on Matthew 10 :16
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves - He who is called to preach the Gospel is called to embrace a state of constant labor, and frequent suffering. He who gets ease and pleasure, in consequence of embracing the ministerial office, neither preaches the Gospel, nor is sent of God. If he did the work of an evangelist, wicked men and demons would both oppose him.
Wise (φρονιμοι prudent) as serpents, and harmless as doves - This is a proverbial saying: so in Shir hashirim Rabba, fol. 16, "The holy blessed God said to the Israelites, Ye shall be towards me as upright as the doves; but, towards the Gentiles, as cunning as serpents."
There is a beauty in this saying which is seldom observed. The serpent is represented as prudent to excess, being full of cunning, Genesis 3:1; 2 Corinthians 11:3; and the dove is simple, even to stupidity, Hosea 7:11; but Jesus Christ corrects here the cunning of the serpent, by the simplicity of the dove; and the too great simplicity of the dove, by the cunning of the serpent. For a fine illustration of this text, see the account of the Boiga: -
"This species is remarkably beautiful, combining the richest colors of the finest gems with the splendor of burnished gold, mingled with dark brown shades, which contrast and heighten its brilliant ornaments. The whole under surface of the head and body is of a silver white, separated from the changing blue of the back by a golden chain on each side, the whole length of the body. This fine blue and silver, ornamented with gold, by no means give a full idea of the beautiful embroidery of the boiga. We must take in all the reflected tints of silver color, golden yellow, red, blue, green, and black, mingled, and changing in the most extraordinary and beautiful manner possible; so that, when about to change its skin, it seems studded with a mixed assemblage of diamonds, emeralds, topazes, sapphires, and rubies, under a thin transparent veil of bluish crystal. Thus, in the rich and torrid plains of India, where the most splendid gems abound, nature seems to have chosen to reunite them all, together with the noble metals, to adorn the brilliant robe of the boiga. This is one of the most slender of serpents in proportion to its length. The specimens in the royal collection, which exceed three feet in length, are hardly a few lines in diameter. The tail is almost as long as the body, and at the end is like a needle for fineness; yet it is sometimes flattened above, below, and on the two sides, rendering it in some measure square. From the delicacy of its form, its movements are necessarily extremely agile; so that, doubling itself up several times, it can spring to a considerable distance, with great swiftness. It can twine and twist itself, most readily, and nimbly, around trees or other such bodies; climbing, or descending, or suspending itself, with the utmost facility. The boiga feeds on small birds, which it swallows very easily, notwithstanding the small diameter of its body, in consequence of the great distensibility of its jaws, throat, and stomach, common to it with other serpents. It conceals itself under the foliage of trees, on purpose to surprise the small birds, and is said to attract them by a peculiar kind of whistling, to which the term of song has been applied; but we must consider this as an exaggeration, as its long divided tongue, and the conformation of its other organs of sound, are only adapted for producing a hiss, or species of simple whistle, instead of forming a melodious assemblage of tones. Yet, if nature has not reckoned the boiga among the songsters of the woods, it seems to possess a more perfect instinct than other serpents, joined to more agile movements, and more magnificent ornament. In the isle of Borneo, the children play with the boiga, without the smallest dread. They carry it in their hands, as innocent as themselves, and twist it about their necks, arms, and bodies, in a thousand directions. This circumstance brings to recollection that fine emblem of Candour and Confidence imagined by the genius of the ancients: a child smiling on a snake, which holds him fast in his convolutions. But, in that beautiful allegory, the snake is supposed to conceal a deadly poison; while the boiga returns caress for caress to the Indian children who fondle it, and seems pleased to be twisted about their delicate hands. As the appearance of such nimble and innocent animals in the forests must be extremely beautiful, displaying their splendid colors, and gliding swiftly from branch to branch, without possessing the smallest noxious quality, we might regret that this species should require a degree of heat greatly superior to that of our regions, and that it can only subsist near the tropics, in Asia, Africa, and America. It has usually a hundred and sixty-six large plates, and a hundred and twenty-eight pairs of small plates, but is subject to considerable variation.
"According to this representation, the boiga is not merely to be praised for its beauty, but may be said to fulfill the old maxim of combining the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove." Cepede's Hist. of Oviparous Quadrupeds and Serpents.
Instead of ακεραιοι, harmless, or as the Etymol. Mag. defines it, without mixture of evil, the Cod. Bezae reads απλουστατοι, simple - uncompounded, - so all the copies of the old Itala, the Vulgate, and the Latin fathers; hut this curious and explanatory reading is found in no other Greek MS.
on Matthew 10 :16
As sheep in the midst of wolves - That is, I send you, inoffensive and harmless, into a cold, unfriendly, and cruel world. Your innocence will not be a protection.
Be wise as serpents ... - Serpents have always been an emblem of wisdom and cunning, Genesis 3:1. The Egyptians used the serpent in their hieroglyphics as a symbol of wisdom. Probably the thing in which Christ directed his followers to imitate the serpent was in its caution in avoiding danger. No animal equals them in the rapidity and skill which they evince in escaping danger. So said Christ to his disciples, You need caution and wisdom in the midst of a world that will seek your lives. He directs them, also, to be harmless, not to provoke danger, not to do injury, and thus make their fellow-men justly enraged against them. Doves are, and always have been, a striking emblem of innocence. Most people would foolishly destroy a serpent, be it ever so harmless, yet few are so hard-hearted as to kill a dove.
on Matthew 10 :16
10:16 Luke 10:3.