ANIMALS. This article deals with all kinds of animal life appearing in the Bible, with the exception of birds, which are the subject of a separate entry. The word “animal” itself is used in Gen.7.1-Gen.7.24 in connection with all wild creatures taken into the ark by Noah.
Adder. See Snake.
Ant. The two references in Proverbs (6:6; 30:25) cite the excellent example given to a sluggard and no doubt other people. Study of the ant’s behavior will provide wisdom, declares the author, drawing special attention to the ant’s wise use of its “little strength” to “store up [its] food” and prepare for the future.
The type of ant mentioned here is the harvester ant, found in regions of relative food shortage and therefore dependent on a diet of seeds. There are thousands of species world-wide belonging to this insect family, Formicidae. Most species maintain underground colonies that, like those of bees, work on a division-of-labor principle. Some attend to the cultivation of fungi, others milk the aphids for their secreted honeydew, others guard the colony. Most ants are wingless sterile workers, but the short-lived male has wings.
Antelope. See Gazelle.
Ape. The modern use of the word has more specific reference to a species excluding the monkey. The biblical record did not anticipate our contemporary classification when it recorded that King Solomon’s fleet journeyed to Tarshish every three years and returned with “gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons” (1Kgs.10.22; 2Chr.9.21). Although the precise location of Tarshish is uncertain, it is likely that the rhesus monkey of India is meant by the word “ape.”
Asp. See Snake.
Ass. See Donkey.
Baboon. The NIV translation (1Kgs.10.22; 2Chr.9.21) rendered by KJV, NASB, and RSV as “peacock.” (Peacocks were for generations an adornment of royal courts.) A large, short-tailed monkey, the baboon is found mainly in Africa, but the Arabian baboon was once considered sacred to the Egyptians. With its doglike appearance, the baboon lives in the wild in large social groups.
The coney is confirmed as unclean (Lev.11.5) and is a rock-dweller (hence, perhaps, “rock badger”; see niv footnote in Lev.11.5; Ps.104.18). It is similar in appearance to a rabbit, but for the absence of a tail and comparatively short legs and ears. The four-toed foot of the coney has earned it the description, “little cousin of the elephant.” Vegetarian, with molars similar to those of the rhinoceros, the coney has a jaw action reminiscent of an animal “chewing the cud,” though its digestive system does not allow for rumination. Although it is timid, the coney is a very active creature. It is found throughout the Middle East and much of Africa.
Bald Locust. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Bat. The Bible classifies bats as unclean (Lev.11.19; Deut.14.18), while Isaiah’s vision of the last days refers to people throwing their various idols made of precious metals to “rodents and bats” (Isa.2.20). Although since biblical times rumor and legend have given the bat an unfavorable reputation, this only true flying mammal is wonderfully equipped with a natural radar system for locating its prey—usually insects. An estimated two thousand different types of bats are found throughout the world, most of them nocturnal in habit. Some tropical species are fruit-eating, but those found in Bible lands are usually insect-eating. Gregarious creatures—living in great numbers in remote caves, for example—bats are classified with birds in Scripture, as in the Leviticus and Deuteronomy references above.
Bear. With a mainly vegetable diet, the bear could have been far more frequently encountered in an afforested Palestine than is sometimes supposed. The bear killed by David (1Sam.17.34-1Sam.17.37) was the Syrian brown bear, Ursus syriacus, the species referred to elsewhere in the OT. Reference is made to the ferocity of a female bear robbed of her cubs (2Sam.17.8), and a readiness to attack humans is indicated in 2Kgs.2.23-2Kgs.2.25, when two bears mauled some forty-two youths who had been jeering at Elisha’s bald head. A bald man was not a common sight, and the attitude of the youths seems to have been more threatening than mere banter. The RSV refers to the attacking animals as “she bears,” surmising perhaps that they had been provoked to defend their cubs, apparently or really threatened by the youths. The sole reference to cubs is made in 2Sam.17.8. In terms of a symbol for other powers, the bear featured prominently in visions given to Isaiah, Daniel, and John.
Beast. This generic description is derived from some thirteen Hebrew and five Greek words, providing the following criteria:
1. A mammal, not including man and clearly different from birds and fishes and sometimes from reptiles also. Gen.1.30 refers to “all the beasts of the earth,” as distinct from “birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground.”
2. A wild, undomesticated animal, as in Lev.26.22 and Isa.13.21; Isa.34.14 (“desert creatures”). Mark.1.13 refers to the Lord’s time in the desert with “wild animals.”
3. Any of the “inferior” animals, in relation to the Mosaic Law’s definition of ceremonially clean or unclean animals or beasts. Eccl.3.19 mentions the general mortality of the animal creation and of man himself. Acts.28.5 alludes to one of the inferior creatures, as Paul shakes from his hand and into the fire a viper that attacked him, with no ill effects to himself.
4. An apocalyptic symbol of brute force, opposed to God’s rule and thereby to man’s best interests. In Dan.7.3 four great beasts symbolize four successive world empires—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. In Rev.13.1-Rev.13.10 a beast coming out of the sea is identified as a world ruler with great, if temporary, authority. Many take the beast that comes out of the earth (Rev.13.11-Rev.13.18) to be Antichrist.
Bee, Hornet. The description “hornet” applies to several species of large social asps belonging to the family Vespidae. Usually colored yellow and black, the hornet is a medium-sized insect deriving its diet from flies. Its paper nest may be above or below ground level and, though basically beneficial to man, the hornet possesses a severe sting and an evident determination to deliver it when stimulated to do so.
Bees—the agents of pollination—have four wings. They may be social or solitary in behavior. Colonies function on what may be described as a division-of-labor system, with as many as fifty thousand members. Expansion is not unlimited, however, and swarms represent waves of emigration from the old hive (which remains in use) to a new home to be created elsewhere. Honey is made from the nectar collected by bees in their pollination activity, developed in the honey sac of the workers, and stored in the wax cells of the honeycomb.
Although there is little evidence that the ancient Hebrews cultivated bees for the manufacture of honey, the link was obvious enough. Bees would be plentiful in any land flowing with milk and honey, as indeed they always have been in Palestine. The abundance of flora in the land insured a large bee community.
Beetle. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Behemoth. The graphic description in Job.40.15-Job.40.24 has a footnote in the NIV and KJV suggesting the hippopotamus or the elephant. The footnote in the RSV suggests “hippopotamus.”
Sometimes described as “the river horse of Africa,” the hippopotamus is certainly a herbivorous heavyweight, sometimes reaching four tons (three and one-half metric tons). Despite its ungainly, even lethargic appearance, it is versatile in terms of its environment. It can swim or float, sink to the bottom of the river bed, and run along on the bottom. The species Hippopotamus amphibius is found in Central Africa; the pygmy hippopotamus, Choeropsis liberiensis, is found in Liberia. Like the elephant, the hippopotamus is a source of ivory through the large tusks in its lower jaw. There was extensive trading in ivory in biblical times, with at least a dozen biblical references to its use. King Solomon overlaid his ivory throne with gold (1Kgs.10.18); King Ahab made great use of ivory in his palace.
The elephant had many practical uses in ancient times, even in battle, as 1 and 2 Maccabees confirm. The elephant, with its instinctive grandeur, may better fit some of Job’s words, as when “his tail sways like a cedar” (Job.40.17). This could possibly, and certainly more appropriately, refer to the elephant’s trunk. One scholar has suggested that Job might have seen one of the last dinosaurs, but the identity of “behemoth” may never be decided.
