Matthew 10:16
No two creatures are more opposite to one another in nature. The serpent eyes the dove with greedy desire; the dove looks at the serpent with the fascination of horror. The serpent is the symbol of the evil spirit; the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, each has exemplary lessons to teach, and the most dove-like soul will be imperfect if something of the serpent is lacking.

I. ALL THE WORLD IS FULL OF EXAMPLES FOR CHRISTIAN CONDUCT. We must be struck with our Lord's freedom in the use of materials for illustrating his teaching. Seeing truth clearly, and living in a spiritual atmosphere of purity, he was in no danger of being misled by the errors and evils around him; he was able to find the good in everything - even to suck honey, so to speak, from the deadly nightshade. The truer and loftier our soul is, the wider will be the range from which we can derive a wholesome diet. It is only the sick man who must be shut up in a hospital, and it is only the sick soul that craves conventual seclusion for the preservation of its purity. Jesus could even go beyond the darker side of nature and find emblems in evil men. He compared himself to a thief (Matthew 24:43, 44). He bade his disciples imitate an unjust steward (Luke 16:2, etc.). But we want the Christ-spirit to see "good in everything," and to extract the soul of goodness from things evil without carrying away some of the evil. A degraded nature sees evil everywhere - contrives to obtain the poison of the asp even from the innocent dove, finds Delilah in a Madonna.


1. The wisdom of serpents. In Egyptian symbolism, which gives us serpents coiled about the throne of a sovereign, and, indeed, in the practices of nations in all quarters of the globe, we see the repulsive reptile regarded as of threefold significance - as the emblem of eternity, as the representative of guile, and as the incarnation of evil. It is the second of these characteristics that our Lord here selects. We know that he never encourages deceit. But mental alertness, keenness of observation, and nimbleness of thought are invaluable gifts even for Christian work. We should consecrate intelligence in the service of Christ. There is no virtue in dulness. Stupidity is not sanctity.

2. The harmlessness of doves. This is a negative quality. But it is not less important than the positive intelligence. The shaft of wit may wound where no unkindness is intended. A serpent-like subtlety of mind is a most dangerous faculty. It is valuable; but it is only safe when it is balanced by a dove-like gentleness of disposition.

3. The combination of varied graces. The point of our Lord's recommendation is in the union of two very different characteristics. The common danger is that we should select one to the neglect of the other. There are men of mind who lack heart, and there are affectionate creatures who weary us with their senseless ineptitude. The serpent is an awful ideal if it is selected by itself. Its prophet is Machiavelli, and its hero Mepifistopheles. But the dove alone will not suggest the most perfect saint; its gentleness may be feeble. Yet too often people choose one or the other as their ideal of perfection. Christ blends the two in himself; he is skilful in confounding the clever scribes by keen replies, and he is meek and gentle, harmless and undefiled. - W.F.A.

Behold, I send you forth.
Albanus, the Captain-General of the army of Charles V., had four hundred stout and resolute youths, who were prodigal of life and devoted to death, called the forlorn hope. In a battle he despatched these against the strongest part of the enemy's ranks, that by their audacity and determination to die, they might throw those ranks into confusion, and so prepare the way for victory. Thus devoted and prodigal of his life let the messenger of Christ deem himself, that he may subdue unbelievers to Christ the Conqueror. Such a one did Xavier deem himself, when he was going to India, and said to his weeping friends, "Do merchants at such expense and such peril, prodigal of life, sail to India from zeal for earthly merchandize; and shall not I go thither for the sake of God and souls?"

Wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
These words were addressed by Christ to His disciples when He sent them for the first time to publish the kingdom of God. The dove has been regarded by all nations as the symbol of innocence. Harmless signifies properly in the original what is not armed with horns to attack, what has not teeth to bite, what has not a sting to wound; in a moral point of view, what has no intention to injure. Thus SIMPLICITY is unsuspecting, and is the companion of innocence. It extends to all the parts of our being. It knows the truth by intuition. It trusts itself calmly to God. It passes through the most impenetrable labyrinths without embarrassment. PRUDENCE, on the contrary, supposes the existence of evil in man and in the world. We have to" beware of the leaven of the Pharisees" (Matthew 16:6). We must COMBINE simplicity with prudence. Some Christians are simple without having prudence; some are prudent without simplicity. Without knowing how to unite the two, you may by a badly enlightened and rash confidence in Divine Providence reckon on help which you ought to have sought by the right use of means, and so compromise success in the family, or plan, or Church. Through not having tact to choose your means of action, and apply them to different persons, you may do more harm than good for Christ. Through over-confidence you may commit yourself to the first hypocrite. On other occasions the goodness of your heart leads you astray. At other times you hurry on what ought to have been done gradually. Prudence may go too far(1) when you have undue fear of the approbation of the world for all you do; or when you are destitute of all fear of its opposition;(2) when it gives undue attention to difficulties which the imagination likes to magnify.

(Dr. Grandpierre.)

The serpent as a teacher. Jesus says that, in view of every kind of danger, we are to be as sagacious and prudent as the serpent. The serpent is very careful about its —

I. HEALER. Be anxious for the safety of your bodies and minds. Be doubly anxious about the safety of your hearts. Why the Bible says so much about the heart.

II. EYES. As your bodies have eyes, so have your souls. It is with the eyes of your souls that you are to see your duties to God and man, and the way in which you are to be saved — "Open thou," etc. Bead a part of the Bible every day.

