“The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.”
Despite being terrified of venomous snakes, one of my favorite YouTube channels is Viperkeeper. Run by a gentleman in Pennsylvania named Al Coritz, the videos focus on his collection of venomous snakes from all over the world. His collection houses cobras (including a king cobra named Elvis), an assortment of mambas, boomslangs, vipers from everywhere except North America, lanceheads from Central and South America, and some Australian snakes. Despite the amount of feeding, milking, and handling of snakes he does, he has only been bitten twice in his life, and he stocks many different antivenoms because a snakebite could kill him if he has to wait for the hospital to fly in the right one from a zoo. The main reason he doesn’t keep North American vipers? The antivenom is prohibitively expensive with an average dose being 20 vials at a cost of up to $5,000 per vial (including hospital markup).
Having watched his videos, I want to flinch in horror at the idea of a child happily playing “over the hole of the asp” or a child “put[ting] its hand on the adder’s den.” What kind of parent would let their child do that when snakes like the puff adder kill and maim many people in Africa?!?!?
The key to understanding this is to realize that Isaiah is employing some hyperbole, and he is using some imagery that would have been familiar to the people of the Levant. They all knew the danger of the various vipers and desert cobras, and they would have understood why a child playing near an asp was incredibly dangerous. In using the enmity between humanity and reptiles that stemmed from the Fall in Genesis 3, the people of Isaiah’s time would have understood that Isaiah’s words involved neutralizing a threat and restoring peace to the general order of things. I, for one, cannot wait.
Lord, you might not want us to handle serpents or put ourselves at risk of envenomation, but You do want us to be at peace with each other. Give us peaceful spirits and help us to cultivate peace in our hearts. Amen.