Matthew 10:16
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
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(16) 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 Æsculapius 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.

Matthew 10:16. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves — I now send you forth weak and defenceless among a wicked, cruel, and persecuting people. “Considering the nature of the tidings which the apostles were now sent out to publish, namely, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand — considering, also, the number and variety of the miraculous cures which they were to be enabled to perform in confirmation of their doctrine, together with the greatness of the benefits they were to confer upon the families who should entertain them kindly, it is reasonable to think that they were flattering themselves with the hopes of great honour and acceptance wherever they came. In the meantime, the event was by no means to answer their expectation. They were everywhere to be despised, persecuted, delivered up into the hands of public justice, and punished as evil doers. Our Lord, therefore, who thought fit to forewarn them of these things, made them large promises of the divine aid, and gave them directions with respect to their conduct in every circumstance.” — Macknight. Be ye therefore wise as serpents — On the one hand, be so prudent as not to irritate the wicked, and those who shall oppose you, either by your behaviour or your doctrine, unnecessarily, and avoid all unnecessary dangers: and harmless as doves — On the other hand, let not your prudence degenerate into craft, lest it lead you to betray the truth, or to encourage or countenance men in their evil practices; maintain at all times a holy simplicity of soul; and to your prudence join a harmless and inoffensive behaviour, rendering yourselves remarkable for integrity amid the greatest temptations, and for meekness amid the greatest provocations.

10:16-42 Our Lord warned his disciples to prepare for persecution. They were to avoid all things which gave advantage to their enemies, all meddling with worldly or political concerns, all appearance of evil or selfishness, and all underhand measures. Christ foretold troubles, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise, but that they might confirm their faith. He tells them what they should suffer, and from whom. Thus Christ has dealt fairly and faithfully with us, in telling us the worst we can meet with in his service; and he would have us deal so with ourselves, in sitting down and counting the cost. Persecutors are worse than beasts, in that they prey upon those of their own kind. The strongest bonds of love and duty, have often been broken through from enmity against Christ. Sufferings from friends and relations are very grievous; nothing cuts more. It appears plainly, that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution; and we must expect to enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations. With these predictions of trouble, are counsels and comforts for a time of trial. The disciples of Christ are hated and persecuted as serpents, and their ruin is sought, and they need the serpent's wisdom. Be ye harmless as doves. Not only, do nobody any hurt, but bear nobody any ill-will. Prudent care there must be, but not an anxious, perplexing thought; let this care be cast upon God. The disciples of Christ must think more how to do well, than how to speak well. In case of great peril, the disciples of Christ may go out of the way of danger, though they must not go out of the way of duty. No sinful, unlawful means may be used to escape; for then it is not a door of God's opening. The fear of man brings a snare, a perplexing snare, that disturbs our peace; an entangling snare, by which we are drawn into sin; and, therefore, it must be striven and prayed against. Tribulation, distress, and persecution cannot take away God's love to them, or theirs to him. Fear Him, who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. They must deliver their message publicly, for all are deeply concerned in the doctrine of the gospel. The whole counsel of God must be made known, Ac 20:27. Christ shows them why they should be of good cheer. Their sufferings witnessed against those who oppose his gospel. When God calls us to speak for him, we may depend on him to teach us what to say. A believing prospect of the end of our troubles, will be of great use to support us under them. They may be borne to the end, because the sufferers shall be borne up under them. The strength shall be according to the day. And it is great encouragement to those who are doing Christ's work, that it is a work which shall certainly be done. See how the care of Providence extends to all creatures, even to the sparrows. This should silence all the fears of God's people; Ye are of more value than many sparrows. And the very hairs of your head are all numbered. This denotes the account God takes and keeps of his people. It is our duty, not only to believe in Christ, but to profess that faith, in suffering for him, when we are called to it, as well as in serving him. That denial of Christ only is here meant which is persisted in, and that confession only can have the blessed recompence here promised, which is the real and constant language of faith and love. Religion is worth every thing; all who believe the truth of it, will come up to the price, and make every thing else yield to it. Christ will lead us through sufferings, to glory with him. Those are best prepared for the life to come, that sit most loose to this present life. Though the kindness done to Christ's disciples be ever so small, yet if there be occasion for it, and ability to do no more, it shall be accepted. Christ does not say that they deserve a reward; for we cannot merit any thing from the hand of God; but they shall receive a reward from the free gift of God. Let us boldly confess Christ, and show love to him in all things.As sheep in the midst of wolves - That is, I send you, inoffensive and harmless, into a cold, unfriendly, and cruel world. Your innocence will not be a protection.

