At the tail end of yesterday's introduction to the serpent, I teased that he will raise his ugly head again in the Scriptures, and you might be thinking - where? Certainly, the second story of the serpent is not as well-known as the first. Or is it?
When we reach the Gospels, we actually see quite often the snake, or some version of it. It's one of Jesus's favorite words for the Pharisees, for those who call themselves experts and keepers of the Temple and its faith. He calls them serpents and broods of snakes and much worse.
And they are.
It's actually a great descriptor for them, based on what Jesus is so upset with them for doing to the people who would believe. They are men who use the sheer force of their wills to move along the terrain, who come along in the same kind of deceit as the original serpent, and who attempt to convince the people to move in the same way.
There's no reason for the Pharisees to believe what they believe about the Law; they came up with it themselves. God never revealed it to them the way they give it; they just decided that's how it was supposed to be. In other words, these men chose for the Law to mean what they say that it means, and then, they began operating as though that were the case. They neither go with the flow nor exercise dominion over it; they make it into what it serves them to be.
In doing so, they come with the same whisper that the serpent carried. Did God really say? It's meant to cast doubt on what you think you know about God, on what you think you understand about what He wants and what He requires. The serpent said it first, raising the question in Eve's mind about whether or not God really meant what He said; the Pharisees raise it now, asking whether God's Law really means what the people believe it so obviously means.
It can't mean that, the Pharisees say. It means much, much more. The essence of the law may be true, but what's really important is the practice of it, and the practice of the Law is painstaking and precise. It includes all the little things you'd never think about on your own, so thank the Lord that the Pharisees are here to tell you about them. It includes practices that aren't obvious from the word of the Law themselves, so thank God that the Pharisees have taken their time to write it all out for you. Did God really say?
Sure, He did. But the Pharisees want to take it one step further and tell you what it means when God says that. Because you're just too dumb and naive and foolish to figure it out on your own.
Sounding like the serpent yet?
Scarily, when the people buy into the Pharisaical whisper, they become serpents of sorts themselves. They become creatures who move along by the force of their own will, choosing for themselves how to weave through the world. They give up their dominion. They no longer go with the flow. Every move is calculated and has to be, for there is no other way to live but with constant attention and careful movement. They give up the feet by which they walk the path and proceed to crawl along on their bellies, all the while being told by the Pharisees that it's safer this way. At least now, they cannot stumble and fall.
It's deceptive. It's dangerous. It's plain wrong. And it's something worse even than all of that. For when Jesus takes to calling the Pharisees a brood of snakes, serpents, He has one other word for them that is even more common for Him (and not just for Him; John the Baptist uses it, too): He calls them vipers.
What makes a viper worse than a serpent? The venom.
Tune in tomorrow.