By Mark Mayberry
Jesus occasionally referenced animals to make a point: Speaking of Herod, He said, “Go tell that fox…” (Luke 13:31-33). Speaking of Jerusalem, He said, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it” (Luke 13:34-35). Similarly, the book of Proverbs uses the animal creation to illustrate moral and spiritual truths (Prov. 30:24-31).
Ants communicate the need for preparation: “The ants are not a strong people, but they prepare their food in the summer” (Prov. 30:25; cf. 6:6-11). In like manner, we should be continually storing up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21; 1 Tim. 6:17-19).
The shephanim communicate the need for protection: “The shephanim are not mighty people, yet they make their houses in the rocks” (Prov. 30:26; Psa. 104:18). The NASB marginal note says these were small, shy, furry animals (Hyrax syriacus) found in the peninsula of the Sinai, northern Israel, and the region round the Dead Sea, identified in the KJV as “coney” and in the original NASB as “badgers.” Like Moses of old, those who enjoy God’s favor find protection in the cleft of the rock (Exod. 33:17-23; Psa. 18:2).
The locust communicate the importance of joint participation: “the locusts have no king, Yet all of them go out in ranks” (Prov. 30:27). Although individual locust are small, and rather helpless, God used a locust plague to destroy ancient Egypt (Exod. 10:12-15). Individually, we may be weak, but Christians derive strength from their fellowship with God and likeminded believers (Rom. 8:31-39; 1 John 1:1-4).
The lizard communicates the importance of presence: “The lizard you may grasp with the hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces” (Prov. 30:28). Just as small creatures may be found in king’s palaces (although they have no rightful place in such magnificent dwellings), in like manner believers are seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly places (although we do not merit such blessings, but are sinners saved by grace) (Eph. 2:4-10).
Gazelles & Birds
Gazelles and birds communicate the importance of flight (Prov. 6:1-5). Just as animals flee from danger, we must flee from sexual immorality, idolatry, covetousness, and youthful lusts (1 Cor. 6:18-20; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:22).
Dogs communicate, in various ways, the concept of folly (Prov. 26:11; 26:17). As a dog returns to its vomit, Christians sometimes return to the defilements of this world (2 Pet. 2:20-22). As it is folly to grab a snarling dog by the ears, Christians should avoid the folly of unnecessary strife (2 Tim. 2:23-26).
Lions communicate the concept of ferocity (Prov. 19:12; 20:2; 28:15). Just as the roaring of a lion strikes fear in lesser creatures, we also recognize that such imagery has two-fold application in the spiritual realm, depicting both Satan, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8-9), and Jesus Christ, who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12; Rev. 5:1-10).
Serpents communicate the concept of fatality (Prov. 23:31-32). Just as venomous snakes pose a physical threat to life and limb, so also symbolically do wine (Prov. 23:29-35), corrupt religious leaders, and false religion threaten our spiritual well-being (Matt. 23:29-33; 2 Cor. 11:2-4).
God created the world and all it contains. How majestic and how many are His works! His wisdom is seen throughout the earth, in creatures of the sea and the land. Let us learn the lessons that are communicated in the physical/natural realm, while being especially attentive to those communicated through Sacred Scripture (Psa. 19:1-14; 104:24-30).