Boar. See Pig.
Bull. See Cattle.
Butterfly. See Moth, Butterfly.
Calf. See Cattle.
Camel, Dromedary. The importance of the camel to life in Bible lands is confirmed by the many references (over sixty) to it in Scripture. As the original root word is almost identical in Hebrew and Arabic, one may conclude that the camel was well known to the patriarchs, long before the horse came into widespread use. Despite its reportedly grumbling disposition, the camel is well named the “ship of the desert,” with its marvelous adaptation to terrain and climate. It can travel long distances without the need to take in water and can withstand high temperatures while being surefooted in undulating terrain. Of further value to the desert-dweller is the camel’s long life, perhaps forty or fifty years.
Two basic forms are found: the single-humped dromedary and the slower-moving Bactrian camel with its two humps. The dromedary has longer legs and can move considerably faster than the other. With a load that may be up to 400 pounds (182 kg.), the Bactrian camel may cover little more than 30 miles (50 km.) in a single day; a dromedary, lightly burdened, can cover up to 150 miles (250 km.). The two forms are thus complementary: the dromedary for personal travel or the fast conveying of important messages, the Bactrian camel for commerce and trade.
Probably the most familiar biblical reference to the camel is that of Matt.19.24, in which our Lord compares the difficulty of rich men securing entry into the kingdom of God with that of a camel making its way through the eye of a needle, i.e., the small gate permitting travelers to enter a city after the main gates have been closed. In order to get through the small gateway, the camel had to kneel, be relieved of its load, and then be urged through the gateway on its knees. As camels are as likely to complain when being unloaded as when being loaded, the illustration would have reminded hearers of the late traveler’s exasperation on occasion.
Camels feature prominently in OT narrative and are included among Abraham’s acquisitions while in Egypt (Gen.12.16). Gen.24.1-Gen.24.67 focuses on aspects of contemporary travel, as Abraham’s servant goes out to find a wife for Isaac. The journey to NW Mesopotamia is accomplished with ten camels—the encounter with Rebekah commencing as the camels are watered.
Inventory of Jacob’s wealth includes camels (Gen.30.43), as does that of Job (Job.1.3; Job.42.12).
The camel was ceremonially unclean (Lev.11.4), though its milk was utilized (Gen.32.15). Even in our technologically advanced age, the camel remains an important aspect of economy in Bible lands. Its flesh and milk are valued by some inhabitants, together with the use of its hair.
Earlier translations, especially KJV, referred to dromedaries in 1Kgs.4.28 and Esth.8.10 but these are now translated as (swift) horses. Elsewhere the NIV refers to camel in a generic sense, i.e., dromedary as well as Bactrian.
Cankerworm. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Caterpillar. See Moth, Butterfly.
Cattle. Cattle are mentioned in the first chapter of the Bible (“livestock” in niv), symbolic of their importance to the well-being of the human race. Eleven Hebrew and two Greek words are translated to indicate cattle, the species descended from wild members of the family Bovidae, true ruminants with four-chambered stomachs for leisurely and thorough mastication.
Canaan was portrayed as a place of great prosperity, a place flowing with milk and honey—an abundance of cattle and good grazing ground. The patriarchs were accounted wealthy largely on the basis of their ownership of cattle, as in the case of Abraham (Gen.13.2). Included in Jacob’s gift for his brother Esau were “forty cows and ten bulls” (Gen.32.15) taken from his own substantial herds. Joseph’s destiny was shaped by Pharaoh’s dream of seven cows, sleek and fat, succeeded by seven cows, ugly and gaunt (Gen.41.1-Gen.41.7), symbolic of years of plenteous harvests followed by bad ones. Joseph’s life as prime minister and his relationship to his formerly estranged brothers includes reference to their cattle (Gen.45.10; Gen.46.34). Loss of cattle represented a catastrophe, yet the Egyptians did not heed Moses’ warning (Exod.9.1-Exod.9.7) of the destruction of their cattle as part of God’s judgment. Later, Moses' defeat of the Midianites brought considerable “plunder” includng 72,000 cattle (Num.31.33).
Calves (young bulls or cows) were valued for food as well as sacrifice. A choice, tender calf was chosen by Abraham in entertaining his three mysterious visitors (Gen.18.7). Visions given to Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John included the calf, and Jesus concluded the story of the prodigal’s homecoming with a great feast—at which a calf was prepared as appropriate to the celebration.
Calves used for sacrifice were usually one-year-old males, specified by Moses in Lev.9.3, Lev.9.8. Corruption of the sacrificial aspect resulted in occasional lapses into calf worship, similar to that followed by the Egyptians. Moses’ anger at witnessing such behavior was so great that he broke the tablets of the law that were in his hands (Exod.32.19).
A young bull was brought as a sin offering (Lev.4.15ff.), whereas Gideon’s sacrifice (Judg.6.25-Judg.6.28) involved the use of a fully grown bull from his father’s herd. At times of national and religious revival in the OT, substantial numbers of bulls, as well as rams and lambs, were offered in sacrifice. King Solomon’s temple included a molten sea of brass supported by twelve bulls cast in bronze (1Kgs.7.25). Bulls were important in the lives of the people and for the nation, playing a part in the sin offerings for the congregation and in consecration of the Levites and the work of the priests. Yet David also made the bull a figure of threat in distress when, hunted by Saul, he wrote, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me” (Ps.22.12).
A heifer is a young cow. It was often used in sacrifice, or at the direct request of the Lord. Abraham killed a heifer on direct instruction (Gen.15.9), and Samuel was instructed by the Lord to take a heifer for sacrifice. Religious ceremonial law involving the use of a heifer is restricted to Deut.21.1-Deut.21.9. Ashes of the red heifer were used to remove ceremonial uncleanness, as in purification of the leper or of one who had touched a dead person (Num.19.9).
From the bright perspective of the Christian era, Paul encouraged converts from the Jewish tradition by referring to the fact that Christ’s finished work superseded the old forms of sacrifice (Heb.9.13).
While found in the KJV, the word “kine” is no longer widely used, and in NIV it is translated “cow.”
During the creation, God made the livestock according to their kinds (Gen.1.25). In Exod.9.1-Exod.9.35 the word is used in referring to the disaster that would befall Egypt if Pharaoh refused to permit the Israelites to leave in peace: the plague would fall “on your livestock in the field—on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats.” In Num.32.1-Num.32.42 the word “livestock” is synonymous with “very large herds and flocks” (Num.32.1).
Oxen, in addition to their use for food and in religious ceremonies, were important working members of the agricultural community. Six covered carts and twelve oxen were presented to the Lord’s work at the dedication of the tabernacle (Num.7.3), to “be used in the work at the Tent of Meeting” (Num.7.5). Property rights pertaining to oxen, as well as those relevant to other animals, were defined by the Lord (Exod.22.1) in recognition of their importance to the well-being of man. Jesus referred to the care owed to animals (including oxen) in his reponse to those who attacked him for healing on the Sabbath (Luke.13.15). There were, even for the strict Sabbatarians, “animal rights” that were to be observed, whatever the day of the week.
Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen when Elijah encountered him (1Kgs.19.19), just as Amos was following the plow when he heard the call of God. Although the ox is not especially regarded today as a religious symbol, it should be noted that Ezekiel’s vision of the four celestial living creatures referred to one having the face of an ox (Ezek.1.10).