III. AN APPROACHING STORM. Knows when a storm is coming, etc. There are moral as well as physical storms. Jesus is the refuge from the storm.

IV. TEMPTATION. In the East there are a great number of serpent charmers, etc. Guard against every form of music which is not healthy, pure, and godly, etc.

(Dr. Alex. McAuslane.)

I. THEIR PROMINENT VOCATION — "Behold, I send you forth."

1. These disciples had been with Him, and had been taught by Him, that they might teach in His name. The mode of operation in the kingdom of God is, first make disciples, teach them, and then let them go forth and do the same with others. When one light is kindled other candles are lit therefrom. Drops of heavenly water are flashed aloft and scattered all around like dew upon the face of the earth, and behold each one begetteth a fountain where it fails, and thus the desert is made to rejoice and blossom.

2. To go after the lost sheep.

3. He sent them forth to work miracles. We have not this power; it is more to God's glory that the world should be conquered by the force of truth than by the blaze of miracles.

II. THEIR IMMINENT PERIL — "As sheep in the midst of wolves."

1. Amongst those who will not in any way sympathize with your efforts. The bleating sheep finds no harmony in the howl of the wolf.

2. Amongst those who would rend them.

3. Amongst those who would hinder their endeavours.

4. We are powerless against them. What can a sheep do if a wolf sets upon it?

5. It is trying "work for the sheep.

6. It is testing work.

7. It is teaching work.

III. THEIR EMINENT AUTHORITY — "I send you forth."

1. The Lord of the harvest.

2. "I," who prize you.

3. "I," who have gone on the same errand Myself.

4. "I," who overcame in the very character in which I send you." "The Lamb shall overcome them."


1. Be prudent and wise as a serpent.

(1)It gets out of the way of man as much as it can.

(2)It glides along very quietly.

(3)Famous for finding his way where no other creature could enter.

2. The innocence of the dove.

(C. H. Spurgeon)

Grace knows how to pick the good out of the evil, the jewel out of the oyster shell, the diamond from the dunghill, the sagacity from the serpent; and by a Divine chemistry it leaves the good which it takes out of the foul place as good as though it had never been there. Grace knows how to blend the most gentle with the most subtle; to take away from prudence the base element which makes it into cunning, and, by mingling innocence with it, produce a sacred prudence most valuable for all walks of life.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

1. The serpent eats dust (Isaiah 65:24.)

2. The serpent is deceitful.

3. The serpent casts the coat, but another new coat comes in the room; we should not cast off one sin, and another as bad come in the room.

4. The serpent is a venomous creature, and is full of poison (Psalm 58:4.)

5. The serpent is given to hissing; we should not hiss out reproaches.

6. The serpent stops her ear.

7. The serpent casts her coat, but keeps her sting; we should not east off outward acts of sin, and keep the love of sin.

8. Serpents are chased away with sweet perfumes,

1. The serpent hath a subtlety in his eye, a singular sharpness of sight. Get the serpent's eye, have a quick insight into the mysteries of religion.

2. The serpent hath a prudence and subtlety in his ear: will not be deluded by the voice of the charmer.

3. The serpent hath a chief care to defend his head; so we our head from error,

1. In respect of meekness.

2. In respect of innocency.

3. In respect of purity,

1. To be sensible of injury but not revenge it.

2. To be humble but not base.

3. To defend the truth by argument, and adorn it by life.

(J. Watson.)

1. Beauty.

2. Chastity.

3. Fruitfulness. Most months in the year they bring forth young.

4. Amity. They love their mates.

5. Unity. They live in companies.

6. Their innocence.

(T. Adams.)

I. WHAT OUR LORD RECOMMENDS to our thoughts, esteem, and practice. Wisdom is a solid knowledge of things spiritual, especially such as relate to practice. Harmlessness or innocence intimates purity, and meekness, mildness, and wrathlessness.


1. The standard that is fixed, or the creatures of whom we are to learn the things recommended.

2. The conformity that is required to that standard.


1. There is no real inconsistency between them.

2. They mutually help each other to appear with greater lustre.

(E. Calamy.)

This beautifies a Christian, when he hath the serpent's eye in the dove's head. We must have the innocency of the dove, that we may not betray the truth; and the wisdom of the serpent, that we may not betray ourselves. In short, religion without policy, is too weak to be safe; policy without religion is too subtle to be good. When wisdom and innocency, like Castor and Pollux, appear together, they presage the soul's happiness.

(T. Watson.)Wise — not as foxes, whose cunning is to deceive others; but as serpents, whose policy is only to defend themselves, and to shift for their own safety.

(Matthew Henry.)

As Francis Xavier was preaching in one of the cities of Japan, a man went up to him, pretending he had something to communicate in private. Upon his approach Xavier leaned his head, to hear what he had to say. The scorner thus gained his object, which was to spit freely upon the face of the devoted missionary, and thus insult him in the most public manner. Xavier, without speaking a word or showing any sign of annoyance, took out his handkerchief, wiped his face, and went on with his sermon, as if nothing had happened to interrupt him. By such a heroic control of his passions, the scorn of the audience was turned into admiration. The most learned doctor of the city, who happened to be present, said to himself that a law which taught men such virtue, inspired them with such courage, and gave them such complete mastery over themselves, could not but be from God. Afterwards he desired baptism, and his example was followed by many others. So effectually did the meekness of the missionary promote the success of his work.

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