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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)]

The Dog

Gideon, one of the Judges who lead the people, is told how to choose the men for his army. He is to watch how they drink from stream and pick those who ‘lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps’ but those who ‘kneel down to drink putting their hands to their mouth’ are to be rejected [Judges 7. 5]. This is a confusing way of choosing. Depending on which source and which translation is used opposite conclusions may be reached.

However, one interpretation involves the fact that humans cannot lap like dogs because their tongues are not able to curl under. If the men drank using their hand as a tongue then this inefficient manner was preferred because the man remained largely upright and could look around, whereas those who knelt with their heads down were less alert or ready to move quickly. What do you think? Those chosen were also a smaller group. God does not need strength in numbers to conquer an enemy since it is God’s power that gives the victory.

One of the conflicts between King Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah, the prophet, concerned ownership of Naboth’s vineyard. The King and his wife conspired to obtain the vineyard. What they planned is in direct contravention of the Law [Lev 25]. They killed Naboth and left his bleeding body to be licked by the dogs.  Elijah pronounced God’s punishment on Ahab for this unjust act: the ‘dogs will also lick up you blood’ [1 Kings 21. 19] and for Jezebel ‘the dogs shall eat Jezebel’ [1 Kings 21]. Ahab repents but the punishment is eventually inflicted on his son. However, when Ahab died the dogs licked up the blood that washed off his chariot [1 Kings 22. 38].

In Ecclesiastes, in its usual pessimistic vein, we read ‘whoever is joined with the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion’ [Ecc 9. 4]. This is explained in the following verse which gives an idea of the attitude towards life after death in this book.

Judith is the archetypal Jewish woman, as her name implies. Whereas men are usually the heroes of a story, in the book that bears her name, she brings God’s deliverance to the people. However she also maintains a traditional role as she protects her family from the oppressors and refuses to allow their assimilation. As a childless widow Judith has a very low status but she uses her own particular weapon (read for yourself) to destroy Holofernes, the leader of the enemy [Judith 13. 6 – 8]: a rather bloodthirsty story. But where is the reference to a dog? Judith in her beguiling of Holofernes tells him: ‘You will drive them like sheep that have no shepherd, and no dog will so much as growl at you [Jud 11. 19].

(In another story from the Apocrypha, the dog appears as a companion to Tobias who is sent on a journey by his father, Tobit. The archangel Raphael accompanies Tobias and a dog joins them [Tobit 6. 2]. The dog remains with them on their adventure and follows ‘along behind them’ [Tobit 11. 4]. There will be more of the story of Tobias later.

Dogs gather around the table to catch the dropped crumbs and this observation is used by the Canaanite woman to justify herself when she asks Jesus to heal her daughter [Mat 15.21 – 28]. In Luke the dogs lick the sores of Lazarus outside the rich man’s gate [Luke 16. 21]

To refer to a person in the same breath as a dog was to insult them: ‘like a dog returns to its vomit, is a fool who reverts to his folly’ [Prov 26. 112 Peter 2. 22].  Those who are saved will enter the heavenly city but ‘outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood’ [Rev 22. 15]. Waste meat was also thrown to the dogs [Ex 22.31]. This makes dogs unclean by association with dead bodies and with blood: not the picture we have of a pet dog. But dogs were also valued as they would work with flocks as they do today {Job 30. 1] and they were loyal companions and guardians of the flock or of the home.

Further information about dogs at that time and place may be found here

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