The unicorn, distinct from the mythological figure of that name, was probably the extinct auroch. When seen in profile, it gave the appearance of having one horn rather than two. A very powerful animal, standing some six feet (two m.) high, the auroch was once a familiar sight in Bible lands. NIV, ASV, and RSV all render “wild ox” to correct the mistranslation in KJV (Num.23.22; Deut.33.17).
The yearling is referred to in Isaiah’s vision of the Millennium (Isa.11.6; “fatling” in kjv, nasb). “Fattened calf” is found in NIV in 2Sam.6.13 and 1Kgs.1.9-1Kgs.1.25.
Chameleon. See Lizard.
Chamois. See Sheep.
Cobra. See Snake.
Cockatrice. See Snake.
Colt. See Horse.
Coney. See Badger.
Coral. Red Coral, Corallium nobile, is native to the central and western Mediterranean and was greatly prized in ancient times. Its substance consists of the calcareous skeleton of a branching colony of polyps that remains long after the jellylike body of the polyp has perished and disappeared. Used in the making of jewelry, coral is mentioned in Job.28.18 in a celebrated passage on the value of wisdom. Ezekiel’s lament concerning Tyre (Ezek.27.16) includes reference to trade in coral, which might be expected of a coastal city.
The Hebrew word translated as “coral” in the passages above has the alternative translation of “too high” in Prov.24.7, where wisdom is said to be “too high” to a fool.
Cow. See Cattle.
Creeping Thing, Crawling Thing. The description is used in several versions including NIV in referring to various land animals.
Cricket. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Crocodile. See Lizard.
Deer. The family of ruminant mammals, Cervidae, which includes deer, elks, reindeer, moose, found world-wide except in Australia. The deer is included in the list of animals that may be eaten (Deut.14.5) and also in Solomon’s list of daily provisions (1Kgs.4.23). As with other Bible animals, the special qualities of the deer are praised as models for human brings. David’s song of praise compares his feet to those of the deer (2Sam.22.34). Ps.42.1-Ps.42.11 begins with a comparison of David’s soul’s thirst for God with that of a deer panting for streams of water. The writer of Lamentations likens the plight of princes to that of deer without pasture (Lam.1.6). Isaiah’s description of the job of the redeemed anticipates the leaping of the lame like a deer (Isa.35.6).
The doe, the female of the species (traditionally of the fallow deer), “bears beautiful fawns” (Gen.49.21). Prov.5.19 compares the wife of one’s youth with “a loving doe, a graceful deer.” The Lord inquires of Job, “Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?” (Job.39.1).
The word “fallow deer” is rendered “deer” by NIV. The meaning of fallow deer more particularly applies today to a smaller deer found in the forests and mountains of Europe and northern Asia. KJV uses “fallow deer” and “roebuck” in 1Kgs.4.23.
The “hart” of KJV and RSV (niv “deer”) was either the red deer of Europe and Asia (Cervus elephus) or the Syrian deer (Cervus barbatus). The former is similar to the American elk, but smaller. Harts are stags or male deer, the word “stag” appearing only in the Song of Songs (1Kgs.2.9, 1Kgs.2.17; 1Kgs.8.14), and then in a lyrical sense. A single hart may weigh as much as 300 pounds (136 kg.). Every year the six-branched antlers are shed, to be replaced by new ones in due course.
The female hind is also translated in NIV as “deer” (Ps.18.13). Habakkuk’s well-known statement that the Lord made his “feet like hinds' feet” in KJV (Hab.3.19) becomes “like the feet of a deer” in NIV. Female red deer, i.e., hinds, are not listed as items of food in the original Hebrew text. See also Gazelle.
Desert Creature. A term used in Isaiah’s prophecies against Babylon (Isa.13.21), Tyre (Isa.23.13), and Edom (Isa.34.14). Jeremiah’s prophecy against Babylon also refers to desert creatures (Jer.50.39). No particular species is intended, and the description seemingly applies to a variety of wild creatures, great or small (though primarily the latter) that would be found in places remote from human habitation.
Devourer. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Doe. See Deer.
Dog. Domesticated members of the Canidae family to which the wolf and jackal also belong. The Bible’s forty references to dogs are not complimentary to these unclean animals. Prov.26.11 reflects a contemporary opinion that dogs return to their own vomit, while their readiness to bark at people or animals is mentioned in Exod.11.7. Here, however, God declares that among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal. In NT times dogs—often strays—were regarded as nuisances. One licked the sores of the beggar named Lazarus (Luke.16.21). Job’s reference to his sheep dogs (Job.30.1) suggests that good training could make even these despised animals useful, since he was hardly a man to take chances with his stock. Especially evocative is the Canaanite woman’s plea for help, met when she reminded the Lord that “even the dogs” were permitted to eat the crumbs from the master’s table (Matt.15.26-Matt.15.27).
KJV uses the word “greyhound” once (Prov.30.31), listed among things that move well. NASB, NEB, and RSV opt for “strutting cock”—an ancient breed of dog known in Egypt and thought of being capable of speeds up to forty miles (sixty-seven km.) an hour. It is also translated “war-horse” (asv), “fighting cock” (mlb), and “a strutting rooster” (niv).
Donkey. This small mammal, genus equus, with some similarity in appearance to a horse (though usually smaller), has served mankind for thousands of years. It is probably descended from the Abyssinian or Somali wild ass (donkey). Among its special characteristics are endurance and sure-footedness, though occasional stupidity is not unknown. Found wild in semidesert regions, the species includes the African and Asian varieties.
NIV and NASB usually translate as “donkey” the six Hebrew and three Greek words rendered as “ass” in KJV and RSV. NIV translates the Hebrew for “he-ass” and “she-ass” as “male donkey” and “female donkey.”
Abraham’s journey of testing, with his son Isaac, was made with a donkey (Gen.22.3, Gen.22.5). Balaam’s donkey was given the temporary power of speech in order to rebuke the foolish prophet (Num.22.21-Num.22.33). In a rhetorical question Job (Job.6.5) asks if a wild donkey would bray if preoccupied with good pasture.
Donkeys were a fundamental part of the economy, and a man’s wealth was measured by the number he owned. Sometimes donkeys were acquired in battle as plunder, as when the Israelites captured some 61,000 from the Midianites (Num.31.34). But Israelites were commanded neither to covet a donkey nor to attempt to plow with a donkey and an ox together (Deut.5.21; Deut.22.10).
Donkeys undertook heavy work on the farm but were used for personal transportation too. White donkeys were highly prized by their owners, who would in any case be careful of their choice of an animal for a long journey. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, celebrated on Palm Sunday in the church calendar, fulfilled the prophecy of Zech.9.9 as he came “riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Matt.21.2-Matt.21.7). The donkey did not then have the lowly status it has today but was an appropriate choice for a procession of importance.
The mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a horse mare, and is itself sterile. The Israelites were forbidden to breed mules under a general prohibition on mating different animals (Lev.19.19), but mules were secured in the course of trading and were used for carrying goods and merchandise, as well as for personal transportation. King David reputedly introduced the use of the mule for riding. That mules might be urged to move quickly if required is indicated in 2Sam.13.29, where the king’s sons mounted their mules and fled. Absalom was deserted by his mule when his head became caught in the branches of a thick oak (2Sam.18.9), the mule plodding on while his master remained suspended in midair.
Mules ridden by kings, officials, and army officers were chosen with care, but at the best of times the mule might prove unpredictable. In comparatively recent times itinerant preachers used mules as transportion to local engagements.
