The Sting of the Scorpion

When our middle son was in elementary school, he became fascinated with scorpions. As an entomologist, I was all too happy to encourage this interest. During one spring break trip to Arizona we equipped ourselves with black lights and went scorpion hunting at night in the desert. Scorpions like to hide, so you have turn over stones to find them. We did find some and even brought one home for a “pet”. While not commonly mentioned in the Bible, there are some scorpions to be found there as well if you go looking for them.  

Throughout the middle east, there are 117 species of scorpion. Of those, 22 species are considered to be venomous enough to be a threat to humans. Their venom has varied effects depending on the species of scorpion, causing either local tissue damage, blood clotting, or damage to the heart, lungs or kidneys.[1] Scorpion stings are common throughout the region, so it is unsurprising that some reference is made to them in Scripture.

After their sojourn in the wilderness, God warned the people of Israel not to forget about Him when they are enjoying times of wealth and plenty. He reminded them who it was that rescued them from slavery and led them “through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions…”[2] What I find instructive within this admonition is that when God removed the Israelites from their trouble in Egypt, He did not spare them from all trouble.

A picture of a scorpion I drew for my son back when he was 10 years old.

This tells me that God is not interested in leading us into a Utopia in this life. We need to have some trouble in our lives to help us become the people He desires us to be – to develop character – something God seems to care about more than our comfort. It is also important to notice that while God did not spare the Israelites from the stings of scorpions, He was present with them in the midst of their trials.

In contrast to God’s allowance of trouble, we later read about king Rehoboam who inflicted trouble unnecessarily. Faced with a growing revolt, Rehoboam took the counsel of his younger advisors and told the people: “My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” [3] Rather than squelch the rebellion, his threat fomented the division of Israel which was never restored. This story reminds me that in our human endeavors there is a balance to be struck between discipline and compassion – some discipline yields direction, but every increasing punishments have a diminishing return.

It may be that the very thing I need in my life is a “scorpion” to set me straight. Sometimes, however, the scorpions are inflicting suffering as a consequence of doing what is right. God let the prophet Ezekiel know this is what he could expect in his charge to be God’s mouthpiece. He was to speak out against the rebellious nation of Israel, and God told him, “be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.”[4] Ouch! Not a great idea to sit on a scorpion!

The stinger of a scorpion with a drop of its venom.

The scorpions Ezekiel faced were figurative – he would be dealing so closely with this rebellious generation he would not be able to keep from getting stung. Nevertheless, God urged Ezekiel to speak God’s message whether they listened to him or not. While Christians are urged by the apostles to proclaim the gospel with love and respect,[5] the gospel message itself will still be offensive to some who will respond with violence. Christians should not be afraid to share the truth because it is unpopular or because it will result in persecution.

Jesus informed his disciples that, like Ezekiel, they will encounter opposition. Rather than predicting defeat, Jesus assured them they will have “authority to tread on serpents and scorpions”[6]. Once again, these scorpions are figurative – people who are capable of inflicting harm, but who will be unable to overcome the truth of the gospel. Over two thousand years of church history validate this promise. Numerous regimes have sought to destroy Christianity, but the gospel has won out every time.

While Christians are assured of being persecuted, God is not unaware of their suffering. In an apocalyptic vision, the apostle John conveys the suffering which will be faced by people who do not have the “seal of God on their forehead”. The torment will come from “locusts” who are “given power like the power of scorpions of the earth…”[7] While some have speculated what these creatures John saw might have been, that is of little importance. What is important is the promise that those who caused the persecution of the Christians will themselves be subject to judgement and suffering. There will be justice.

Scorpions will glow in the dark under the light of a black light (UV light).

While nearly all the scripture passages referring to scorpions relate to some level of suffering, one passage instills hope. In his teaching about prayer to the disciples, Jesus lets them know the goodness of their heavenly Father. He said, “What father among you, if his son asks for…an egg, will give him a scorpion?”[8] A good father gives that which leads to health and life (an egg) rather than to death and destruction (the scorpion).  Jesus promised the Father would give them the good gift of the Holy Spirit which will enable his followers to do ministry.

Speaking of gifts from the father to the son, a gift I made for my scorpion-crazed son was a t-shirt emblazoned with a large picture of a scorpion which was printed along with the Arabian proverb: “Two scorpions in a small cave are better than two sisters in the house.” (We only had sons in our household – girls have cooties!) I don’t image after reading this blog anyone will become a fan of scorpions and get a t-shirt like this, but hopefully you will realize that as unpleasant as it may be, there is a place for the sting of a scorpion someplace in your life.

[1] Zuhair S. Amr, etal., “Scorpions and scorpion sting envenoming (scorpionism) in the Arab Countries of the Middle East”, Toxicon, Volume 191 (2021), 83-103. Accessed 5/9/22.

[2] Deuteronomy 8:11-20

[3] 1 Kings 12:8-11 and 2 Chronicles 10:10-11

[4] Ezekiel 2:3-7

[5] Ephesians 4:14-15, 1 Peter 3:15-16

[6] Luke 10:18-20

[7] Revelation 9:2-11

[8] Luke 11:11-13

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