Critical Spiritual Gift for Our Time: Discernment–Amid Snakes

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard… (Matthew 10:16-17, NIV).

Since I wrote originally on a related topic, “Weapons of Our Warfare, 1: On Snakes and Doves,” false christs, dystopian political worldviews disguised as “good,” and Orwellian “double speak” have increased exponentially, it seems. Thus, I treat it again with the original posted July, 2016, copied in full, below.


But how do you know when “it” is a snake, whether it is a false christ, political leader, or report, especially if it looks beautiful; sounds intelligent; acts hip, slick, and cool; and a lot of people are following after it?

After all, snakes don’t usually announce who they are at first, as in the following narrative, a song written by Oscar Brown and performed most notable by Al Wilson. Note: adapting the lyrics through the Judeo-Christian lens, a “woman” might be either a literal, single woman, or figuratively, a group of believers or just a generic group of people sans any religious affiliation or connotation:


Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.… (Matthew 7:7, Berean Study Bible).

So God knows. And He gifts us with discernment, in general for those who seek it, and specifically as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

And, as my sister says regarding the time she was surprised by a (literal) snake in the long grass she was mowing one day: snakes are much easier to find if you keep the lawn mowed. Spiritual translation: pray for discernment (and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit),  grow in the gifts, and use them.

I have previously written about the characteristics of a snake along with the attributes of “harmless doves,” which I have copied here to finish this updated post.

Weapons of Our Warfare, 1: On Snakes and Doves

“Enough is enough!” is the cry of the world these days, as evil, both figuratively and literally, rapes and pillages its way though borders, cultures, and lives.

The point has tipped; the paradigm, shifted. Good has become evil and evil, good.

Even people who don’t normally attend to much beneath headlines or beyond seven-second sound bytes smell sulfur in the air (figuratively and literally).

Although invited in these end times to “look up, for your redemption draweth nigh” (certainly good news), even Christians are tense knowing that before Jesus returns those birth pangs will come faster, last longer, and involve pain—and not just the existential kind.

(Okay, breathe).

As I pondered the above, this Scripture came to mind:  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Jesus spoke those words as He was sending the Disciples out to preach and teach in the hostile world of that era. He also advised them to take a purse (money), a bag (extra clothing,) and if they didn’t have a sword (protection), to sell their cloaks and buy one.

Although this is also good advice for negotiating today’s hostile world, i.e., get a bag (bug-out bag?) fill a wallet, and secure a weapon for self and family defense, this post will attempt to encourage you (and me) by unpacking the meaning of proceeding as would “wise snakes” and “innocent doves” when it comes to today’s brand of evil (same planet, more ordnance).

But– snakes and doves?

What does THAT mean? How helpful can either be in the face of the most well-funded, well-organized, covert and overt operations ever, aimed at whomever would war against very real evil?

Here’s what I learned about the shrewdness (cunning, cleverness, wisdom) of snakes and the innocence (simplicity, sincerity, peacefulness) of doves.

On Those Ubiquitous Snakes

And that is point number one, i.e., the fact that some 500 genres of snakes, whatever they may be up to, have adapted to nearly every environment. So to be as “wise,” as it were, as a snake is to be everywhere about our business, and to be adaptable in our unique “location”.

Snakes are also constantly “on the lookout” for both prey and predators, designed with extra ability to do so, having been fashioned with translucent scales to cover their eyes rather than movable eyelids that keep out the light. Good advice for us, too—stay on the lookout and remain situationally aware—by our own natural resources.

And, of course, snakes are quick to hide when they sense danger.

In short, our reptilian counterparts in this regard are everywhere, they are adaptable, they are vigilant—and they know when it is time to go.

On Those Gentle Doves

But what possible aid can doves be on a battlefield of any sort, natural or supernatural?

Doves, like snakes, adapt just about everywhere and as of last count number in the millions.

However, as for their reputation, both literal and figurative, here is where doves are distinctly different: they bill and coo peacefully among themselves, faithfully tending their nests, quietly getting on.

