Shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves

“Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.
-Matthew 10:16

Jesus sends us out into the world that is cold and unfriendly: enemy territory.  We are like sheep, following our shepherd, who gives us instructions to stay safe.  To be as shrewd as serpents means to be "street smart;" cautious in avoiding danger.  We need to exercise the wisdom of caution.  Shrewd also means being prudent.  Prudent means "careful and avoiding risks;" cautious (Cambridge English Dictionary).

Doves are harmless, a symbol of innocence and being without guile.  A dove is a symbol of peace.  A dove would never provoke anger.  

When we are both as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves, we are shrewd but not devious, and innocent but not naive.

We need to be aware that we are in constant danger in a hostile world.  We follow a powerful, protecting shepherd; but we ourselves are not the power.  We are sheep, but not in our attitude.  We are not to be gullible simpletons, nor rogues (France).  

Innocent as doves means "unmixed", pure, or transparent (France).  Irreproachably honest.  The shrewdness of the serpent combined with the purity of the dove enables Jesus' disciples to fulfill their mission.  We need to be practical in avoiding danger, and yet guileless, like Jesus.

Doves don't stay and fight like some birds; they flee.  Serpents are very cautious, fleeing when there is danger to avoid being attacked.  We need to be shrewd in avoiding conflict and withdraw when attacked.  Then move on to others.


Barnes, Albert; Barne's Notes at Bible Hub
Constable, Thomas L.;  Constable's Notes
France, R.T.; Matthew
Hagner, Donald; Matthew

I found the clip art at the top, here: