If a snake bites before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. Ecclesiastes 10, verse 11.
I read several commentaries on this verse. All were united in saying that this is a verse of sarcasm. Sarcasm is one thing I understand well. It’s practically a second language to me, and taming my sarcastic tongue is one of my greater challenges (as well as one of my bigger faults). What the commentaries said was that, if you read the verse and those around it, you see how King Solomon sarcastically made fun of fools while spelling out, yet again, some of the consequences of being foolish.
But one commentary said something that really hit home. To paraphrase, it basically said that all the planning in the world is pointless if you don’t execute the plan very well. How we do what we’re supposed to do actually counts. The illustration of the snake biting it’s charmer is the ancient illustration of a plan gone wrong.
Have you ever had things turn out different from what you’d planned? I’m sure you have, and I hope I’m not being presumptuous in saying that. I hope I’m not presumptuous because, well, I don’t want to be the only one with my hand in the air waving “yes.” I’m currently managing a project that is several weeks behind. I’d hoped we would be live by now, but we aren’t. When it was least desirable for it to happen, the snake turned on the charmer.
Finances are extremely tight around the house these days because of a cascading series of events. It wasn’t supposed to be this way; working all the hours I do was supposed to earn far more, but it hasn’t. But circumstances have led to us being where we are. I’m responsible for that. There’s that snake again.
Last night, I was sleepy during the evening but then awake when I should have been asleep. It meant that I slept much more than I usually do and now I’m feeling groggy. Ssssssssssss…ouch!
See what I mean? I could go on with a dozen examples of how things in life haven’t turned out as planned. In the end, it’d be a maudlin, whiny list of complaints; in the end, I’m the one responsible for the mistakes I’ve made in this life, and only I can answer to my God when He judges me; in the end, He will be all that matters.
Which is why it’s important to remember that it’s a prudent thing to plan but that sometimes plans don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to. The snake charmer practices over and over so the snake will memorize the feel of the sound of the flute (since snakes don’t have ears). Both charmer and serpent practice this dance until it looks like man has control over the beast when, in reality, it’s just a practiced routine to earn a few shekels…that is, until the something goes awry in the routine and the snake decides to strike.
In today’s world, the snake could be anything. The storm arrives early, a car careens into your lane, an unexpected bill arrives in the mail, the test comes back positive, you name it: plans are perfect until they are executed, then real life takes over. It’s important to remember that, when the snake senses something is out of whack, or that it can get the best of the charmer, that the charmer should be prepared for evasive action.
And it’s important to remember, too, that we, as snake charmers, need to praise God when we’re charming well or when the snake bites. That’s the other part of the deal; that, too, takes practice. We should train up, prepare up, be ready and know our skill when we use it. When we do that, we need to remember to praise God for that. The gift of practice is a good one indeed. Likewise, when the bite hurts, when we make mistakes, when random things happen, or when we feel alone, we need to remember to praise God for His close presence, and for his guiding patience.
This could be the point where I write some smarmy, sarcastic quip about how patience can outwit the snake, but it won’t be. I’m not sure what a commentary would have to say about that, but in the long run it doesn’t really matter. Today, let’s you and I do our best to practice our snake charming, and maybe wear long gloves when we’re around that pesky cobra. Now, where’s my flute?