October 8, 2013

Biblical Herping: Reptiles and Amphibians In Scripture

The word "herpetology" is from the Greek word ἑρπετόν, (h)erpeton, "creeping animal" and -λογία/logia, "knowledge"…literally “creeping animal knowledge”. People with an avid interest in herpetology are considered "herpers". So herping is the act of searching for amphibians or reptiles. 

When we move on to the Bible we see that when sin enters the world it is aided and abetted by Satan in the form of a serpent. Right from the get-go that nefarious angel tinkers in God’s creation to throw a monkey wrench into God’s universe…and God allows it.

Genesis 3:1 ~ Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

We learn that we must be vigilant against the ruses and tricks of Satan. At the same time we must recognize the sovereign grace of God that will eventually save us if we trust in Him. The tree of life of which this serpent speaks was real and it was also a shadow of things that were unseen at the time. Through the progressive revelation of God we came to see (by reading our Bibles) that this tree was a type of something (or Someone to come). The tree of life still grows today yet there are no cherubim with flaming swords barricading us from it. As a matter of fact, all angels will exert there influence to guide us towards the tree of life. Even God the Father implores us to take of its life giving fruit. The Tree of Life foreshadows Christ.

On the other end of the Bible we see in Revelation that it bears twelve different fruits that suit all manner of human necessities

Revelation 22:2. ~ “In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the Tree of Life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

It’s very leaves heal nations. If it is a tree of life and heals entire nations we must flock to it in droves…but most today will only attempt to lay and axe to the base and destroy it. In Genesis man was forbidden from eating of it but the imagery painted in Revelations encourages humanity to reach out to it for its life sustaining properties. Believers who have read the Bible’s pages (and even some today) have already seen or experienced its effectiveness to heal the sick and even…revive the dead. They have experienced this through Christ.

In Exodus we see the plagues of Egypt. In chapter 8 we see a pervasive amphibian.

Exodus 8:1-6 ~ Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will come up on you and your people and all your officials.’” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’” So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land.

Frogs. At first is seems funny that frogs would be everywhere croaking constantly in this second plague. To Egyptians, frogs would’ve been familiar since the Nile in places is predominately marshy lowland and after the yearly floods, large frog populations were not uncommon. What is disconcerting for the Egyptians is that they leave their normal abode and spread out all over the land away from their usual homes. A creature that was normally a foretelling of normal life and abundance now is turned against the Egyptians and becomes the bane of their existence. They are therefore forced to treat something they once treasured with an attitude of revulsion. This plague had to have been formidable as it could not be resisted. Mimicked through trickery, yes, but stopped, no. It had to have been extraordinary bad as Pharaoh intercedes for it end. Again, we see the finger of God stirring the pot to make Pharaoh come to his senses-but to no avail.

In the next book of the Pentateuch we read of the tortoise, chameleon, and the lizard being unclean. Further into the Old Testament we come to the bronze serpent of Numbers.

Numbers 21:6-9 ~ Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

A grumbling rebellious lot that turn against God is in view. God will not be mocked, so the people are punished severely. The Israelites being in the midst of an extremely harsh desert begin to grumble. The serpents sent to discipline the people were "fiery" probably because their poisonous bite caused intense burning or they were a fiery color. God's discipline moved the body of people to confess their sin and to request Moses' intercession. The intercession which works produces the call for the people to look upon the bronze serpent on the pole so that they may live. Here again we see a type or shadow of Christ who will also be on a pole/tree and those that look upon Him and trust in what He has done by hanging on the tree will live.

The serpent God told Moses to make was probably copper/bronze to resemble the color of the real snakes. It was not a real snake but an image. I suggest that the clue to the symbolism should be sought in the general principles underlying the sacrifices and purification rites in the Old Testament. Animals are killed, so that sinful men who deserve to die may live. Blood which pollutes when it is spilled can be used to sanctify and purify men and articles. The ashes of a dead heifer cleanse those who suffer from the impurity caused by death. In all these rituals there is an inversion: normally polluting substances or actions may in a ritual context have the opposite effect and serve to purify. In the case of the copper serpent similar principles operate. Those inflamed and dying through the bite of living snakes were restored to life by a dead reddish-colored snake. It may be that copper was chosen not only because its hue matched the inflammation caused by the bites, but because red is the color that symbolizes atonement and purification (Wenham, Numbers 157-158)"

So…rather than physically touching the substitutional sacrifice, God required visual contact was the only thing necessary. In essence-only faith was needed or a belief that looking upon this serpent would heal them and give them life back...virtually a ticket back from the grave as they were dying.

