I Send You As Sheep In The Midst Of Wolves. Be Ye Therefore Wise As Serpents And Simple As Doves
I send you forth. The nominative pronoun is emphatic, “It is I who send,” and that not so much as an assurance of protection, but, as the words that follow show, as reminding them of their responsibility as His delegates.
As sheep in the midst of wolves. Nothing can be more striking than the union of this clear foresight of conflict and suffering with the full assurance of victory and sovereignty. The position of the disciples would be as sheep surrounded by a flock of hungry and raging wolves, the wolf being here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the symbol of the persecutor.
Wise as serpents.–The idea of the serpent as symbolising wisdom, seems to have entered into the early parables of most Eastern nations. We find it in Egyptian temples, in the twined serpents of the rod of ‘sculapius and of Hermes, in the serpent-worship of the Turanian races, in the history in Genesis 3 of the serpent that was “more subtle than any beast of the field.” For the most part it appears in Scripture as representing an evil wisdom to be fought with and overcome. Here we learn that even the serpent’s sinuous craft presents something which we may well learn to reproduce. When St. Paul “caught men with guile” (2Corinthians 12:16), becoming “all things to all men” (1Corinthians 9:22), he was acting in the spirit of his Master’s counsels.
Harmless as doves.–Better, simple, sincere–i.e., “guileless.” The Greek indicates more than simple harmlessness–a character in which there is no alloy of baser motives. Once again truth appears in the form of paradox. The disciples of Christ are to be at once supremely guileful and absolutely guileless. Our Lord’s reference to this symbolism gains a fresh significance when we remember that He had seen the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descending “like a dove” upon Himself (Matthew 3:16). In and by that Spirit the two qualities that seem so contradictory are reconciled.
Verses 16-39. – The internal conditions of conveying Christ’s message. The subdivisions of this section are after ver. 23 and ver. 33 (cf. ver. 5b, note). Verses 16-23. – You will be in the midst; of foes, and simplicity must be accompanied by prudence (ver. 16, a summary of all); you will be ill-treated publicly (vers. 17, 18), but must conduct yourselves with calm faith that you will be guided in your defence (vers. 19, 20), with endurance of family and universal enmity. (vers. 21, 22), with common sense in avoiding unnecessary danger, for wherever you go you will find work to be done (ver. 23). Verse 16-16a, parallel passage: Luke 10:3 (the seventy); 16b, Matthew only. Behold. He calls their attention. I send you forth. I (ἐγω), with the full consciousness of all that will befall you; I, whose message you will carry, whose character you will represent. In this I lies the germ of vers. 40-42. As sheep in the midst of wolves. The ‘Midrash’ on Esther 8:2 (Parasha 10.) uses the same phrase of the position of Israel amidst a hostile world (cf. Edersheim, ‘Life,’ 1:645), adding, “How great is that Shepherd who delivers them and vanquishes the wolves?” ‘Clem. Romans,’ it. § 5, has an interesting addition, “The Lord saith, Ye shall be as lambs in the midst of wolves. But Peter answered and said unto him, What then, if the wolves should tear the lambs? Jesus saith unto Peter, Let not the lambs fear the wolves after they [the lambs] are dead.” Be ye therefore. Prove yourselves to he (γίνεσθε). Wise. Prudent (φρόνιμοι). As serpents. אָ,with Ignat., ‘Polyc.,’ § 2, has the singular, perhaps taking it generically, or perhaps not without reference to the phrase in Genesis 3:1, “The serpent was more subtle,” etc. (ὁ δὲ ὄφις η΅ν φρονιμώτατος κ.τ.λ.). The prudence of the serpent is specially apparent in the quickness of its perception of danger and the rapidity with which it escapes from it. Kubel gives Matthew 22:23, sqq., 34, sqq.; John 2:24; John 11:9, 10, as examples of this proper prudence in the case of our Lord. And harmless as doves. Harmless; rather, simple, with Revised Version margin, for ἀκέραιος is literally “unmixed, unadulterated” (cf Bishop Lightfoot, on Philippians 2:15), and emphasizes the idea of simplicity of character. It is thus not active, but passive. Comp. ‘Shir. R.’ (Song of Solomon 2:14), “With me they [Israel] are simple [תמימים; cf. the ‘Etz Ya’akob, which refers to Hosea 7:11 as doves, but among the nations of the world they are subtle as serpents” (cf. Matthew 3:16, note).
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