The DEEP

Be as Shrewd as Snakes

Don't ignore conventional wisdom.

Acts 25:1-5 (ESV)

Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”

History records that Rome removed Felix from office in 60AD. Festus appears to be more competent. He’s new on the job and he visits Jerusalem, but while there he gets an odd request.

Obviously, the conspirators haven’t been fasting for two years, but it’s fun to picture these emaciated schemers still trying to figure out a way to assassinate Paul. Festus doesn’t seem to know about the conspiracy (the next passage will show this) but he doesn’t want to disrupt his schedule. So, Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly.

Their request is absurd anyway. Transporting Paul to Jerusalem for trial doesn’t make sense. There’s no jury selection involved here; Festus is the sole judge. Why hold the trial in a remote location? “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”

Notice the sarcasm in that last line. Festus isn’t even sure there is anything wrong about the man, so he insists that men of authority make the trip. They foolishly asked for him to be inconvenienced, so he’s making sure that they’re inconvenienced.

They’ve managed to get themselves on his wrong side.


Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. – Matthew 10:16b (NIV)

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. – Colossians 4:6 (ESV)

Not all secular wisdom is worthless. Here we see an example of exactly what not to do. The chief priests managed to be stupid, evil and irritating all at the same time.

We’re called to be clever and sociable while making proper ethics an absolute. That should be easy if it weren’t for our sinful human nature. If you’re frustrated by the mistakes you make trying to reach people or to help people, welcome to the club. It’s the people who aren’t frustrated who should worry. Our standards are supposed to be higher than our performance. That’s one of the keys to sanctification.

So embrace your frustration. Ask God to keep pushing you to get better at being a Christian. When you do mess up, pay attention to what went wrong and ask Him to help you learn from your mistakes.


The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.