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)]

Wild beasts

Some of the animals that we have surveyed have been fairly wild, such as the antelope, but in this analysis we will look at animals that do not often interact with humans.

Solomon, as we have seen previously, was very rich and some exotic and precious animlas appear among his possessions. Apes and baboons, which are also sometimes translated as peacocks, are transported to his court on a fleet of ships [1 Kings 10. 22; 2 Chron 9. 21].

The wolf, leopard and lion (see week 5) lose their aggression and become peaceful in Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom of God: ‘The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together …. The cow and the bear shall graze’ [Isa 11. 6 – 7].  King David, as well as fighting off wild animals to protect his father’s flocks [1 Sam 17. 34 – 36], also has a special relationship with them [1 Sam 17. 34 – 36]. He is said to have ‘played with lions as though they were young goats, and with bears as though they were lambs of the flock’ [Sirach 47. 3].The lion, the bear and the leopard are mentioned in one of Daniels dreams [Dan 7. 6]. These images are recalled in the war against the Dragon in Revelation [Rev 13.2].

A familiar saying that originates in the Bible includes the leopard: ‘Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots’ [Jer 13.23]. In a warning concerning gossip and the power of the tongue, we hear that ‘those who forsake the Lord will fall into its (the tongue’s) power, it will burn among them and will not be put out. It will be sent out against them like a lion; like a leopard it will mangle them’ [Sirach 28. 23]. The stupidity of an ass is recorded in another adage: ‘a stupid person will get understanding when a wild ass is born human’ [Job 11. 12]. In the New Testament we find the basis for another familiar saying: ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ [Mat 7. 15].

The judgement and doom of the nations, before the redeemed are restored, are described by Isaiah. Among the account is a prophecy concerning cities: ‘thorns shall grow over its strongholds, nettles and thistles its fortresses. It shall be the haunt of jackals, an abode for ostriches. Wildcats shall meet with hyenas …’ [Isa 34. 13 – 14]. This is a very hostile picture.

The destructive nature of the wild boar is recorded. In picture language its action among the vine, meaning the people Israel, planted by God is described: ‘the boar from the forest ravages it’ [Ps 80. 13]. In the time of Jesus large herds of wild swine could be seen at the edges of the Jordan, where it flows into the Sea of Galilee and so the boar is sculptured on Assyrian monuments as among reeds. Its Hebrew name, chazir, is from a root meaning to roll in the mud. No reason for the command to abstain from swine’s flesh is given in the law of Moses beyond the general one which forbade using any mammal as food which was not a cloven-footed animal that chewed the cud. Pigs may have been kept by Jews but not eaten. However it was certainly was kept and eaten by Gentiles [Mat 8. 32; Mark 5. 13].

Samson, in one of his unpleasant ploys to overcome the Philistines, uses foxes in a cruel way. You can read this story for yourself [Judges 15.1 – 8]. Of a poorly built wall we hear ‘any fox going up on it would break it down [Neh 4. 3]. Jesus calls Herod a fox [Luke 13.32] and recalls the fox and its home in contrast to himself: ‘foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ [Mat 8 20].

On 4 October we remember St Francis of Assisi. He is well known as a lover of creation and one of the legends about him concerns the taming of a wolf.

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