake is coiled and poised for assault that its accuracy and striking potential is fiercest.

Perhaps that’s some of what Jesus had in mind. Perhaps He was warning us about the damage that can be done when we get our sense of timing out of sync. I’ve been both premature and late in my timing too many times to count, and that faulty timing has repeatedly hurt me. It’s caused me to either mess up or miss potential opportunities, and it’s created messes and regrets that I would not have had to deal with if I had simply been more careful with my timing.

Timing is everything. A timely action or a word in season can make all the difference in our lives and relationships. Perhaps a good prayer for us today would be to ask God for a greater dose of true serpentine wisdom.

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

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