Be wise as serpents ... - Serpents have always been an emblem of wisdom and cunning, Genesis 3:1. The Egyptians used the serpent in their hieroglyphics as a symbol of wisdom. Probably the thing in which Christ directed his followers to imitate the serpent was in its caution in avoiding danger. No animal equals them in the rapidity and skill which they evince in escaping danger. So said Christ to his disciples, You need caution and wisdom in the midst of a world that will seek your lives. He directs them, also, to be harmless, not to provoke danger, not to do injury, and thus make their fellow-men justly enraged against them. Doves are, and always have been, a striking emblem of innocence. Most people would foolishly destroy a serpent, be it ever so harmless, yet few are so hard-hearted as to kill a dove.

16. Behold, I send you forth—The "I" here is emphatic, holding up Himself as the Fountain of the Gospel ministry, as He is also the Great Burden of it.

as sheep—defenseless.

in the midst of wolves—ready to make a prey of you (Joh 10:12). To be left exposed, as sheep to wolves, would have been startling enough; but that the sheep should be sent among the wolves would sound strange indeed. No wonder this announcement begins with the exclamation, "Behold."

be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves—Wonderful combination this! Alone, the wisdom of the serpent is mere cunning, and the harmlessness of the dove little better than weakness: but in combination, the wisdom of the serpent would save them from unnecessary exposure to danger; the harmlessness of the dove, from sinful expedients to escape it. In the apostolic age of Christianity, how harmoniously were these qualities displayed! Instead of the fanatical thirst for martyrdom, to which a later age gave birth, there was a manly combination of unflinching zeal and calm discretion, before which nothing was able to stand.

Our Lord having hitherto instructed his twelve apostles as to the places whither they were to go, the work they had to do, and the methods he would have them observe, now comes to arm them against their difficulties, and the temptations they were like to meet with.

I send you forth (saith he)

as sheep in the midst of wolves. It is most probable that our Saviour speaks this with reference to what they were like to meet with when he should be taken from them, for we do not read of any great opposition which they at present met with.

I send you, ( saith he),

as sheep, which are feeble creatures in themselves, and without any natural armour to defend themselves,

in the midst of wolves, which are rapacious creatures, and have a particular enmity to sheep: amongst enemies who will have as great an inclination from their malice to devour you, as wolves have from their nature to devour sheep.

Be ye therefore wise as serpents. It is said of the serpent, Genesis 3:1, that he was more subtle than any beast of the field. Naturalists observe, yet, a great natural sagacity in the serpent, which they note in several particulars. It is hard to say that Christ aimed at this or that particular thing wherein the sagacity of serpents appeareth; he only proposes the serpent as a pattern of subtlety, and commendeth prudence to them so far as it consisteth with innocency, for it followeth,

harmless as doves. Amongst the beasts of the field there is none more innocent than a sheep; amongst the birds of the air none more innocent than a dove; to both these our Lord compares his disciples.

This text teacheth us:

1. That wisdom may dwell with prudence.

2. That all true prudence must be attended with innocency.

Behold, I send you forth, as sheep among wolves,.... This, and the following verses, chiefly respect the troubles, afflictions, persecutions, and sufferings which should befall the apostles after the death and resurrection of Christ; when their commission was enlarged, and they afresh sent out by Christ to preach his Gospel; of which he gives a faithful account before hand, that they might be prepared for them, and not be surprised when they came upon them. He compares them to "sheep", because they were meek and humble in their spirits, harmless, and inoffensive, in their lives and conversations; were weak, and unable to protect themselves, and were sent out by him unarmed and defenceless; and their oppressors and persecutors to "wolves", because fierce and furious, voracious and ravenous, cruel and hurtful, as these creatures are, especially to sheep; wherefore Christ gives them this wholesome advice,

be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Much such an expression as this God is represented as saying of Israel (a):

"Says R. Judah, in the name of R. Simon, the holy blessed God said, concerning Israel, with me they are , "harmless as doves"; but among the nations of the world, they are , "subtle as serpents".''