Dragon. KJV has some thirty-five references to “dragon.” NASB, NIV, and RSV translate a number of them as “jackal.” Where the Hebrew word is tannîm, a jackal or some kind of lizard might be intended.
NIV does not use “dragon” for any OT translation. The word “monster” occurs in Ps.74.13 and Ezek.32.2, both having a maritime significance. Sea voyagers for many centuries have reported “monsters of the sea,” and no doubt such stories were well known in biblical times. “Jackal” is used in Job.30.29; Ps.44.19; and Isa.13.22, all of them referring to situations of isolation and desolation, likely places in which jackals would be found. NIV, in common with other versions, refers to Satan as a dragon in Rev.12.13; Rev.20.2, but this language of imagery is characteristic of the final book of the Bible, referring to the ferocity of Satan’s personality rather than to any physical attribute.
Dromedary. See Camel.
Ewe. See Sheep.
Elephant. See Behemoth.
Fallow Deer. See Deer.
Fatling. See Cattle.
Fawn. See Deer.
Fish. In Gen.1.1-Gen.1.31, Adam is instructed to rule over the fish of the sea, as well as the rest of creation. Many references to fish and the means of catching them are found in the Scriptures, while the outline of a fish became symbolic in the early church. Specific species are not mentioned, though the striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) was well known in Bible times, found in the Mediterranean area, and the barbel—represented by various species—was almost certainly known too, being found from British waters eastward to the East Indies.
There is no doubt about the importance of fish in everyday diet. One of the judgments that befell Egypt was the destruction of the nation’s fish stock, and during their sojourn in the desert the Israelites grieved for the good fish they had eaten in Egypt (Num.11.5).
The great fish that swallowed Jonah (Jonah.1.17) is not identified by species, though in popular parlance it is thought of as a “whale.” Our Lord’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand involved use of five loaves and two fishes (Matt.14.17). Significantly, the final chapter of John’s Gospel records Christ’s resurrection appearance to the disciples as coinciding with a miraculous draught of fish, caught after the previously daunted fishermen let down their nets at his command (John.21.1-John.21.25).
Flea. Common throughout Bible lands, as elsewhere in the world, the flea is mentioned in 1Sam.24.14; 1Sam.26.20. The flea is any of the Aphaniptera order of small, wingless insects possessing a flattened body and legs highly developed for leaping. An estimated five hundred species of fleas present a threat as well as an irritant to mankind, as their bite can transmit disease, more particularly bubonic plague. Endemic typhus is also transmitted by fleas.
David’s rhetorical question in 1Sam.24.14 refers to the folly of pursuing a flea, while 1Sam.26.20 compares the task of looking for a flea with that of hunting a partridge in the mountains. With its natural agility and tiny size, the flea is difficult to catch. Some reportedly can jump thirteen inches (thirty-three cm.) horizontally and almost eight inches (twenty-one cm.) vertically.
Fly. This widely occurring species includes not only the house fly, but the tsetse fly and the malaria-carrying mosquito. Flies may carry disease by germs on their body or by bloodsucking. True flies have a single pair of functional membranous wings, plus a pair of halteres, i.e., small clublike appendages that by rapid movement in flight are the fly’s gyro, or balance mechanism.
Ruination of Egypt by flies (Exod.8.24) was one of God’s judgments described (Exod.8.20-Exod.8.32) as the plague of flies, following the plague of gnats described in earlier verses. The flies were possibly mosquitoes, for the original Hebrew word means “to suck.”
In addition to threats to health, flies could also ruin crops. Failure of the olive crop (Deut.28.40) was due to the olive fly, a pest that deposits its eggs beneath the skin of the ripening olive. The maggot emerging from the egg destroys the fruit. Such loss is anticipated by Mic.6.15 in speaking to an unrepentant Israel, while Habakkuk also refers to the failure of the olive crop (Hab.3.17), apparently through similar assault.
The threat to Egypt prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer.46.20) is described as “destruction” in KJV, but NIV renders the word as “gadfly”—a biting, pestering nuisance. Socrates was described as “the gadlfy of Athens,” suggesting that the ancients were well aware of the gadfly’s persistent attacks.
The gnat, a sharp-biting member of the mosquito family, was used in one of the judgments on Egypt, though the gnats (Exod.8.16-Exod.8.18) may have been some kind of sandfly with an especially painful sting. An alternative rendering of the Hebrew is “lice” (so kjv; see also Ps.105.31). Jesus rebuked the teachers of the law for straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel (Matt.23.24). Man’s insignificant status is emphasized in Job.25.6 as that of a maggot. In ancient times the fate of corpses, as of unguarded or unfresh food, was obvious enough. Isaiah’s prophecy against the king of Babylon (Isa.14.11) refers to the presence of maggots in his grave. The narrative of the manna and quail in the wilderness (Exod.16.20, Exod.16.24) demonstrates that food could not be stored, except by the grace of God, as when it remained fresh over the Sabbath.
In every mention of the worm in Scripture, the reference is to the maggot rather than to the earthworm, which is apparently nowhere mentioned in the Bible. Maggots are hatched from eggs laid by flies such as the flesh fly (of the family Sarcophagidae) or the blow fly (of the family Calliphoridae). The blow fly is well known to even our hygienic times, being the large and noisy fly with blue or green iridescent body. Such flies lay their eggs in the bodies of dead animals, in effect accelerating the decaying process, as the maggots feed on the corpse during their larval period. In that sense they serve a beneficial purpose in the natural process.
Herod’s death (Acts.12.23) is described as caused by his being eaten by worms. This demise was probably accomplished by the screw worm, as the adult female fly lays eggs not only on decaying animal matter, but in wounds and sores and even in the nostrils and ears of people and cattle. In severe attacks, in the ancient world especially, infection of the nasal passages by larvae could produce collapse of the septum and palate. Herod’s affliction is not, however, regarded as accidental, but as a judgment arising from his pride and his aspiration to divine status.
The presence of worms on the human body, alive (Job.7.5) or dead (Job.17.14, Job.21.26; Isa.14.11; Isa.66.24), was a further reminder of the transient nature of life. The condition of hell, warned Mark, was one in which the worm does not die (Mark.9.48).
Foal. See Horse.
Fox. The nine references in Scripture are to the common fox of Palestine, Vulpes vulgaris, a wild carnivore of the dog family, living usually on a diet of small animals and fruit, though its European relations may sometimes be found looking into trash cans during daylight hours as well as at night. This natural predator usually lives in burrows, the American red fox being a related species.
Damage to vineyards by “the little foxes” (Song.2.15) may have been a reference to jackals rather than to foxes. Similarly the three hundred foxes caught by Samson in order to pair them for raids on Philistine corn fields, with lit torches tied to their tails (Judg.15.4-Judg.15.5), may have been jackals, which would have been more readily caught. Tobiah the Ammonite poured scorn on the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem by suggesting that even the tread of a fox would break the stones (Neh.4.3).
The craftiness of the fox was emphasized by our Lord’s description of Herod (Luke.13.32).
Frog. Exodus 8 speaks of the plague of frogs, summoned by Aaron from their natural habitat of streams, canals, and ponds. References in Ps.78.45 and Ps.105.30 recall the plague, and as the frog had some cultic significance to the Egyptians the significance of the plague would not have been overlooked.
A tailless amphibian of the order Anura, the frog was represented by two species in Egypt, toads by three. Rev.16.13 tells of evil spirits with the appearance of frogs, possibly with the plague narrative in mind.
