“‘For behold, I will send serpents among you, vipers which cannot be charmed, and they shall bite you,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:17, NKJB).
Snake charming is an ancient practice in parts of Asia. When I started traveling to South Asia I was a little surprised to discover that it is still fairly common and popular among the people, especially those in rural areas. I have gone into a village more than once and seen a charmer with several baskets strapped to his bicycle from which he would extract multiple large cobras while playing a tune on a flute. As soon as they were placed on the ground the snakes began to lift their heads and upper torso and sway in tune with the music. I was much impressed.
Imagine the shock and fear which such a charmer would experience if one or more of those snakes refused the allure of the flute. What if, when he pulled them from the basket, they did not go into their coil and dance, but charged with fangs dripping venom? That would not be the expected outcome; those snakes would not be playing by the rules.
In the U.S. the news occasionally reports the tragic deaths of animal handlers in zoos, parks, or circuses who lose control of their dangerous subjects. No matter how docile and well trained the animals seem to be, for some reason one or more occasionally go berserk, and serious injury or death is the result.
Whenever such things happen we are reminded that one is almost never in complete control of his circumstances. We think we know what we are doing; we believe we are in charge, but sometimes we are deceived. Sometimes the snake just refuses to be charmed.
Ancient Israel believed that God was under its control. He had made promises to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had established a covenant with Israel, claiming them as his exclusive people. At his instructions they had conquered a land, built a temple, and established Jerusalem as a place in which his presence could always be found. God was all-powerful, but He was also obligated to Israel and subject to their demands. Whenever their safety was questioned they simply remembered “The temple of the Lord” (Jeremiah 7:4) and knew (or thought they knew) that so long as it was in Jerusalem God must protect them. It did not matter (they thought) whether or not they were obedient to his laws; he had to fulfill his promises no matter what they did.
It was a great shock to them, therefore, when Jeremiah told them they were wrong. God was angry with his people for their unfaithfulness and disobedience. He would quickly send his judgment against them. That judgment would be like a snake that could not be charmed. No matter what their priests and false prophets might do or say, God would no longer protect his people. Rather, he would send Babylon’s powerful armies against them and their nation would be destroyed.
Today there are many with the same false theology that deceived Israel. How often have we heard the claim, “A loving God could never punish his people with eternal destruction, no matter how disobedient they might be.” Really? That is not at all what the Bible says.
“[He] will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil” (Romans 2:6-9).
“If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation. . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:26-27, 31).
God is love, but he is also perfectly just and righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4). He wants all to be saved, but he cannot be mocked (“charmed”). His judgments are sure and perfect. Sin will be punished, unless we repent (Luke 13:3, 5).