“If the snake bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage in a charmer.”
Ecclesiastes 10:11 (NRSV)
This little bit from Ecclesiastes made me think and ponder more deeply than usual because I was looking for a broader context or application. The purpose of the snake charmer is to charm the snake and prevent the snake from biting and striking at the charmer and those nearby. Obviously if the snake bites before it can be charmed, then there is nothing the charmer can do but hope the venom doesn’t kill him and hope he can prevent the next strike– provided he can charm this snake after a botched first attempt.
If a teacher or mentor or guide is trying to steer people away from making some huge mistake, it would seem vitally important to reach this person or student before he or she could make that huge misstep. Ecclesiastes seems to be suggesting that a mentor, guide, or teacher is only valued if he or she is successful– which makes sense. Mistakes can be costly, this passage states. Not being prepared and skilled in one’s profession is dangerous as well.
Another thought– giving the snake an opportunity to strike before it can be charmed makes a charmer worthless. If you do not act quickly to guide the lost or teach the student or prevent the sin… if you provide opportunity for sin to occur or for ignorance to thrive or for foolishness to spread, then your intentions to avoid these things is kind of moot and easily undermined.
If you know the nature of sin and can predict when something bad might happen and do not prepare or act accordingly– and you allow it to happen– you can only expect a negative result to occur.
But does this Scripture quote suggest that care taken after the sin or after the wound is of no value? If you cut yourself and don’t apply a bandage, won’t you just bleed out and do more harm? If after a mistake is made you don’t attempt to learn better or be more careful and attentive, then aren’t you sort of dooming yourself to repeat the mistake?
I think the overall message just from this quote suggests that preparation makes all the difference. Paying attention makes all the difference. Providing opportunities for sin to occur or for mistakes to happen undermines the efforts you could be making to getting things done right the first time.