Gadfly. See Fly.
Gazelle. KJV usually translates “roe” or “roebuck” rather than “gazelle” (see Deer). The Dorcas gazelle was, however, known in Bible lands—a swift-running antelope having its natural habitat in barren wilderness areas. Over sixty types exist or have existed in southern Asia and northern Africa. Traditionally the gazelle has been hunted by desert people with the aid of falcons and, on occasion, greyhounds. The fast-moving gazelle is stunned by a blow from the falcon, permitting the rider on horseback to catch up and trap it.
The delicacy of the meat is indicated in Deut.12.15, Deut.12.22, coupled with that of the deer. Solomon’s list of provisions included gazelles (1Kgs.4.23). One of Zeruiah’s sons is reported as having been “as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle” (2Sam.2.18).
The antelope is included among the permitted edible animals in Deut.14.5. A hoofed ruminant of the Bovidae family, it is most often found in Africa. Hunting of antelope, using net, is indicated in Isa.51.20. KJV sometimes translates antelope as “wild bull.”
Ibex is a description that may be generally applied to any of several species of mountain goats, with their horns curving backward. Included in the list of permitted edible animals (Deut.14.5), the variety known to the people was that of the Nubian ibex, occurring in Palestine as well as in Egypt and Arabia. KJV translates the word as “gazelle” or “roe.”
In Deut.14.5 KJV uses the word “pygarg” (which means “white rumped”). The species is uncertain, but the word is thought to refer to a type of antelope known as the addax, a native of desert areas of northern Africa and the Sudan. RSV renders this word as “ibex,” NIV “roe deer.”
More than a dozen times KJV uses the word “roebuck,” “roe” (e.g., Deut.12.15; 1Chr.18.3; Isa.13.14). This translation is not used in RSV, which, like ASV, most often has “gazelle”—a translation favored also by NIV in a majority of cases. NIV has “roe deer” in Deut.14.5, however, and “roebuck” (in addition to “gazelles”) in 1Kgs.4.23.
Gecko. See Lizard.
Gnat. See Fly.
Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket. Grasshoppers and locusts are included in the insect family Locustidae, itself part of the order Orthoptera, which includes crickets, katydids, cockroaches, mantids, and walking sticks as well. Grasshoppers are the most frequently mentioned insects in the Bible, and man is sometimes compared to them in terms of his insignificance before great enemies (Num.13.3) or in the sight of God (Isa.40.22). In Eccl.12.5 the grasshopper’s painful progress as he “drags himself along” is contained in a passage pointing to man’s own mortality.
Locusts had significance beyond the natural order, often having been sent as a judgment from God (Exod.10.4). Such visitations could be devastating, and even in our technological age, locust swarms can quickly denude an area of its vegetation. Most species of locust are nonmigratory, but some migrate in great swarms, traveling over great distances if necessary and proving themselves omnivorous consumers of all kinds of vegetation. Where natural food is lacking, they can become cannibalistic and carnivorous.
The awesome sight and power of locusts depicted in Rev.9.3, Rev.9.7 is beyond anything yet known to man’s experience. The author of the book knew well the tradition of locusts as a form of judgment from God. Joel’s description of utter devastation through a visitation by locusts (Joel.1.4) precedes a passage (Joel.2.1-Joel.2.11) in which locusts are described in terms of a great army.
Locusts, however, were not without benefit to the human race and represented a useful diet for the poor—that is, in normal times. Edible locusts are listed in Lev.11.21-Lev.11.22, while the Talmud provides a description of edible locusts in order that readers could identify them. John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey (Mark.1.6), a diet that was not considered unusual by his contemporaries. One of the edible locusts is rendered “bald locust” by KJV and RSV, and “katydid” by NIV (Lev.11.22). This is an insect of the long-horned grasshopper family found in the tropics and in the eastern USA.
In Lev.11.22, KJV has “beetle,” and NIV “cricket,” referring to an insect of the Gryllidae family related to the grasshopper and locust, but with long antennae and an apparent liking for human company.
The cankerworm, the larval state of the locust (Joel.1.4; Joel.2.25; Nah.3.15-Nah.3.16), is rendered in NIV as “young locust.”
KJV and NASB use “devourer” as a description of the locust in Mal.3.11; NIV, “pest.” “Hopper” is the RSV description in Joel.2.25 where NIV has “locust.” The KJV “palmerworm” (Joel.1.4; Joel.2.25; Amos.4.9) is “cutting locust” in RSV, “locust” in NIV.
Great Lizard. See Lizard.
Greyhound. See Dog.
Hare. See Rabbit.
Hart. See Deer.
Heifer. See Cattle.
Hind. See Deer.
Hippopotamus. See Behemoth.
Hopper. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Hornet. See Bee, Hornet.
Horse. Most references concern the use of the horse in warfare, though some religious significance is attached to the appearance of the horse, as in the visions of Rev.9.17-Rev.9.19; Rev.6.1-Rev.6.8. Domesticated on the plains of Asia more than four thousand years ago, the horse—a herbivorous hoofed mammal, Equus caballus—was used in the military campaigns of Alexander the Great and was probably introduced into the American continent by conquerors from Europe. Scripture refers to the beneficial use of the horse among its more than 150 references. Joseph exchanged food for horses and for other animals during the great famine in Egypt (Gen.47.17). A very large company of chariots and horses accompanied the body of Jacob to his last resting place (Gen.50.9).
Although horses, with other livestock, perished under the judgment of God (Exod.9.3), Pharaoh secured further war horses and chariots in order to pursue the departing Israelites (Exod.14.23), though the Lord swept them into the sea (Exod.14.27-Exod.14.28). David’s victories included the acquisition of large numbers of chariots, charioteers, and horses (2Sam.8.4; 2Sam.10.18).
Solomon’s accumulation of chariots and horses (1Kgs.10.26) involved importation of horses from Egypt and Kue at considerable expense that, in view of his drift away from his former moral convictions, would have affronted the prophets (Isa.31.1-Isa.31.9).
Isaiah refers to the agricultural use of the horse, i.e., for plowing (Isa.28.24-Isa.28.29). The use of horsemen to convey messages (2Kgs.9.18) and for royal processions (Esth.6.8-Esth.6.11) was familiar to the ancients. Ending of the idolatrous use of horses and chariots dedicated to the sun is reported in 2Kgs.23.11 as Josiah renewed the covenant with God. The sun religion, like the horses, was probably imported from Egypt.
The colt—the foal of a donkey—is included in Jacob’s blessing (Gen.49.11) and in the narrative of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt.21.2-Matt.21.7; John.12.15).
As the stallion is a horse used for breeding purposes, its use in the OT is aligned to the sinful behavior of the people. Jeremiah likens his careless contemporaries to well-fed, lusty stallions considering their neighbors’ wives (Jer.5.8; cf. Jer.50.11). Stallions were large and strong and were used as symbols of enemy power, as in the Lord’s declaration that the whole land trembled at the neighing of the enemy’s stallions (Jer.8.16).
The steed was a horse especially chosen for battle, probably for its speed and daring. Deborah’s song recites the galloping of the mighty steeds (Judg.5.22). We learn that the Israelites used steeds for battle against Egypt (Jer.46.4) and against the Philistines (Jer.47.3).
Horse Leech. See Leech.
Hyena. This carnivorous animal allied to the dog was common in Palestine. Isaiah’s prophecy against Babylon speaks of hyenas howling in the strongholds of the fallen city (Isa.13.22)—a fate reserved for the citadels of Edom (Isa.34.14). Jeremiah speaks in similar vein against Babylon (Jer.50.39). The hyena, like the jackal, was associated with desolation and with dwelling among ruins.
