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Discovery Magazine 4/1/2009

Reptiles and the Bible

The reptile most often mentioned in the Bible is the very one that gives many of us the creeps—the snake. Depending on the translation of the Bible you are using, snakes may be called serpents, adders, asps, or vipers. The first snake specifically mentioned in Scripture appears in Genesis chapter three, when Adam and Eve were still living in the Garden of Eden. The Bible says that Satan appeared to the first couple as a serpent. Similar to how God allowed the prophet Balaam’s donkey to speak to him “with a man’s voice” (Numbers 22:28,30; 2 Peter 2:16), Satan spoke to Eve through the form of a snake.

Centuries later, after the Lord delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, God’s people wandered in a “great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents” (Deuteronomy 8:15). “Fiery serpents” most likely refers to venomous snakes whose bites caused swelling and death in humans. In fact, at one point during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, as punishment for their impatience and complaining, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6).

After a violent shipwreck, the apostle Paul and the rest of those on board the ship escaped to the island of Malta. Paul then helped gather sticks for a fire in order to get warm. After placing his bundle of sticks on the fire, a viper (venomous snake) “came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand” (Acts 28:3). The Bible describes the creature as “hanging from his hand” (Acts 28:4). Amazingly, Paul simply “shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm” (Acts 28:5). Why was Paul not hurt? Because the Lord was with him in a special way. Years earlier, Jesus had promised that some would “take up serpents” without fear of being harmed (read Mark 16:16-18).

Although the Bible mentions a few other reptiles (Leviticus 11:29-30), including the mighty fire-breathing leviathan (Job 41), the most common one was the slithering snake.

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