Even with a somewhat cursory knowledge of the Bible, many people could be aware of the vast landscape of references therein to members of the animal kingdom. Perhaps we shouldn’t be at all surprised by this given that the first human, so we are told, was long ago entrusted with the weighty responsibility of giving names to all those animals.
Throughout the biblical witness, these living creatures make numerous appearances, served varying purposes, and, on occasion, were mysteriously and even miraculously assigned particular human attributes. Additionally, we can find locations where animals are spoken of rather metaphorically, too!
Right out of the gate, or shall we say, garden, the infamous serpent slithers and speaks among the trees beguiling that most-innocent first couple. Turn plenty of pages, almost to the end of the book in fact, and there the Apostle Peter expounds on the devil, admonishing how the Evil One “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”
On a lighter note, literally and figuratively, the psalmist takes a turn at animal imagery. Gracefully, the writer creates a picturesque comparison between us earthlings and that of a deer. Would that us all, as a “deer longs for flowing streams,” have souls in equal pursuit of God? Nearby, a couple of the Old Testament prophets would invite us to leap like one, too, and have feet that know of this ruminant mammal’s strength and agility.
Prior to his dramatic fiery chariot exit, the prophet Elijah was once served both meat and bread by ravens at the Wadi Cherith. And speaking of fowl, some credit could even be given to that rooster’s timely crowing following Simon Peter’s trifecta of predicted denials of Jesus by the charcoal fire.
To this all, ponder a more lofted bird — as compared to the gravity-bound rooster — of that dove from on high having descended as the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism. As alluring as that may be, who isn’t somewhat confounded by how it is that followers are sent out like “sheep among wolves” and are called upon to be “wise as serpents” while remaining “innocent as doves.”
Speaking of sheep, the faithful among us certainly recall how Jesus, on the one hand, was announced as the “Lamb of God” who comes to take away the sin of the world. Such a declaration stands in stark contrast to another of the prophets implicating humanity and our collective shortcoming as ovine-like, or specifically, errant sheep who have all gone astray.
Time and textual limitations prevent an excursus into the ecstatic visions of the ancient Song of Solomon. There the alluring scribe pens maritally-romantic imagery of how one might be like that of a gazelle or young stag, not to mention that of doves, goats, ewes, and yes, fawns!
Pedaling my way around Putnam County these summer months, I pay close attention to the diverse animal kingdom arising from this mostly rural countryside. Occasionally I must dig down deep to outrun a charging dog, dodge a chicken trying to cross the road, steer clear of a dead skunk in the middle of the road, hold my breath near hog or dairy farms, and gasp in relief as a deer springs, unannounced, from a cornfield.
Making my bicycling-way northwest, just outside Glandorf, I soon come upon a rather isolated road known only as “Road I.”
After a gentle incline and a gradual curve, a small grassy clearing appears to the north bringing into view a massive nest in one of the tall trees lining the river. Remembering to turn and look heavenward, in recent months I catch a glimpse of two majestic bald eagles perched on the nest’s edge and again on a penultimate tree branch! It’s a captivating sight!
Thrilled to see them in such a stoic and prominent pose, I recall learning of their unique capacity to spot even a small rabbit in tall grass nearly two miles away. I cannot but wonder what far off goings-on they’re witnessing from their elevated post.
Yet again I am internally transported to the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah who envisioned, “they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Even as I tire from my ride, I wish I could soar, as they are able, to take in the length and breadth of it all and alerting me to all that lies ahead.
This illusive warning from on high brings to mind one final animal, mysteriously unprecedented, from the Old Testament book of Numbers. Though a common farm animal, this one proves to be extraordinary with its ability to speak.
Not to be confused with Shrek’s “Donkey,” voiced-over by the hilarious Eddie Murphy, a man by the name of Balaam had himself a donkey.
One day, while Balaam was seated upon the mischievous mule, the animal seemed to have a mind of its own. Scolded by its owner, the donkey responded by talking back to the owner thereby saving Balaam from imminent death up ahead.
We can all use a “donkey” like that, I do believe, relentlessly standing firm and preventing an unwise or destructive path.
If ever deemed worthily to serve in such a capacity for a wayward friend, even I would not be offended if someone called me an “Eeyore,” or some other word!
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org