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 [as in, the Greek goddess] has not allowed him to live.”
He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
This short passage I read yesterday was very encouraging to me. It is obvious that God preserved Paul from the viper’s venom, but I think that there is more to this encounter than is superficially visible.
For one, this passage could be used to in conjunction with others to assert that God will not allow any harm to reach his children:
they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:18)
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (Luke 10:19)
However, we know for sure that none of these verses permit that conclusion, or the verses Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20) and Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12) would not hold. God does preserve his children, but he doesn’t completely prevent harm.
What, then, could I possibly infer from this passage? Well, the words
serpent are never used in the Bible without carrying symbolic meaning (or I do not know of, nor did I find any such passage in preparation for this essay). The serpent, the viper always seems to be used as the impersonation of Satan or at least as a more general symbolization of evil. So it is in the stories of the Old Testament, in the words of the Prophets, and in Jesus’ language, as well as in the pictures of Revelation.
This is why I think that Paul’s encounter carries symbolic meaning as well. And it is thus (and sounds like a sentence from Narnia) :
The Lord’s kingdom has dawned, and the Serpent’s dominion is fading.
While the end certainly is yet to come, Satan is losing power ever since Jesus withstood his advances, died and rose again, defeating Death and paving the way for the coming defeat of the Prince of Death. The Serpent is losing it’s grasp over the People of the Lord, as John said: This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” (John 18:9)
What God announced in the beginning is starting to happen:
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
God does not preserve us from bad things, but he does preserve us from evil. If we are his, Satan does not have any power over us, and evil will flee from us if we abide in our saviour, Jesus Christ!