The serpent is a very sharp sighted, cunning creature, and uses various arts and stratagems for its own preservation, and especially of its head; and is so far to be imitated by the followers of Christ, as to make use of all proper methods to preserve themselves from the insults and rage of men, and not expose themselves to unnecessary dangers: and, as much as in them lies, they should be careful to give no just occasion of offence, or irritate, and provoke them to use them ill, and to avoid all snares and traps that are laid for them; and, at the same time, maintain the innocence and harmlessness of the dove, being free from all wicked cunning and craftiness, without rancour, malice, and wrath; not meditating and seeking revenge, but meek and humble in their deportment, leading inoffensive lives, and proceeding in the course of their calling, though liable to many insults, and much oppression.

(a) Shirhashirim Rabba, c. 2. 14. fol. 12. 1.

{6} Behold, I send you forth as {f} sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and {g} harmless as doves.

(6) Christ shows how the ministers must behave themselves under the cross.

(f) You will be in great danger.

(g) You will not so much as take revenge for an injury: and by the mixing of these beast's natures together, he will not have our wisdom to be malicious, nor our simplicity mad, but a certain form of good nature which is composed exquisitely of both of them.

Matthew 10:16. Ἰδού] Introduces demonstratively the thought for which Matthew 10:14-15 have prepared the way. Such forms of address as ἰδού, ἄγε, etc., frequently occur in the singular in classical writers also, and that, too, where it is a question of plurality (Matthew 18:31, Matthew 26:65; John 1:29; Acts 13:46); see Bremi, ad Dem. Philipp. I. 10, p. 119, Goth.

ἐγώ] here, as always, is emphatic (in answer to Fritzsche, de Wette, Bleek): It is I who send you into the midst of such dangers; conduct yourselves, then, in such circumstances in a manner becoming those who are my messengers; be wise as serpents, and so on.

ὡς πρόβατα ἐν μέσῳ λύκων] tanquam oves, etc., i.e. so that, as my messengers, you will be in the position of sheep in the midst of wolves. Usually ἐν μέσῳ λύκ. is made to depend on ἀποστέλλω, in which case ἐν, in accordance with its well-known pregnant force (Bernhardy, p. 208 f.), would not only express the direction of the verb, but also convey the idea of continuing in the position in question, while ὡς would have the meaning of as. This is harsh, inasmuch as the ἀποστέλλω, which occurs so often in the New Testament, is in no other instance (in Luke 4:19 it is an abstract expression) used in such a local sense. Moreover, ἐν μέσῳ gives more striking prominence to the danger than the simple ἐν.

ἀκέραιος] Etym. M.: ὁ μὴ κεκραμένος κακοῖς, ἀλλʼ ἁπλοῦς καὶ ἀποίκιλος. Comp. Romans 16:19, Php 2:15, common in classical authors; see Ruhnken, ad Tim. p. 18. In view of the dangerous circumstances in which they would be placed, Jesus asks of them to combine (a combination to be realized under the direction of the Holy Spirit, as in Matthew 10:19) prudence (in the recognition of danger, in the choice of means for counteracting it, in regard to their demeanour in the midst of it, and so on) with uprightness, which shuns every impropriety into which one might be betrayed in the presence of the dangers referred to, and therefore refrains from thinking, choosing, or doing anything of a questionable nature in connection with them. For Rabbinical passages bearing on the wisdom of the serpent (Genesis 3:1) and the innocence of the dove (Hosea 7:11), see Schoettgen.

The loftiest example of this combination is Jesus Himself; while among the apostles, so far as we know them, the one who ranks highest in this respect is Paul.

