Faith News

A message from St George parish church


All God’s Creatures

Introduction

Last year I presented a series on the trees of the Bible which ran all through the season of Trinity or Ordinary Time. This year we will engage with the members of the animal kingdom that appear in the Bible.

In this occasional series I may suggest that you to do some additional reading and investigation for yourself and I may not use the most obvious texts.

The list of animals in the account of Creation in Genesis chapter 1 is very familiar but there are other descriptions of creation in different books of the Bible and many more animals appear throughout the text. I will take a very broad approach including living creatures from smallest to largest; virus and gnat to elephant and whale; vertebrates and invertebrates; and various borderline cases. Texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized Edition, with the Apocrypha and Deutero Canonical Books. The collection of animals included in this series is not exhaustive and the names for some creatures may differ in other translations.

Do take some time to look at our creation window: the great west rose window in St George’s.

Consider the variety and beauty of the creatures depicted there.

In the song of praise sung by the three young men, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were thrown into the burning fiery furnace we find:

The three with one voice praised and glorified and blessed God in the furnace:
“Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever.

Bless the Lord, you whales and all that swim in the waters;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all birds of the air;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all wild animals and cattle;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

All who worship the Lord, bless the God of gods,
Sing praise to him and give thanks to him,
For his mercy endures for ever.

                                           [Prayer of Azariah. 28, 29, 57 – 59, 68 (Apocrypha)]

Elephants and Horses

While elephants are not mentioned in the Bible until the time of the Maccabees when they were battling against the Greeks (Seleucuds),  Assyrian writings allude to them in about 1000BCE, at the time of Tiglath Pileser I, when elephant hunting is described.

The story of the persecution of the Jews under Pharaoh Ptolemy IV about 200BCE is recorded in 3 Maccabees. This is probably a legendary story and it has no connection with the Maccabean revolt. Pharaoh decides to round up all the Jews in the kingdom to put them to death. Those who agree to abandon their faith are to be spared but there are so many Jews that he tries to have them killed by setting drunken elephants on them. On the appointed day Pharaoh oversleeps and the plan goes wrong. Even when he leads the elephants into the hippodrome himself, God sends two angels to prevent the slaughter.

In a later encounter the elephant appears in the clashes between the Greeks, who had conquered Judea under Alexander the Great, and the Jewish family called Maccabee (meaning hammer). Antiochus Epiphanes tried to suppress the Jewish religion and, as a result, there was a revolt led by various members of the Maccabee family, in particular Judas Maccabeus. Elephants and horses were used by the Greek army. The short-lived defeat of Antiochus is described in graphic detail [1 Macc 6]. After this Jonathan Maccabeus engages in battle with Apollonius, who has ‘a large troop of cavalry’ [1 Mac 10. 77]. The horses become exhausted and both Simon and Jonathan overcome the army. [1 Mac 10. 77 – 84]. There are further victories over the Greeks and their cavalry [2 Mac 11. 1 – 12; 2 Mac 12. 32 – 37].

In the poetic writings, ivory palaces are mentioned [Ps 45. 8] and, in the Son of Songs, the Lover’s body ‘is ivory work encrusted with sapphires’
[Song 5. 14] while the Bride’s neck ‘is like an ivory tower’ [Song 7.4].

The wealth of King Solomon is well known. The description of his throne notes that it was made of ivory, “elephant’s tooth” [1 Kings 10. 18]. This was brought to Jerusalem by ship along with other precious items once every three years [1 Kings 10. 22]. Ahab also used ivory in buildings [1 Kings 22. 39] and such buildings are also mentioned in Amos [Amos 3. 15] along with ivory couches [Amos 6. 4]. The trade in ivory is again referred to in the vision of Ezekiel [Ez 27. 6, 15]. Another expression of Solomon’s affluence is described in his ‘forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots’ [1 kings 4. 26].

Ivory is also mentioned in the downfall of “Babylon” in the last times [Rev 18.12]. Four horses are described in the visions of Revelation: a white horse, a bright red horse, a black horse and a pale green horse. They each have a particular significance [Rev 6. 2 – 8]. There is a final reference to horses in the end times when ‘the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following (the Word of God) on white horses’ [Rev 19. 14].

 

 

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
Maker of all living creatures:
fish in the sea, birds in the air,
and animals on the land.
May we always praise you
for all your beauty in creation.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
in all your creatures.
Amen