Ibex. See Gazelle.
Katydid. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Kine. See Cattle.
Leech. The word is derived from a Hebrew term meaning “sucking” (Prov.30.15). KJV renders “horseleach,” though its attentions are not restricted to animals. The leech is of the class of annelids (Hirudinea) living in water or swampy territory. A sucker at either end of its segmented body fixes onto the body of an animal or human, sucking blood. A natural anticoagulant (hirudin) keeps the blood liquid. At one time the use of leeches was thought to have beneficial properties, and a type of leech, Hirudo medicinalis, was well known to physicians of past generations.
Leopard. The reference to “mountain haunts of the leopards” (Song.4.8) reminds us that these awesome animals were well known in Palestine, as well as in the mountainous regions of Lebanon, at the time of Solomon’s reign. A mammal of the cat family (panthera pardus) with a black-spotted yellowish coat, the leopard is today found only in Africa and Asia. Its ferocity and intelligence were apparent to dwellers in Bible lands, though, as with the rest of the wayward creation, transformation was promised in the messianic age (Isa.11.6). Jeremiah regarded the leopard as an instrument of God’s judgment on the wicked (Jer.5.6), and in a later passage raised the rhetorical question whether a leopard could change his spots (Jer.13.23). Several references to the leopard appear in KJV, RSV, and NIV, including the figurative usage in Dan.7.6 and Rev.13.2.
Leviathan. That the Leviathan was strong and probably very large is confirmed by the question put in Job.41.1. The NIV footnote suggests a hippopotamus or elephant, neither of which would be pulled in with a fishhook. Job’s cursing (Job.3.8) refers to those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
Crushing the heads of Leviathan (Ps.74.14) immediately follows reference to the destruction of monsters of the sea. This may echo the song of praise to God following the safe journey of the Israelites through the Red Sea. Crocodiles or other threatening creatures would have been rendered harmless to the Israelites, as the pursuing Egyptians were. Not all allusions to Leviathan concern threatening species, however; Ps.104.26 refers to its frolicking in the sea. Probably this is the sperm whale, which has been seen in the Mediterranean and which surfaces suddenly before submerging, giving the impression of play activity.
Lice. See Fly.
Lion. A large carnivore of the cat family (Panthera leo) today found in Africa south of the Sahara and in NW India. In biblical times the lion was far more widespread and was found even in Greece as well as in Asia Minor, Iran and Iraq, Syria and Turkey. A social animal, the lion is a member of a group known as a pride and will live in isolation only when old or wounded—conditions in which it is most dangerous to man. In usual circumstances the lion will not attack man, though “man-eaters” have been known, becoming part of local legends and hunters’ tales.
Daniel’s testing in the lions’ den (Dan.6.1-Dan.6.28) demonstrates an oriental ruler’s use of lions as a means of execution, but it is more importantly an example of protection by the Almighty. A wayward prophet was killed by a lion (1Kgs.13.24-1Kgs.13.28), but this event is told in terms of God’s judgment rather than any initiative by a roving lion. A young lion attacked Samson but was speedily dealt with (Judg.14.5-Judg.14.6), and David also killed a lion (1Sam.17.34-1Sam.17.37), both triumphs being ascribed to God’s protection.
The power, speed, and ferocity of the lion were compared to those of Israel’s foes; and throughout Scripture the lion is used as a symbol of might. Jacob compared his son Judah to a lion (Gen.49.9), and the Lord Jesus Christ is often called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (or the Lion of Judah). Daniel described Babylon as a winged lion—a religious symbol used in the ancient pagan world—while Peter warned his contemporaries that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion (1Pet.5.8).
Lioness. Ezekiel’s lament on the princes of Israel refers to the lioness as their mother (Ezek.19.2), whose cubs might be scattered (Job.4.11). Joel’s prophecy (Joel.1.6) speaks of the fangs of the lioness as a characteristic of an invading nation.
Livestock. See Cattle.
Lizard. A reptile of the suborder Lacertila, with four legs usually, but some species—like the slow-worm—have none. With scaly skin and long body and tail, the lizard may be small or comparatively large. The species includes the iguana, monitor, and gecko. Lev.11.29-Lev.11.30 classifies as unclean any kind of great lizard, the gecko, monitor lizard, wall lizard, skink, and chameleon. The most common lizard in Palestine was the Agama stellio, part of a family of dragon lizards. These reptiles are active during the daylight hours, possess crests and dewlaps, and somewhat resemble the iguanids.
The chameleon (Lev.11.30) is any member of the Chamaeleontidae family of reptiles, resembling lizards, but having the interesting characteristic of controlling its color to match its environment. This reptile catches insects by its tongue. Its eyes are able to operate independently of each other.
The crocodile (Lev.11.30 nasb, rsv) is rendered by the NIV as “monitor lizard.” The gecko (Lev.11.30) is a harmless lizard, a member of the Gekkonidae family, found in tropical or subtropical regions. Some geckos are able to move readily on a vertical wall or other smooth surface, using a natural adhesive pad on their feet. Their diet consists of insects. An interesting feature is the gecko’s ability to grow a new tail when its old one is broken off by a predator or overinquisitive human being.
The great lizard (Lev.11.29), another unclean animal, is possibly the Arabian thorny-tailed, color-changing lizard (Uromastix spinipes) common in Egypt and also found in Syria and Arabia. The monitor lizard (Lev.11.30) is a member of the Varanidae family of large carnivorous lizards and is found in Africa, Asia, and Australia, its largest species being the Komodo Dragon. It is recognized additionally by its elongated snout, long neck, and forked tongue. The Nile monitor, Varanus niloticus, is the largest four-footed reptile in Africa, with the exception of the crocodile, and may attain a length of six feet (almost two m.).
A reptile called the sand lizard (Lev.11.30 rsv), Lacerta agilis, is found in sandy regions in central and western Europe. The same verse in the NIV lists the skink, some six hundred species of which represent the largest family of lizards. Snakelike and found most often in desert regions, their features include a scaly tongue and elongated body, with limbs either of small size or absent altogether. The skink mentioned in Lev.11.30 was the common skink (Scincus scincus) of Africa.
In Lev.11.29, KJV has “tortoise” where RSV and NIV have “great lizard.” In the next verse the wall lizard is included in the list of unclean reptiles, but its precise species is uncertain. Small lizards or reptiles living close to human habitation would be commonly found on walls.
Locust. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Maggot. See Fly.
Mole. See Rodent.
Monitor Lizard. See Lizard.
Monster. The word formerly meant little more than “large” or “extensive.” Job’s debate speaks of the monster of the deep (Job.7.14), as does Ps.74.13. Notwithstanding the traditional Israelite awe of the sea, the references suggest great wonders of creation rather than any frightening or aggressive beast. Gen.1.21 alludes to the “great creatures of the sea” (niv), which KJV translates as “great whales.” The KJV of Lam.4.3 has “sea monsters,” NEB has “whales,” and ASV, NIV, and RSV translate this word as “jackals.”
Moth, Butterfly. Both belong to the order Lepidoptera, the moth being distinguished from the butterfly by its nocturnal activity, its threadlike antenna, and wings that wrap around its body (most butterflies fold their wings vertically). Butterflies have two pairs of wings, and most have eye-catching color displays, using their proboscis to suck nectar. America has more than nine thousand species of moths and butterflies. Throughout the world some species have either disappeared or seem to be on the verge of extinction. To counter this problem, at least in part, new work in butterfly farming is occurring.
