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Viper of Isa 59

We do not here enter upon a lengthy discussion of the serpent in Scripture. We know it to be a symbol of the deceitfulness of sin from the beginning. (This is not to discount its literality in the Garden of Eden, of course.)

Viper ("Epheh")

The word "viper" in Isa 59:5 (Hebrew "epheh") is an exceptional word. It may be a term that encompasses all of the vipers found in Palestine -- although (in contrast to some of the familiar vipers) the type Isaiah has in mind does lay eggs. "Epheh" is from a root meaning to "hiss", and therefore the word emphasizes the power of the tongue -- for it was by verbal communication that the original serpent implanted the lie in the mind of Eve. If it had been otherwise (or if the serpent of Gen 3 were a symbol only) there would have been no real force to Paul's allusion in 2Co 11:3,4: "...As the serpent beguiled Eve... he that cometh preacheth another Christ..." (the power of speech bringing the "lie" again!).

This word "epheh" is not the ordinary Hebrew word for serpent. It appears but three times:

All are Under Sin

In Rom 3:9-20 Paul cites Isa 59 along with other verses to prove "both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin". In vv 13,14 he stresses the sinfulness of the tongue, with the "poison of asps" (quoting from Psa 5:9; 140:3; 10:7). Then, in vv 15-17 he stresses the feet of the wicked -- pointing to their evil "ways" (quoting from Isa 59:7,8).

Both these views of sin (as evil deeds and evil words) are summarized in Isa 59:3:

Gross, OPEN sins
"Your hands are defiled with blood"
"Your lips have spoken lies"
Small, HIDDEN sins
"Your fingers... with iniquity"
"Your tongue hath muttered perverseness"

Here we might stop and examine ourselves a little more ruthlessly than is our custom. Are we proud of our open and forthright "righteousness", while at the same time using our public profession as a cloak for small, petty, hidden (or so we think) sins? Do we do good with the outstretched hand, but never get around to controlling the wayward little finger? Do we profess, for example, complete truthfulness in open communion with our brethren, but yet mutter in private conversation little "white lies", little slanders, little criticisms to no profit and great hurt?

This in fact we all do -- for "there is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom 3:10). Every one of us is separated from God by what we are, by what (try as we might) we cannot really help being -- SINNERS! -- "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God" (Isa 59:2).

With this background we progress to v 5. This verse lays stress upon the "eggs", the "seed" of the serpent -- and therefore directs our meditations toward Gen 3:15, the age-old enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.

The "serpent" is the thinking of the unenlightened mind, or the mind superficially enlightened in the Truth but yet impervious to its influence. The "serpent" is the "lust of the flesh", an integral part of our mental make-up inherited from Adam. Its seed, or offspring, is first sin and then death. This "genealogical table" is outlined by James (1:14,15):

  1. In the "first generation", "Lust" (or the Serpent) "marries" the "Strange woman";
  2. In the "second generation", their union brings forth "Sin" (another "serpent");
  3. In the "third generation", "Sin" begets "Death" (the third "serpent"); and
  4. There is no "fourth generation": "Death" is the end of his "line"!
A man is tempted by the "strange woman", the evil thought, and he is drawn away by his own lust. He becomes the embodiment of the serpent, In a figurative sense, he becomes "Lust". Lust, in the carelessness of his youth, begets the illegitimate son Sin. And Sin, after a long and vigorous but ruinous life, begets Death the feeble grandson. This "genealogy" has three generations only and always, never two (for Sin cannot stop short of Death) and never four (for Death ends all)! The "seed of the serpent" runs its course and then finds its way back to the dust from whence it came. But never fear, this is not the end of the Serpent clan! There are an infinite number of collateral lines, because new sons and daughters are, so to speak, continually being adopted into the family!

"There was no man"

So what do we do -- all of us who are "proved (charged) under sin"? If we have any particle of true enlightenment or desire God-ward, we try to destroy the serpent within us. We try to crucify the flesh with the lusts thereof (Rom 6:6-16). We try to crush the serpent eggs before they are hatched (v 5).

But we fail -- inevitably, dismally. We crush the eggs beneath our feet, but the vipers break forth anyway. "That which is crushed breaketh out into a viper." And the bite of the new-born is just as deadly as its parent. There is no escape: Our iniquities have separated us from God.

At this point comes the inevitable question: "Is the LORD's hand shortened, that it cannot save?" Our Father answers in the negative. Despite outward appearances, there is hope, and the answer comes in v 16 -- "He saw that there was no man" -- Not a single man anywhere that could redeem his brother (Psa 49:7) by slaying his enemy the serpent and his seed. Not a single man who could crush the viper's eggs without himself being bitten fatally. "Therefore his own arm brought salvation" -- God could not, would not, leave man in such a hopeless condition. His purpose to fill the earth with His glory (Num 14:21;
Hab 2:14) in perfect men of His image (Gen 1:26; Col 1:15; 3:10) must be fulfilled.

"God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." (John 3:16).

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself..." (2Co 5:19).

"God sending His own Son..." (Rom 8:3).
"No man" (v 16) was directly involved in this campaign against the serpent power. No man, that is, except the special man God would provide. Therefore God's first promise to fallen man was of the "seed" of the woman (Gen 3:15) -- a man with no human father (Luke 1:35); "made of a woman" (Gal 4:4); yet at the same time "made sin" (2Co 5:21); "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom 8:3):

"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb 2:14).

The implications of Christ's humanity are of greatest familiarity to us, since this is the ground on which we defend the Truth against many popular errors. But let us always keep in mind, and be thankful for, Christ's "divinity" properly understood. However it was and in how many different ways God "made this man strong for Himself" (Psa 80:15,17) we cannot know as a certainty. It is possible in speculation to approach the folly of trying to examine and dissect "scientifically" the greatest "mystery" of all: God manifest in the flesh (1Ti 3:16) for our redemption.

Let us be content to have as a foundation the beautiful promise of Isa 59: There is no ordinary man (v 16) who can completely and successfully crush the eggs of the viper (v 5). But Yahweh's hand is not shortened by our failures (v 1): His "Arm" will bring salvation through a life of perfect righteousness (vv 16,17). In death and resurrection, His "Arm" will become a Redeemer to turn the effect of transgression away from His children (v 20) and establish God's covenant with His seed forever (v 21).

It was this awesome panorama of God's plan of redemption that Paul had before his eyes when he penned the letter to the Romans: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a mercy seat through faith in his blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins..." (Rom 3:23-25).

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