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)]

Antelopes and deer

Deer were once common in Israel and are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures many times but there are few wild deer now because of deforestation and hunting. One of the problems in trying to identify the specific deer types within the Bible is that, as in English, in the Bible the term ‘deer’ can refer to any deer-like animal and there are several words that are translated ‘deer’.

These animals appear in Deuteronomy in a section of the teaching on how, having entered the Promised Land, the people were to deal with places that have been devoted to the worship of idols. There was to be a place, chosen by God, for worship. It was not at this stage to be Jerusalem. Outside this area or Sanctuary no sacrifices were permitted. However the killing of animals for their meat was allowed anywhere because, once settled, people would not necessarily be close to the Tent of Meeting. The animals that could be eaten included gazelle, antelope, and deer [Deut 12. 15; 14. 5]. They were sometimes caught using a net [Isaiah 51. 20]. Deer, gazelles and roebucks  were on the menu in the court of King Solomon [1 Kings 4.22 – 23].

Their speed is celebrated: ‘Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle’ [2 Sam 218] and ‘save yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’ [Prov 6. 5]. Their grace is also noted, particularly in poetic texts: ‘he made my feet like the feet of deer, and set me secure on the heights’ [2 Sam 22. 34, Ps 18.33; Hab 3. 19]. Speaking of the agility of these animals, in Isaiah we find: ‘then the lame shall leap like a deer’ [Is 35. 6].

Because they need pasture and water to survive deer are vulnerable: ‘from daughter Zion has departed all her majesty, Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture’ [Lam 1. 5]  and ‘even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn because there is no grass’ [Jer 14. 5]. Similarly ‘as a deer longs for the flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God’ [Ps 42. 1].

As a symbol of love the deer is referenced in Proverbs when speaking of a wife: ‘rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe’ [Prov 5. 18 – 19]. It is found several times in the Song of Songs. In an oath there is reference to gazelles and does: ‘I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the wild does: do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!’  [Song of Songs 2:7; 3: 5]. The Beloved is described: ‘My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag’ [S of S 2. 9] and ‘Until the day breathes and the shadows flee turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains’ [S of S 2. 14]. The beauty and romance of these animals is alluded to:  ‘Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies’ [S of S 4:5; 7:3].

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