As opposed to snakes that symbolize either evil or cunning, doves are universally regarded as symbols of peace.

So this sounds contradictory: a dove as a weapon of warfare? Until I think about where the dove-as-peace fits in the description of the “armor of God” Christians are to don when battling the real enemy,  the spiritually venomous one who commandeers “principalities and powers”.

For help in this dimension, St. Paul includes a “peaceful component,” as it were, when detailing the believer’s armor in his letter to the Ephesians. He describes it thus:

 “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (chapter 6).

Peaceful Shoes?

The first time I read this, I could understand the necessity of breastplates, swords, and shields, but “peaceful shoes”? Even metaphorically, this sounds odd. But consider, here, what commentator Charles Ellicott has to say about this, whose thoughts echo the writings of many other Bible scholars.

In ancient warfare (such as in the times Paul penned his advice on spiritual warfare to the Ephesians) battles were lost or won very largely according to the weight of the masses of men that were hurled against each other; and the heavier men, with the firmer footing, were likely to be the victors. Our modern scientific way of fighting is different from that. But in the old time the one thing needful was that a man should stand firm and resist the shock of the enemies as they rushed upon himUnless our footing is good we shall be tumbled over by the onset of some unexpected antagonist. And for good footing there are two things necessary. One is a good, solid piece of ground to stand on, that is not slippery nor muddy, and the other is a good, strong pair of soldier’s boots, that will take hold on the ground and help the wearer to steady himself. Christ has set our feet on the rock, and so the first requisite is secured. If we, for our part, will keep near to that Gospel which brings peace into our hearts, the peace that it brings will make us able to stand and bear unmoved any force that may be hurled against us. If we are to be ‘steadfast, unmovable,’ we can only be so when our feet are shod with the preparedness of the Gospel of peace.”

It is that “Gospel of peace,” then, along with all the other components of spiritual armor, that keeps minds clear, hearts calm, and feet ready to follow Christ’s bidding by minimizing distractions that are deadly, literally, in any kind of battle.

Maintaining that kind of peace, described elsewhere as even “passing understanding,” aids us by keeping us supernaturally focused, thus better able to effectively thrive in our own “nest” amid the fray until He gathers us home.

By remaining as shrewd as serpents and as peaceful as doves, we are able to stand against Satan’s attempts to distract, disarm, thus destroy.

Here is another Scripture that also comes to mind often, these days:

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3).


Information on snakes and doves from Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Excerpt from Ellicott’s commentary from


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4 Responses to Critical Spiritual Gift for Our Time: Discernment–Amid Snakes

  1. Hi Phyllis,
    Good post. I have just found your blog, & enjoying looking around it. 😃
    Loved the song clip – it made me think of a few “snakes” that I have foolishly/naively given hospitality to in the past. 😕
    I learnt a long time ago that praying for discernment was absolutely vital to being a Christian.
    Blessings to you


    • pbn says:

      Hi, Helen!

      I just finished reading your divorce story, and other posts. I am now “following” your blog. I also made a comment.

      I look forward to reading your future posts.

      Cheers and blessings,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post Phyllis. It’s the age-old battle between good ane evil. The snake, or serpent, represents subversive movements such as communism, or anything evil. The dove is a gentle bird, a bringer of peace (Genesis 8.11), and represents the Christian faith and everything good. The snake is cursed above all creatures (Genesis 3.14), whereas the dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3.16; John 1.32). In its simplicity, the dove symbolises something infinitely powerful, free-ranging, ubiquitous, pleasant and benign, whereas the snake lurks with poisoned fangs and licks the dust.


    • pbn says:


      Thank you for more detail!

      It has just been pointed out to me that snakes eat doves.

      However, it’s also true that snakes can’t fly.

      Spiritual translation: doves might be gentle, peaceful, and harmless in comparison to most creatures, especially large hungry snakes, yet they have a “built in” ability, so to speak, to rise above evil. Literally.

      So do we, if we access the wisdom and strength available to us by the power of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within all believers.



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