Snake. A snake is the Bible’s first– and final– animal villain (Genesis 3; Rev. 20:2). Throughout the Old and New Testaments, several different words for snake or serpent appear some 20 times. Scholars can only make educated guesses as to which of Palestine’s many species of snakes are meant in most verses.
The asp and adder are both common in the Holy Land. The asp is a type of cobra with its familiar hood, although its hood is not as pronounced as the Indian cobra’s. There is also a desert cobra, which has no hood at all. Adder and viper are two different words for the same deadly snake. A horned viper and sawscale, or carpet viper, are native to Israel. Another species mentioned in the Bible is the sand viper (Is. 30:6), (NEB).
In the wilderness, the Israelites were plagued by fiery serpents (Num. 21:6). “Fiery” may indicate the burning fever caused by their bite. Or it may refer to the puff adder, which has yellow, flame-like markings. The cockatrice of the KJV was a mythological monster. It had the wings and head of a cock and the tail of a dragon. According to the superstitious legend about this animal, its look could kill.
Most snakes in Palestine were non-poisonous, but the Jewish people feared and hated all snakes. In the Bible the serpent is often referred to as the symbol of evil and wrongdoing (Ps. 140:3; Jer. 8:17).
In spite of this attitude among the Jews, some of Israel’s neighbors associated serpents with health, life, and immortality. The kingdom of Lower Egypt took the cobra as its official symbol. Even Moses once lifted up a BRONZE SERPENT before the Israelites at God’s command to save the people from the fiery serpents in the wilderness (Num. 21:9). Some continued to worship that bronze serpent until King Hezekiah destroyed it generations later (2 Kin. 18:4).
Snakes are fascinating creatures. Scales on their undersides provide traction. Their forked tongues flick rapidly in and out to collect sensations of touch and smell. (Psalm 58:4) is correct in speaking of the “deaf cobra,” since snakes have no ears to receive sound waves. Like deaf persons, they rely on physical vibrations to pick up sounds. Thus cobras are not charmed by music, but by movement.
A snake’s spine may contain as many as 300 tiny vertebrae. This gives them their amazing flexibility to coil and curve. Their mouths are hinged to permit them to swallow and eat creatures much larger than themselves. Their eyes are protected by transparent lids which are always open, causing scientists to wonder if snakes ever sleep.