The moth of Scripture is usually the clothes moth of the large family, Tineidae. The frailty of man is like that of the moth (Job.4.19), a sentiment echoed in Job.13.28, where man’s own wasting away is likened to that of a garment eaten by moths (or moth larvae). Ps.39.11 and Isa.50.9; Isa.51.8 offer similar reflections. Man’s habitation is akin to that of a moth’s cocoon (Job.27.18).
Insignificant and fragile though it is (Hos.5.12), the clothes moth is no less able to destroy those transient possessions that people set their hearts on (Matt.6.19). It lays its eggs at night on wool, fur, feathers, or other materials; when the larvae hatch about ten days later, they immediately start eating the host material.
Silkworms, larvae of the Chinese silkworm moth (Bombyx mori), produce the natural fiber of silk garments known to the ancients and worn by the most wealthy. Silk is included among the cargoes of merchants that in the apocalyptic vision of Rev.18.12 no one buys any more. Raw silk is derived from the cocoon of larvae that pupate in thick oval, white or yellow silken cocoons. As larvae are easily reared on a commercial basis—if one has the appropriate skills and resources—silk has been a source of wealth to many traders over the centuries. Even in our age of modern fibers, silk remains a symbol of luxury and status.
A Lepidopterous larva was probably the “worm” that chewed the vine under which Jonah sat (Jonah.4.7), since such larvae have voracious appetites. Most references to “worm” in Scripture refer to the larvae of flies, generally known as “maggots” (see Fly).
The caterpillar, larva of a butterfly or moth, is a word not found in NIV. It is variously translated as “young locust” (Isa.33.4), “grasshopper” (Ps.78.46; Ps.105.34), and “locusts” (Amos.4.9).
Mouse. See Rat.
Mule. See Donkey.
Ox. See Cattle.
Palmerworm. See Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket.
Peacock. See Baboon.
Pig. The pig is stated to be an unclean animal (Lev.11.7; Deut.14.8), yet it seems to have been present in considerable numbers in Palestine. Destruction of a large herd occurred when evil spirits entered them following Jesus’ healing of a demon-possessed man (Mark.5.1-Mark.5.17; Luke.8.27-Luke.8.39). The parable of the prodigal son demonstrated the desperate plight of the young man, becoming a pig-feeder (Luke.15.15), employment degrading to any self-respecting Israelite.
Jesus advised against throwing pearls before pigs (Matt.7.6), as they are likely to be trampled underfoot by the undiscerning creatures. Solomon compared a beautiful woman devoid of discretion with a gold ring in a pig’s snout (Prov.11.22). Peter speaks of a washed sow returning to wallow in the mud (2Pet.2.22).
The domestic pig, member of the Suidae family of hoofed animals, was probably developed from the wild boar of the Orient, with widespread domestication for food and other uses.
The sole reference to “boar” is in Ps.80.13, where the ravaging actions of wild boars are indicated. With its enlarged canine tusk, the wild boar could cause damage to property or crops and inflict wounds on the unsuspecting.
Where NASB and NIV translate Hebrew and Greek as “pig,” KJV and RSV use “swine,” the name given to members of the Suidae family, especially the domestic variety. In Isaiah’s rebuke (Isa.65.4) of the people for eating the flesh of pigs, the latter phrase is “swine’s flesh” in KJV and RSV.
Pygarg. See Gazelle.
Rabbit. The rabbit was classified as unclean (Lev.11.6; Deut.14.7) because it did not have a split hoof. KJV and RSV have the word “hare,” because some think rabbits did not exist in Palestine at the time of the Pentateuch’s composition. However, at least two species of hare were thought to be present, both members of the order Lagomorpha, though the hare was originally classified as a rodent. Rabbits live in burrows and are born hairless and blind. Hares do not use burrows and are born with a coat of hair and with effective vision. The hare also has longer ears and hind legs. Like the rabbit, it is found extensively in Europe.
Ram. See Sheep.
Rat. Rats, like mice—to which they are related—followed man’s exploitation and habitation of previously inhabited areas. Rats are mentioned in the list of unclean animals in Lev.11.29 (kjv, rsv, “mouse”), and in the narrative of the plague on the Philistines (1Sam.6.1-1Sam.6.21 kjv, rsv, “mice”). Isaiah prophesied against those who had followed heathen practices of eating pig’s flesh and rats (Isa.66.17); RSV, KJV translate the latter word in Isa.66.1-Isa.66.24 as “mice,” and “mouse,” respectively, one of the many long-tailed rodents of the Muridae family.
Red Heifer. See Cattle.
Reptile. See Snake.
Rock Badger. See Badger.
Rodent. In Isa.2.20 NIV has “rodents,” where KJV, RSV, and NASB have “moles.” Isaiah is prophesying that in the Day of the Lord men will throw their idols of silver and gold away to the lowly rodents. KJV and NASB have “mole” also in Lev.11.30 (niv “chameleon”). Isaiah’s reference was probably to the mole rat found in SE Europe, rather than to the mole as known in Britain and the USA.
Roe. See Gazelle.
Roe Deer. See Gazelle.
Sand Lizard. See Lizard.
Sand Reptile. See Lizard.
Scorpion. Found in the vast, thirsty land of the wilderness journey, the scorpion (Deut.8.15) is notorious for its venomous sting delivered from its long, segmented tail. Rehoboam unwisely threatened to scourge the people with scorpions (1Kgs.12.11, 1Kgs.12.14). Followers of Jesus were given authority to tread on scorpions (Luke.10.19), an authority related to the work of the kingdom of God. In Luke.11.12 Jesus mentions the scorpion in a rhetorical question.
The name scorpion applies to any of the order Scorpionidae of arachnids of tropical or hot regions. Large pincers at the front of the body, as well as the curving, sting-laden tail, give the scorpion a distinctive and formidable appearance.
Sea Cow. See Badger.
Serpent. See Snake.
Sheep. This animal is the most often mentioned in Scripture, perhaps because of its importance in the economy of the age. The most familiar picture of Jesus Christ is probably that of the Good Shepherd, the most easily recalled parable that of the lost sheep.
A ruminant mammal of the Ovidae family, sheep come in many breeds today, some with special advantages for their wool, others for meat. For centuries sheep have been largely domesticated. In Bible lands sheep were kept for their milk more than for their meat. Religious ceremonies included the sacrifice of sheep, and rams’ horns were used to summon the congregation. Job’s wealth consisted of flocks and herds, including seven thousand sheep (Job.1.3), which were all destroyed by a divinely permitted catastrophe (Job.1.16). The life of shepherds and their flocks is reported in several places (Gen.29.1-Gen.29.35; Exod.22.1, Exod.22.4; Num.31.36). Sheep were watered at midday, and the well became an important meeting place. Need for water and at least reasonable pasture shaped the shepherd’s way of life. His care for his sheep is reflected in Ps.23.1-Ps.23.6. The Bible often refers to bad or good shepherds in terms of their care not merely of sheep but also of their fellow human beings in the eyes of God. Women also served as shepherds, as in the case of seven daughters of the priest of Midian (Exod.2.16).