In the second telling of the Law in Deuteronomy, Moses sings of the cruel venom of asps

Deuteronomy 32:33 ~ “their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps.

What is Moses comparing this deadly snake to? In this passage we see God speaking through Moses about Israel's unfaithfulness. Their lack of fidelity to God would not thwart God's purposes for her. God would use other nations to discipline His people, but He would judge those nations too. We see this unfold in places like Habakkuk when God tells Habakkuk that He would use the Babylonians to punish His people but would subsequently punish the Babylonians also.

So, invariably, Moses speaks of the enemies of God’s people, who are like the vines of Sodom and the fields of Gomorrah (v.32).

We will see the Asp mentioned later by Paul in relation to mankind’s sin and unrighteousness in Romans 3 also.

Romans 3:11-18 “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

What we see here is a unregenerate man’s likeness to an venomous asp. As John MacArthur once said in his exposition of Romans 3:9-20:
“They [asps/unregenerate man] seek to draw you near to lure you near and then to destroy you by releasing their concealed poison.  One writer describing this phenomena of asps said, "The fangs of such a deadly snake ordinarily lie folded back in the upper jaw, but when the snake throws his head to strike, these hollow fangs drop down and when the snake bites the fangs press a sac of deadly poison hidden under the lips injecting venom into the victim."  Their words may appear flattering and subtle, but then they strike.
Here we see that man is not inherently good as the Oprah Winfriedized /Joel Osteenized postmodern culture would have us believe. In truth man is actually wicked, evil, vicious and poisonous.

If we move to the songbook of the Bible we see in Psalm 58:4 that the wicked are like a deaf adder

Psalm 58:4 ~ “Their venom is like the venom of a snake, like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears…”

In Jeremiah 8:17 we see the mention of the King James’ Cockatrice which in reality is צִפְעֹנִ֔ים /adders in Hebrew. This makes more sense in conjunction with a generic Hebrew word for serpents in the same verse. A cockatrice is nothing more than a mythical beast that could kill with its glance. The reality is much more mundane as the Hebrew clearly states yellow-viper or adder. More modern English translations translate it as such too.

Jeremiah 8:17 ~ For behold, I am sending among you serpents, adders that cannot be charmed, and they shall bite you,” declares the LORD.

To mention at least one New Testament passage to maintain Scriptural balance I should bring up that Paul was bitten by a viper but was unharmed. 

Acts 28:3-5 ~ “When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.

What is the significance of this event? It is told in such a matter-of-fact manner as to be nearly mundane, yet it is clearly miraculous. Paul being the common man’s man is gathering wood just like everyone else. He unwittingly had picked up a snake with some of his wood and is unceremoniously bitten by said snake/viper. Although the text does not explicitly state that the snake bites Paul, it can be implied from the later events that unfold. It was a cool time of year so the snake would’ve been torpid but the flame springs it back to life. The Greek text specifically says ἔχιδνα / echidna or viper which tells us it was indeed poisonous. What is unique about this viper attack is that it fastens on. Vipers are known for their quick strikes and immediate retraction…they do not usually latch on. It is more evidence that the snake was lethargic from the cool weather in Malta that time of year.

Paul suffers no ill effects of the snake bite and this fact is not lost on the native people / barbarians noted this and they attribute the fact that he did not die to him being a god. Knowing Paul’s history up to this point leads me to believe that he would not have wasted this episode. It is likely he used it to preach the Gospel even though the text doesn’t explicitly state that. It is probably Luke’s intention writing this to show that God would even miraculously heal His servant to enable him to fulfill His purposes. It is clear Paul did not intent to pick up this snake to use as proof of his faith. It is more a case of God using Paul to carry out His plans. Therefore this verse goes a long way in debunking the snake handlers of Appalachia.

The last thing that should be mentioned of this event is the behavior of the natives/barbarians. Seeing the unfortunate predicament of the two hundred plus people who had been rescued from the waves, the natives proceeded to light a fire for their comfort. We see the sovereign grace of God through foreign non-believers. It is a small thing that could’ve essentially saved lives from hypothermia. It is very considerate and hospitable and is extraordinary reminiscent of the story of the Good Samaritan. So what we see in both the survival of what should’ve been a deadly bite and the care from the native population is divine providential care. We see supernatural immunity to the viper’s poison and supernatural assistance at the human level too. God can work through both man and beast. If God has a plan for you…you could potentially become bulletproof. If the Sovereign God of the universe has greater plans for you, not even a wrecked ship, plane crash, snake bite, drug overdose, car crash or bullet wound will stop you.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...