Snakes (or serpents) get plenty of attention in the Bible, where they are mentioned over 80 times. A snake is a deceptive creature or trickster, who promotes as good what God had forbidden, and who has also showed particular cunning when it tempted Eve to eat the apple, actually it was the Forbidden fruit of knowledge from the tree of good and evil. In the Garden, the serpent was more crafty than any of the other wild animals the Lord God had made, being used by Satan to lie to Eve and lead her into disobedience. Adam soon followed and God punished both of them, telling them that they had to leave the Garden of Eden. God cursed the snake saying, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” Every time a snake slithers on the ground, this is a reminder of the Fall of man and the effects of sin.
The snake will always be associated with sin. The prophet Isaiah said, “They hatch deadly snakes and weave spiders’ webs. Whoever falls into their webs will die, and there’s danger even in getting near them.” Jeremiah was speaking about Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon when he said, “Like a serpent he has swallowed us and filled his stomach with our delicacies, and then has spewed us out.” Micah said, “They will lick the dust like a snake; they will come trembling out of their hiding places like reptiles slithering on the ground.” Mark said, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Luke said, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”
The Israelites wandered the wilderness for forty years after fleeing Egypt, until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the LORD. For the LORD had sworn to them that they would not see the land flowing with milk and honey which He had solemnly promised to give their ancestors. The people of Israel exhibited every possible kind of despicable behavior, while God was constantly teaching them things about Himself and about their own sinfulness. The people got discouraged, and in their unbelief and they began murmuring against Moses for bringing them into the wilderness. The people spoke against God and Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” It seems that they had forgotten it was their own sin that caused them to be there, and they tried to blame Moses for it. As a judgment against the people for their sin, God sent poisonous serpents into the camp, and people began to die. This showed the people that they were the ones in sin, and they came to Moses to confess that sin and ask for God’s mercy. When Moses prayed for the people, God instructed him to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so the people could be healed.
A rural snake-handling sect named The Church of God with Signs Following was founded in 1909 by George Went Hensley as an offshoot of the Pentecostal movement, and this faith spread from the backwoods of Tennessee down to mid-Florida over to West Virginia and even as far west as Columbus, Ohio. Rev. George Went Hensley was an American Pentecostal minister, a native of rural Appalachia who was best known for popularizing the practice of snake handling. On the basis of a literal interpretation of Scripture, he came to believe that the New Testament commanded all Christians to handle venomous snakes. He took a rattlesnake box into the pulpit and reached in and lifted out the venomous viper, showing his faith to take God at his Word. He then challenged his congregation to do the same and he eventually died from a snake bite.
In Ecclesiastes, it says, “If a snake bites before it is charmed, the charmer receives no fee.” In Psalm, it says, “They spit venom like deadly snakes; they are like cobras that refuse to listen, ignoring the tunes of the snake charmers, no matter how skillfully they play.” Snakes have no visible ear, so they don’t hear sounds the same way that people do, but they probably are not deaf. They have vestiges of the apparatus for hearing inside their heads, and that setup is attached to their jaw bones, so they feel vibrations very well and may hear low-frequency airborne sounds. When a snake charmer plays his flute to charm the serpent, it is most likely not reacting to the music, it is more likely just swaying to the movement of the charmer’s instrument. The animal cannot actually hear the tune being played, even though it can perhaps feel some of the sound vibrations from the flute, as well as any tapping being done by the charmer. The snake considers the snake charmer to be a threat and they respond to this as if it were a predator.
Snakes have no eyelids, so they approach their live meals without blinking. Because of their limited vision, they will sometimes weave their heads from side to side, in what may appear to be a hypnotizing fashion. This is really just a way for snakes to gauge distance. The cobra comes out of its basket once it sees the snake charmer’s pipe being waved menacingly above it. Many snakes used by charmers have had their fangs removed or their mouths sewn shut to protect the charmer from getting bit by the agitated snake. A snake without means of biting may seem to be in a trance, when he’s really just holding his ground.