God is Not a Man that Lies & Ugaritic Liturgy Against Venomous Snakes

Finger Waving UpThat would be a kind of weird hearing an ass talk (but not totally new because I’ve listened to Obama giving speeches).  But it would be scary seeing Your angel standing there ready to slice and dice.

“Balaam told Balak to build seven altars with seven oxen and rams to offer to God and he would talk to God.

1. Chthonic animals
Chthonic animals were mysterious to the ancient Egyptians: their origin was unclear as if they had seemingly come into existence without a creator. They were life-creating themselves. Serpents were even more puzzling than other denizens of the underworld. They shed their skin and became therefore symbols of rebirth after death. “The Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, saith:- I am the serpent Sata whose years are infinite. I lie down dead. I am born daily. I am the serpent Sa-en-ta, the dweller in the uttermost parts of the earth. I lie down in death. I am born, I become new, I renew my youth every day.” The Book Ani, translated by Budge

And the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak (Num 23:5).

Balaam returned to Balak and told him that he couldn’t curse the Israelites because God had blessed them, there is no way he could or even try to go against God.

And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me?  I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether. 

And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth? 

And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.

And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a 1 bullock and a ram on every altar. 

And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder. 

And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus” (Num 23:11-16).

Balaam returned to Balak and said,

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?  Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it (Num 23:19-20). 

“Balak then told him that if he couldn’t curse them, at least don’t bless them.  And Balaam said, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?” (Num 23:26).

“And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee unto another place; peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence. 

And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon. 

2. Ouroboros
The endlessness of the sea and the relationship between being and non-being were symbolized by a snake, the ouroboros, coiled around the world and biting its own tail. It also stood for resurrection and the power of renewal. Similarly, the Ahay or metwi serpent expressed for the cyclical nature of time. The ouroboros is first depicted on a shrine found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, a picture of the metwi can be seen in the Book of Gates of Seti I.

And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.  And

Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar” (Num 23:27-30).

And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.

And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together: and Balak said unto Balaam, I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times.

Therefore now flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee unto great honor; but, lo, the LORD hath kept thee back from honor (Num 24:1, 10-11).

And again, Balaam told Balak what God told him to say,

“…there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. 

And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. 

Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.

And when he looked on Amalek he took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish forever.

And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is thy dwelling place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock. 

Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive.

And he took up his parable, and said, alas, who shall live when God doeth this!

And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish forever.

And Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place: and Balak also went his way” (Num 24:17-25).

3. Ogdoad
Ogdoad In Egyptian mythology, the Ogdoad are the eight deities worshiped in Hermopolis. The gods of the Ogdoad were mostly seen as humans with their animals’ heads, or just depicted as snakes and frogs. They were arranged in four male-female pairs, with the males associated with frogs, and the females with snakes. [Frogs are assciated with biogenetic experiments. Snakes represent human DNA.] The Egyptians believed that before the world was formed, there was a watery mass of dark, directionless chaos. In this chaos lived the Ogdoad of Khmunu (Hermopolis), four frog gods and four snake goddesses of chaos. [Balance in infinity] Among the positive deities the four female goddesses of the ogdoad of gods sported serpent heads, the males had the form of toads, chthonic animals as well. Amen as primordial creator assumed the form of Kematef, a snake. Thermutis, the harvest goddess, was honored in the form of a snake during the vintage and corn harvest. Uto, the protectress of Lower Egypt, was a fire-spitting snake, often called the Fiery Eye of Re. It was probably the origin of the uraeus, carried on their crowns by the pharaohs since the Middle Kingdom (see cobra). Nehebka was a double-headed serpent living in the Underworld.

1 These were some of the animals God had ordered the Israelites to use for offerings in the Tabernacle that I didn’t go into detail about, what animals and how many depends on the type of offering one is making (Num chps 1-7).

Ugaritic Liturgy Against
Venomous Snakes

Poisonous snakes posed a serious and ever-present threat to people in the ancient world.

Three texts from Ugarit, all of which address this problem, suggest that the typical pagan solution was to search for a magic formula to counter the results of the venom.

5. Cultic stand with snakes from Israel.
Cultic stgand with snakes from Israel.

One of these texts is but a fragment, another a mythical narrative and the third a magical incantation.

In the myth (second text), twelve different deities are asked for a cure for snakebite.

Eleven respond with an ability to charm the serpent, but only one, Horanu, successfully neutralizes the venom.

He counteracts the poi­son by casting trees into the Tigris River, ritu­ally enacting the manner by which he will weaken the venom as if diluting it in water.

The third text, written for the benefit of a high official, is an incantation employing a rit­ual similar to Horanu’s to protect both against serpents and the sorcerers who used them.

The Israelites, like the inhabitants of Ugarit, feared the lethal snakes so abundant both in the wilderness and in the land of Canaan.

God’s snake-related punishment recorded in Num 21:6-9 demonstrated that only the Lord has ultimate power over serpents (and, indeed, over all evil).

Not only did he send venomous snakes to punish

4. Horned Viper
One of the poisonous snakes the Egyptians feared most was the horned viper (Cerastes cornutus and Cerastes cerastes, also known as the sand viper). When the horned viper attacks, it rasps its coils together before springing forward. The rasping sounds like the letter f, and the horned viper was used as the hieroglyph to write the sound (fy is the Egyptian word for “viper” as well). The Pyramid Texts allude repeatedly to the menace of serpents, and they recur in religious texts throughout ancient Egyptian history. First attested in the First Intermediate Period, the snake god Apophis (Apep) was considered the enemy of order, or Ma’at.

the Israelites because of their ingratitude, but he also provided the means of a cure (i.e., the bronze snake) when his people repented and sought his mercy.

It is noteworthy that, although the Israelites were required to gaze up at the bronze serpent in order to receive restoration, the Biblical text mentions no mag­ical ritual or incantation.

To learn more about the role of the snake in the Ancient Near East, see The Serpent Motif in Other Ancient Near Eastern Literature.

Scroll to Top
Skip to content