As you read through the Scriptures, over and over imagery from the animal world is used to teach. From the Proverbs encouraging us to go to the ants to learn diligent work (Proverbs 6:6-11); to the Psalmist or Paul telling us wicked persecutors are like dogs (Psalm 59:14-15; Philippians 3:2); to our Lord telling us to look to how His Father feeds the birds so we will not worry (Matthew 6:26), the Scriptures are packed with animal lessons. Indeed, the Lord squeezed four creatures into one sentence when He taught His followers, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as shrewd as serpents and as gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Have you ever pondered that the Lord not only designed the animals for naturalistic functions such as pollinating plants or providing you with food and clothing, but to be an intentional, constant reflection to you of spiritual lessons? When you read Romans 1:20,
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…”
perhaps you think of the stars and skies declaring His glory (and you should – Psalm 19:1f), but are not the animals also these teachers of divine attributes? For incredibly Christ condescended in not only using animals to teach you about yourself, but also about Him. After all, lambs and lions teach us of Jesus the Lamb, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Those rivers of blood flowing from bulls, goats, and lambs in the Old Testament are certainly one of the most obvious ways we see this. From God hiding us under the shadow of His wings (Psalm 37:7) to sending His Spirit like a dove (Matthew 3:16), “zoo-morphisms” like anthropomorphisms abound in Scripture. Certainly we are not to make idols of God as four-footed or winged creatures like the children of Israel did. Yet does not this use of natural imagery show us it is not only children who need visual object lessons?
So though I am a city boy with few animals about and certainly no ornithologist, still I find He sends the lessons crawling, running, and flying my way.
From home Celia called me at church excitedly. ”Dad, the grosbeaks are back at the feeders!” Last year for the first time we had seen rose-breasted grosbeaks. I even blogged about it. As I checked the dates, it was exactly one day shy of a year ago we had seen them. As I marveled over how they could return on almost the exact anniversary despite the vastly different spring weather we have, I realized they were really not even one day off. This is a leap year! The birds’ migrations serve to show us that we too should follow closely the ways of the Lord. Jeremiah 8:7 says, “Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtle-dove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.”
Speaking of gross things migrating, we get the grossest slugs leaving trails of slime around our porches as they go after our flowers each spring. The first big one showed up one night recently. As they munch away at our begonias, we have sought ways to get rid of them. The most effective way we were told was to put out a shallow dish of beer. They are drawn to it, drink it, and then die by drowning (you can even watch a YouTube video to see how it is done). Sure enough, the big one went right to it, and the next morning 8-10 small ones (underage drinkers) were found in the dish. In a way it is funny, and there are many possible illustrations to be found here. But surely it takes Scripture to make me serious enough about sin and evil men to think of prayers of imprecation when I see slugs. ”Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along, like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun” (Psalm 58:8).
In meeting with a young engaged couple, we looked at Genesis 2 where the Lord declares that it was not good for Adam to be alone. To help him sense his “alone-ness,” the Lord brought the animals to Adam to name them. The Scriptures say, “Yet he found no helper suitable to him.” Undoubtedly, this meant that Adam saw, in contrast with the beasts, his uniqueness as one made in the image of God. He found no companionship from them that was suitable, or fitting, or complementary, to him. Matthew Henry acknowledges another possible angle on this unsuitability:
Some make these to be the words of Adam himself; observing all the creatures come to him by couples to be named, he thus intimates his desire to his Maker:—“Lord, these have all helps meet for them; but what shall I do? Here is never a one for me.”
Perhaps Adam would have seen all the animals paired up in twos, much like Noah would have at the ark. If it is not even good for the animals to be alone, much less is it for man.
Our cat, Pippin, which we keep in the garage but bring in periodically during the day, is usually fairly mellow. But he gets jealous easily. When the kids keep a lame bird for a while, or if someone brings a dog over, or he sees us give attention to our neighbor’s cat, he goes a bit psycho. He starts hissing and swatting at us, and we have to get him back in the garage for a while to settle him down. It must be he wants us to know we are a one-pet family. Unlike a dog, you never feel loved by a cat. But – and here we kid ourselves – a protective jealousy surely is one facet of love?
Our new neighbors’ cats are much better off than ours. You would have to see their lighted, air-conditioned cat house to understand just how much better. Anyway, they also have the heftiest of bulldogs named Arlo. He lumbers around a little, lays around mostly, and the cats come up and look at Arlo as he lays there trying to figure out what he is. My children get many laughs as Arlo pays them no attention whatsoever. A rather humorous reminder of how the wolf and the lamb will one day dwell together.
On a bike ride in the park in town near our house with my daughter, we heard crows cawing loudly at something. We realized they were following a red fox on the other side of the riverbank from us. We followed along as well from our side, and sat for quite a while delighted to watch the fox, who had shaken the crows, lounging on the bank slope. At one point, hoping to get a closer view, we went down the path, crossed a bridge, and came to the spot on the bank to peer over to see him. Alas, he was gone. Yet in the five minutes that it took us to ride back to the other side, he had reappeared. When God called the false prophets “foxes among ruins” (Ezekiel 13:4), He was speaking of this very ability to hide at the crucial times when truth was most needed.
“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;
and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.”