Testing God; October 5, 2021

Acts 28:3, 5 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.

As someone with a good bit of experience with snakes, I have a major question about this account. The vipers with which I’m familiar strike but do not hang on. However, non-poisonous snakes, because their teeth slant backwards, can’t let go once they have bit something. The locals should have been familiar with the snakes of the area, but a lot of people automatically assume that any snake is bad. I don’t know the lighting at the time, or whether there were similar-looking snakes, but this sounds a lot like a case of mistaken identity to me. Luke naturally went with the identification given by the locals, and in any case, God used this incident mightily in establishing Paul’s bona fides with the locals. This incident certainly calls to mind Jesus’ statement to the 72 disciples after they returned from their “evangelism practicum.” “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:19) Some groups have extrapolated that to snake handling as a part of worship services, but to me that is a clear example of “testing” God, which is forbidden in Deuteronomy 6:16 and elsewhere. That’s different in nature from God’s instructions to “test” Him with such things as tithing. (Malachi 3:10) Paul wasn’t looking for snakes! However, God used his encounter with one to open the hearts of the locals (and I would bet, the Roman soldiers, too) to hear what Paul had to say. It certainly brings to mind Romans 8:28, which Paul had written some time previously.

As I said, I’ve had a good bit of experience with snakes. I had a pet one for a while that never tried to bite me, but one time I caught a rather magnificent aodaisho (a Japanese snake similar, I believe, to the American king snake) around 160cm. long. I was putting him into a cardboard box for safe-keeping, but wasn’t holding him with my left hand immediately behind his head as I should have been, and when I went to put him into the box he latched onto my right hand, right between my thumb and forefinger. With his recurved teeth, he was stuck! I had to use my left hand to unhook each side of each jaw in turn. I got him safely into the box, washed my hands and applied antiseptic to the punctures, and was none the worse for wear. With his size, he would have been a bit difficult to “shake off!” That said, I too need to be careful not to “test” God by deliberately doing stupid things. I do plenty of stupid things without being deliberate about it! God has protected me remarkably, but I do have plenty of scars to show for my stupidity. God is totally faithful, but I certainly don’t need to dream up scenarios to “make” Him prove it.

Father, You really have protected me remarkably. I’m reminded of that in traffic almost every day! Help me be a good steward of all You place in my hands, so that Your purposes for everything may be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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