Several Hebrew words are translated “ewe,” i.e., a female sheep. Seven ewe lambs were presented by Abraham to Abimelech (Gen.21.28, Gen.21.29) to seal the treaty made at Beersheba. Jacob’s gift to Esau included two hundred ewes and twenty rams (Gen.32.14). Use of a female lamb without defect was permitted as a sin offering (Lev.4.32). Nathan’s parable (2Sam.12.3) referred to a man whose “one ewe lamb” was taken from him by a rich and greedy man.
The list of unclean foods in Deut.14.5 includes “mountain sheep,” KJV “chamois,” a ruminant mammal halfway between a goat and an antelope, found usually in mountainous regions of Europe and SW Asia.
The ram, the horned male sheep, was used in breeding. Although most biblical references are to the ram’s role in priestly ceremony or sacrifice (Gen.15.9; Exod.29.1-Exod.29.46; Num.7.1-Num.7.89), the skipping action of the ram is poetically portrayed by the psalmist (Ps.114.1-Ps.114.8).
Skink. See Lizard.
Slug, Snail. The slug is herbivorous and often creates considerable damage to plant life. Like the snail the slug is a gastropod mollusc, moving on a muscular foot with a natural form of lubrication that appears as a trail of slime. The snail has a spiral protective shell and exists in varying species in salt water, fresh water, and on land. The most common species is that of the garden snail (Helix aspera), to be distinguished from the edible variety (Helix pomatia). The action of the slug (kjv, rsv, nasb “snail”) is described in Ps.58.8. The list of prohibited food in Lev.11.30 includes the snail (kjv).
Snake. Member of the suborder Ophidia of limbless, elongated reptiles, with scaly skin, a forked tongue, and a mouth that opens sufficiently wide to swallow prey, e.g., rodents, or eggs. Poisonous snakes carry venom in their salivary glands, delivered through the fangs and acting either on the central nervous system to paralyze or on cells to cause hemorrhages. The snake has special significance in the OT. One of the signs of authority given to Moses was that of his staff turning into a snake when thrown to the ground (Exod.3.3-Exod.3.4). Venomous snakes invaded the Israelite camp when the people complained about God and Moses. They were healed when they looked at an emblem of a snake cast in bronze by Moses (Num.21.1-Num.21.35). The symbol of the snake on the staff is today an emblem of healing used by the medical profession.
Translations of various poisonous snakes differ. Jer.8.17 speaks of “vipers that cannot be charmed” as one of God’s judgments—an allusion perhaps to the so-called charming of snakes that are actually not “charmed” but controlled more subtly by their masters. Job.20.16 refers to the destruction of the wicked by the fangs of the adder, just as Isa.59.5 anticipates the infliction of vipers on the wicked. In modern language the viper and adder are the same species, but the scriptural reference is probably to the northern viper, Vipera berus, found also in Africa.
Psalm 91:13 assures the godly that they will tread on the cobra and the serpent without any harm, through divine protection. The cobra was doubtless the Egyptian cobra, used throughout Egypt as a religious symbol and attaining a length of at least 8 1/2 feet (2 1/2 m.). It is found along the coast of north and east Africa, with a subspecies occurring in the Arabian peninsula.
In the millennial age the cobra and the viper will be the harmless companions of children (Isa.11.8)—further confirmation of the reconciliation of man with the natural order following the creation’s renewal. Isaiah, then, does not anticipate a banishing of such reptiles but their transformation. His prophecy against the Philistines (Isa.14.29) involves a viper. The use of the word “asp” in some translations denotes a poisonous reptile, i.e., the Egyptian cobra.
Where “cockatrice” is used in some translations (rsv, nasb, and niv refer more specifically to adder, viper, or cobra), the word was associated with a poisonous reptile generally, rather than with specific species (Isa.11.8; Isa.14.29; Isa.59.5; Jer.8.17).
Solomon’s wisdom led him to teach about reptiles, as well as mammals, birds, and fish (1Kgs.4.33). Peter’s remarkable vision included reptiles to be eaten, confirming that nothing God had made could now be called unclean (Acts.10.12; Acts.11.6), symbolizing the now-clean Gentiles in the new covenant.
Man could tame a serpent, observed James (Acts.3.7 kjv), but could not control his own tongue.
No single species is identified in the word “serpent,” but the meaning is that of a crafty and very dangerous creature, albeit a persuasive one. It was a symbol of evil (Gen.3.1-Gen.3.24), but God was able to pierce it (Job.26.13). Paul referred to the cunning of the serpent (2Cor.11.3). KJV prefers the word “serpent” to “snake.”
Spider. Member of the order Araneida of arachnids, many species of which are armed with poison glands for killing prey. The black widow spider and the Australian funnel-web spider are especially dangerous to man, unlike most species. The spider’s abdomen has two or more pairs of spinnerets that produce the silk thread for webs and cocoons. One who forgets God has hope as fragile as a spider’s web (Job.8.14) and finds his own fabrications useless (Isa.59.5). Prov.30.28 refers to the presence of spiders in kings’ palaces, though NIV here has the word “lizard” rather than “spider.”
Sponge. Known scientifically as Porifera, the sponge is a class of the sessile aquatic animal family. A sponge filled with wine vinegar was offered to Jesus on the cross (Matt.27.48; Mark.15.36). John notes that a stalk of the hyssop plant was used to lift the sponge to the Lord’s lips (John.19.29). Such use of a sponge to provide liquid refreshment was common in biblical times. The sponge would absorb the wine or water in a vessel, then was usually squeezed into the upturned mouth of the user.
Stag. See Deer.
Stallion. See Horse.
Steed. See Horse.
Steer. See Cattle.
Swarming Thing. Creatures that swarmed over the earth were among every living thing that perished during the Flood (Gen.7.21). Prohibition on swarming things as food is stated in Lev.11.10, the description applying, for example, to swarms of flies or plagues of locusts.
Swine. See Pig.
Tortoise. See Lizard.
Unicorn. See Cattle.
Viper. See Snake.
Weasel. Classed as unclean (Lev.11.29), the weasel is a small, carnivorous mammal, genus Mustela, resembling a small ermine. Its diet consists of small rodents and its distribution is apparently world-wide.
Well Lizard. See Lizard.
Whale. KJV translates as “whale” those words rendered by NIV as “great creatures” (Gen.1.21), “monster of the deep” (Job.7.12), and “monster in the seas” (Ezek.32.2). In KJV, RSV, and NIV the “great fish” describes the animal that swallowed Jonah (Jonah.1.17); KJV and RSV mention “whale” in Matt.12.40, where NIV keeps to “huge fish.”
The whale, a large marine fishlike mammal (order Cetacea), is one of nature’s most amazing wonders. One group includes the toothed whales, another the whalebone or buleen whales in which teeth are not present, using instead thin, parallel whalebone plates to extract plankton from sea water. Toothed whales include porpoises, dolphins, and sperm whales. Whalebone whales include the blue whale, largest of all mammals.
Wolf. A carnivorous, intelligent mammal, genus Canis, the wolf usually hunts in packs and will readily attack more powerful animals. The North American timber or grey wolf is a subspecies of the European Canis lupus. The behavior of this animal has fascinated many writers. Mentioned thirteen times in Scripture, the wolf would have been a familiar threat to shepherds, especially in Palestine with its forest terrain. False prophets were described as “ferocious wolves” in sheep’s clothing (Matt.7.15), while Gen.49.27 declares the tribe of Benjamin to be like the ravenous wolf. Isaiah’s anticipation of the Millennium includes the wolf living with the lamb (Isa.11.6; Isa.65.25).
Worm. See Fly.
Yearling. See Cattle.