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There are over 120 animal species mentioned in the Bible, including big the ones like lions, leopards, and bears, as well as little insects, special ones, like the eagle and ox, and even non-human ones. And while dogs figure often, it may be a relief to some that there is no mention of domestic cats. Some people don’t believe there will be animals in heaven, but they are everywhere in the Bible.


Two of the most important animals, in my view, are the serpent (snake) and the lamb, metaphorical for Satan on the one hand and Jesus on the other. Although we read about Satan as a snake in Genesis, he (or she) is actually a chameleon and can transform itself to appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11.14), fooling us into desiring something that appears beautiful but is not good for us.


The lamb, on the other hand, seems harmless and can be domesticated, as in the story of a rich man and a poor man and their sheep (2 Samuel 12). The poor man, who had to give up his lamb to the rich man had “raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.”


However, the voice of the Lamb is commanding and we should follow it (John 10.27-28) because it is the voice of the Shepherd, and we are the sheep of his pasture. (There are many metaphors in passages in the Gospel of John!)


The lion, as in “the lion of Judah,” is a symbol of bravery, nobility, and strength. Reference to a lion occurs over 150 times in the Bible, and most commonly refers to the House of Judah and the descendants of the House of Judah. In the New Testament (Revelation 5:5) we read: “Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."


References to dogs in the Bible are often of a contemptuous nature and can depict the Gentiles. For example, Jesus referred to a Canaanite woman by that term (“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” Matthew 7.6). However, the Israelites had watch dogs for their houses (Isaiah 56:10), and for guarding their flocks (Job 30:1) so they must have liked them a bit, but not enough to let them sleep on their beds.


Rich men knew how many animals they had. For example, Job “owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys.” That required a lot of pasture and the efforts of many servants.


Other important animals were calves and doves (for sacrifice). oxen, fish, bees, locusts, sea creatures, and pigs. However, even a small animal, like a fox, was mentioned in the Bible, because of their persistence: “little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (Song of Songs 2.15) and their nature (slyness, so attributed metaphorically to Herod in Luke 13.32).


Working animals, like an ox or donkey, required special attention—an ox would be retrieved from a ditch, even if it fell in on the Sabbath. And it was not fair to muzzle it when it was working, as commanded in the Law of Moses (1 Corinthians 9.9, quoting Deuteronomy 25.4).


A donkey was also a sign of wealth. We first read this in Genesis 24.35 about Abraham: “The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys.”


Peter recounted the story of how a donkey spoke to Balaam, son of Bezer, when it rebuked him for his wrongdoing. It was “a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness” (2 Peter 2.16).


The donkey had two other humble, yet highly exalted, instances that we read of in the Bible. First, it carried Mary, pregnant with Jesus, to Bethlehem. Then, a donkey caried Jesus back into Jerusalem, “righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Matthew 21.5, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9).


There will also be a day when even animals that once were “enemies” will be at peace with one another: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11.6).


Animals living in harmony: a harbinger of what is also possible with humans. I like that better than Woody Allen’s humor: “The lion and the lamb will lie down together, but the lamb won’t get much rest.”


Karl Franklin

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