We know a little about the fiery flying serpents that killed many Israelites at the time of Moses, but many historians know little indeed about those animals. Do we have any interpretation that would include a clear and accurate connection between an animal that lived a few thousands of years ago and these three words: fiery, flying, and serpent?
It seems that nobody believes that the creatures were made of fire or that they were on fire as they flew. Some suggest the venom of the bite from snakes caused a pain that resembled a burn; others suggest the creatures themselves had a coloring that caused the Israelites to use the word “fiery.” We now see another possibility, but first examine the snake idea.
Many persons have taken “serpent” as a literal venomous snake, a species that they believe was responsible for the many deaths in the desert, so many centuries ago. Of course snakes don’t fly and they don’t burn with flames of fire. A common idea involves taking “serpent” literally and then taking “fiery” and “flying” indirectly. In other words, they believe it was an actual snake but the fire and flying are less accurate.
What is a ropen? It’s no longer considered confined to Papua New Guinea or Australia or even the southwest Pacific. Those cryptozoologists who specialize in this cryptid believe it lives, in one or more species, in many areas of the world, including North America. It appears to be a long-tailed bioluminescent Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur, notwithstanding long-standing traditions about universal extinctions, axioms long taken for granted in Western societies.
Natives on Umboi Island have a tradition, a superstition about the ropen. It is said to be able to transform itself into either a snake or a man, and then change back into a ropen. We have noticed that eyewitnesses never mention any such thing; they simple report what they had seen, which is usually a bright light that flies in the distance. But the fact that a snake is mentioned in their traditions—that does suggest the creature’s tail could bring to mind a snake.
But that bright glow, to natives with no understanding of bioluminescence, could be connected, in their minds, with fire. Ancient Israelites could also have seen a resemblance to fire, if the flying creatures were bioluminescent and had attacked them in the night.
Ropens are mainly nocturnal, using their glow to navigate and land safely at night in the tropical rain forests of Papua New Guinea, where an accident landing in a tree in the dark could be disastrous. Yet they have made other uses of their bioluminescence, and a species living in the desert could also use their glowing for other purposes (see Marfa Lights of Texas). These glowing flying creatures have been reported around the world, although they are relatively uncommon, nocturnal, and reclusive.
So how does that relate to the fiery flying serpent of the Bible? Consider this: “Serpent” is less accurate and “fiery” and “flying” are more direct, especially winged-flight. In addition, the wings on the model “serpent” that was on the rod held up high by Moses—those wings would much better represent the arms of the Savior as he hung on the cross.
In addition, how wonderful a symbol it would have been for a winged creature to represent Christ, and a serpent (without wings, bound to the earth) to remain the symbol for Satan! Jesus himself told us that he would come on the clouds (or in the clouds) when he returns.
When in human history has one person always been wrong? And when one pearl is found in the mud of an old oyster bed, expect another.