“And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” (Acts 9:23–25, AV)
When I was in the U.S. Army Ranger School, they taught us how to do patrols. We practiced in the swamps of Florida. One of the things they taught us was what to do if we saw snakes and alligators. They taught us how to handle snakes and to ward off an alligator if necessary. However, the last thing they told us as we left the training was, don’t play with the snakes or alligators. On the contrary, we were to avoid them.
Sure enough, when we went on one patrol, in particular, we saw snakes, lots of them. In one section of the swamp, I think we saw about twenty in the five minutes of our patrol. They were everywhere. While we were trained in how to handle a snake, we left them alone. Why? Well, that is obvious. Most of them were venomous and there was no need to handle them. In other words, we were not to take unnecessary risks since just patrolling the area had enough risk in itself.
Jesus once told His disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, AV). What does it mean to be as wise as a serpent? The word, wise here is phronimos, which refers to being intelligent and using the faculty of the mind. The context of Jesus’ teaching in this verse was in His sending out the disciples as sheep in the midst of wolves. They were to use their intellect in the face of imminent danger.
Here with Saul (later known as Paul) we see a practical example of Jesus’ teaching regarding being as wise as a serpent. Saul, after confounding the Jews by proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah, learns that the Jews were out to kill him. They were watching the gates of the city day and night in order to catch him. Yet, those who were Saul’s disciples determined to get him out of the city undetected. They did this by lowering him over the city wall, away from the gates, in a basket. This allowed Saul to escape to Jerusalem undetected.
The point here is that there are situations when we must assess the dangers. Granted, God is sovereign over the days of our lives, but we are not to put God to foolish tests. We are to use our brains and prayerfully determine the best course of action when danger presents itself. Saul could have said, “I know they are out to kill me but I am just going to walk out the gate on my exit anyway. God is in control.” Yes, God is in control, but would that have been the wisest course of action?
While we should be very courageous, we should not be foolish. Saul (Paul) did not run scared and stop preaching the gospel. Yet, he did use his intellect combined with godly wisdom in his calling. We must do the same. It does not mean that we will not experience hardship or persecution or even martyrdom. Yet, there is a time for everything.
This reminds me of the story about a man who was caught in a flood and as the water rose, a boat came by and offered to save the man. He told the man with the boat, “God will save me.” The boat came by two more times with the same offer and the man stated the same. Finally, the water rose and the man drowned in the water. After he died, he was before God and asked Him, “Why didn’t you save me?” God said, “I sent a boat to you three times and you refused to get in.”