Rattlesnake Ambush


While hunting deer in the Tehama Wildlife Area near Red Bluff in northern California, Jay Rathman climbed up a slope of a rocky gorge. As he raised his head to look over the ledge, he sensed movement to the right of his face. As he turned, a coiled rattler struck with lightning speed, just missing Rathman’s right ear. The strike was so close that the four-foot snake’s fangs got snagged in the neck of Rathman’s wool turtleneck sweater, and the force of the strike caused the snake to land on his Rathman’s shoulder where it began to coil around his neck. He grabbed it behind the head with his left hand. He could feel the warm venom running through the sweater and down the skin of his neck. All the while, the rattles were making a furious racket. In the struggle, Jay fell backward and slid headfirst down the steep slope through brush and lava rocks, his rifle and binoculars bouncing beside him.

“As luck would have it,” he said while describing the incident to a Department of Fish and Game official, “I ended up wedged between some rocks with my feet caught uphill from my head. I could barely move.” So, he got his right hand on his rifle and used it to disengage the fangs from his sweater. Unfortunately, the snake still had enough leverage to strike.

“He made about eight attempts and managed to hit me with his nose just below my eye about four times. I kept my face turned so he couldn’t get a good angle with his fangs, but it was very close. This chap and I were eyeball to eyeball and I found out that snakes don’t blink. He had fangs like darning needles…I had to choke him to death. It was the only way out. I was afraid that with all the blood rushing to my head I might pass out.”

Before long, Rathman freed himself and made his way to game warden Dave Smith. Warden Smith said of his meeting with Rathman: “He walked toward me holding this string of rattles and said with a sort of grin on his face, ‘I’d like to register a complaint about your wildlife here'” (Story from: The Quest for Character, by Charles R. Swindoll). What a vicious rattlesnake! Rathman had almost no time to do anything but defend himself. Thankfully, he was able to make it through.

Have you ever been attacked like this? No, I don’t mean by a snake or some other animal. I mean, have you ever been on the receiving end of an angry and emotional person? If so, at times the assault can be quite fierce. Their words may feel like venom. Their verbal strikes might come quick. When this happens, often our response is to be defensive and argumentative. Unfortunately, this usually just turns up the heat and results in more anger and harsh words. Whether it’s a full out ambush or just a disgruntled person, Scripture offers us some solid solutions.

(1) REACT IN LOVE. Love and pray for such people (Matthew 5:44-48). Don’t get immediately defensive. Try to understand where this person is coming from. Try to see that they are hurt. To the best of our ability, let’s make a very first reaction one of love. This will go a long way towards defusing the situation.

(2) REPAY WITH GOOD. We should never repay evil for evil, but always seek to repay evil for good (1 Thessalonians 5:15; Romans 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9). Our response should never be lash out and attack the person back. Take the high road. Be the one who apologizes first, if necessary. Be the one who puts your arms around them and hypothesizes with their situation. As far as it is up to you, repay whatever evil they may have hurled at you with good instead.

(3) RESPOND WITH GENTLENESS. Kind words turn away wrath, but harsh words will just stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1, 18; 25:20). It is difficult to respond gently to an attack on us. But as we see in these Scriptures, a harsh response is only going to make the problem worse. A gentle answer always helps the situation.

It’s never fun to be met with confrontation, but it happens. So, when it does happen, let’s respond in the appropriate way.

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