“They will pick up snakes with their hands …”

There's a huge difference between trusting God and testing God. Intentionally handling dangerous things as a matter of "faith" has never been the intent nor the instruction of the Bible.

There’s a huge difference between trusting God and testing God. Intentionally handling dangerous things as a matter of “faith” has never been the intent nor the instruction of the Bible.

I’ve got a thing about snakes.

It’s not a good thing.

We’ve worked out an agreement where I live, the snakes and me. The bad snakes – the ones with pointed heads and fangs – don’t let me see them, and I don’t kill them. The non-poisonous snakes are allowed to live. However, I do force them to sign a binding contract to disappear whenever I work in the yard.

I just don’t like snakes.

There are some bad snakes in the Bible, and some of them are coiled up inside Psalm 91. The good news? Psalm 91 is a binding agreement that promises protection against all harm for those who trust God.

The faithful will be protected from enemies of all kinds, the psalm states. As an example, there is this: “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.”[1]

Interesting thing about that verse. It is preceded by one of the most famous lines in the Bible: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”[2]

Sound familiar? It should. The ultimate bad snake quoted it to Jesus during a time of intense temptation. It was a supernatural battle set in a very natural setting. Satan challenged Jesus to put that promise to the test by throwing himself off the Temple. “If you really are the Son of God,” said the Liar, “throw yourself down!” If Psalm 91 promises the angels will catch you … let’s put it to the test![3]

Jesus didn’t buy it, of course, and Satan eventually slithered back into his hole.

Here’s the deal. God will reward your faith by protecting you from harm. This does not mean you’ll never get sick, be in a car accident or die. But if you’ve got the faith that cannot be shaken, not even death can separate you from God. Quite the opposite, actually! Death will take you to Him!

By now, the Bible readers in this audience are already thinking about the rather strange ending to Mark’s gospel. It’s a snake-handling, poison-drinking conclusion to what had been – up to that point – a rather normal account of the life of Jesus.

Think of it like a Jewish person would. Mark was Jewish, after all, and his very Jewish understanding of Psalm 91 comes into play here.

Mark was not challenging us to dare a rattlesnake to bite us on the face. He was reminding us to trust God against every danger.

How did Jesus put it when refusing to play the Devil’s game? “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”[4]

How ironic. The handful of people who believe they’ve tackled great faith when they intentionally bring snakes inside their churches and intentionally drink poison are doing exactly the opposite. They are putting God to the test in a way God never intended! That’s not “faith.” It’s heresy. It’s lunacy. It’s so non-biblical, it’s not even on the radar.

And yet, there is protection from danger … even snakes.

Paul once was building a fire, and when he threw some wood on the flames, a poisonous snake warmed up, sprang to life and bit the traveling preacher on the hand. He wasn’t hurt. The crowd around him at first assumed he was guilty before the “gods,” and then assumed that Paul was somehow favored by supernatural forces.[5]

Paul set them straight, telling them about Jesus.

He also threw the snake into the fire. He did not keep it for his next church service!He did not make a big deal of the “snake incident.” He just kept on preaching, which is exactly what God had called him to do. And as Psalm 91 – and Mark’s unusual ending – had promised, he’d been protected from a snake.

Do this. Trust in God’s protection, even when you don’t know where all the danger points might be. How many times have you already been protected from an out-of-control car, a nasty virus floating through the air, or even a criminal intent on stealing from you?

Don’t live in fear. Don’t miss the joy of knowing God’s ultimate and forever protection. As Psalm 91 says, rest in Him.

And by all means, don’t pick up that snake!

[1] Psalm 91:13.

[2] Psalm 91:11-12.

[3] Matthew 4:5-7.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Acts 28:1-6.