Matthew 10:16-39. Prophetic picture of future apostolic tribulations. An interpolation of our evangelist after his manner of grouping logia of kindred import. The greater part of the material is given in other connections in Mark, and especially in Luke. No feeling of delicacy should prevent even the preacher from taking this view, as it destroys all sense of the natural reality of the Galilean mission to suppose that this passage formed part of Christ’s instructions to the Twelve in connection therewith. Reading into the early event the thoughts and experiences of a later time was inevitable, but to get a true picture of the life of Jesus and His disciples, we must keep the two as distinct as possible. There may be a doubt as to Matthew 10:16. It stands at the beginning of the instructions to the Seventy in Luke (Luke 10:2), which, according to Weiss (Matth. Evang., p. 263), are really the instructions to the Twelve in their most original form. But it is hard to believe that Jesus took and expressed so pessimistic a view of the Galilean villagers to whom He was sending the Twelve, as is implied in the phrase, “sheep among wolves,” though He evidently did include occasional un-receptivity among the possible experiences of the mission. He may indeed have said something of the kind with an understood reference to the hostility of Pharisaic religionists, but as it stands unqualified, it seems to bear a colouring imported from a later period.

16. as sheep in the midst of wolves] Clemens Rom., who quotes these words, adds to them: “Then Peter answered and said, If then the wolves rend the sheep? but Jesus said to Peter, Let not the sheep fear the wolves after death.”

wise as serpents, and harmless as doves] The qualities required for the safety of the unarmed traveller. Prudence and harmlessness are the defence of the weak. Wise = “prudent,” full of precaution, possessing such “practical wisdom” as Paul had when he claimed the rights of Roman citizenship at Philippi. The wisdom of a serpent is to escape notice.

The expression in Romans 16:19, which this passage recalls, is not quite parallel. St Paul is there speaking of the Christian character; our Lord is giving instructions for a special occasion. The word translated wise in Romans is not the same Greek word which is here rendered wise.

16–42. The Church of the Future

(1) The Apostolic character, 16. (2) Persecution, 17–25. (3) Consolation—the care of the Father, 26–31. (4) The reward, 32. (5) The Christian choice, 33–39. (6) The hosts of the Church, 40–42.

Matthew 10:16. Ἰδοὺ, behold) Behold is frequently used for pointing out a thing which is present.—ἐγὼ, I) your Lord. Do not hesitate. I give you a safe conduct.—πρόβατα, sheep) unarmed.—ἐν μέσῳ, in the midst) not into the midst, for you are already among wolves.—λὐκων, of wolves) who will be unwilling that the lost sheep, mentioned in Matthew 10:6, be brought back; cf. ch. Matthew 7:15, concerning false prophets, although here the appellation “wolves” has a wider signification.—γίνεσθε, become ye) In exhortations this word is frequently used rather than ἔστε, be ye. Go forth as such, and show yourselves to be so.—ὡς οἱ ὄφεις, as serpents) The godly often appear to the ungodly as serpents, and thus vanquish the old serpent.—καὶ, and) Thus David was at the same time prudent and simple towards Saul.[464]—ἀκέραιοι, without horn) hoof, tooth, or sting; both actively and passively harmless. Many words of this kind have at the same time both an active and a passive signification; cf. Gnomon on Romans 16:19.

[464] It not seldom happens that one finds others, as it were, altogether the counterpart of one’s self. But it is of use to remember, that many are worse than yourself, and some perhaps better.—V. g.

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). Matthew 10:16I send you forth (ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω)

Cognate to the word ἀπόστολος (apostle). The I is emphatic: "It is I that send you forth."

Wise (φρόνιμοι)

So A.V. and Rev. Denoting prudence with regard to their own safety. Wyc., wary.

Harmless (ἀκέραιοι)

Lit., unmixed, unadulterated. Used of wine without water, and of metal without alloy. Hence guileless. So Luther, without falsity. Compare Romans 16:19; Philippians 2:15. They were to imitate the serpent's wariness, but not his wiliness. "The presence of the wolves demands that ye be wary; the fact that ye are my apostles (compare "I send you") demands that ye be guileless" (Dr. Morison on Matthew).

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