I’m a huge fan of animals, of all kinds. The other day I was thinking about how humans can learn a lot from our friends in the animal kingdom. So I began to look into all the different animals, especially those mentioned in the bible. It became clear that animals are used quite often as metaphors, to illustrate important lessons, both positive and negative.
Here are 10 different animals that we can learn spiritual lessons from…
Whenever I visit my sister in Northern California, I always see all sorts of animals on the way to her house, including lots of deer. I’m always amazed at how swift and graceful they are and how they leap over fences and any other obstacles in such an effortless way.
Sure-footedness and gracefulness are qualities that we can have, in a spiritual sense.
Sure-footedness comes from the firm foundation of God in our lives, and the simplicity of God’s way. Gracefulness and beauty comes when we walk in the Spirit. Our ‘spiritual’ feet like become like the feet of a deer; confident, able to gracefully make it through the obstacles of life.
God is the one who gives me strength. He clears the path I need to take. He makes my feet as steady as those of a deer. Even on steep mountains he keeps me from falling.
PSALM 18:32-33 (ERV)
Eagles are known for soaring majestically, high in the sky. Instead of flapping their wings and expending energy, they use air currents to glide and soar.
The eagle serves as a beautiful illustration of letting God be our strength. Instead of using our own power, the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is like the “air current” that allows the eagle to soar to great heights!
Eagles are also faithful, to their mate and babies. Did you know that eagles mate for life? They’re also surprisingly nurturing. All admirable qualities that I believe God wants us to learn from.
Another interesting characteristic of the eagle is that – unlike other birds – they are unafraid of storms. Instead of hiding in fear, the eagle uses the storm to be lifted up high, above the clouds.
For most of us, the “storms” of life are not fun. Trials and difficult times can cause us to want to curl up in a ball and hide. The scriptures, however, encourage us to think of storms in a different way. To trust God, and remember that trials and “storms” make us stronger and more mature, if we learn from them. (James 1:2-4)
Now, I am no fan of insects, at all. But I have to admit, we can learn a lot from ants. Yes, tiny little ants. It’s funny because despite the fact that ants have a tiny, practically microscopic brain, in some ways, they are smarter than most people.
Ants not only work hard, in an organized way, but they prepare for the future. Instead of lounging around wasting time, like many humans do, they busily prepare for the next season, storing up provisions.
I believe that there’s an important spiritual lesson there, that God wants us to learn. A few lessons. The value of hard work and foresight, but also foresight in a much bigger sense. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us to “store up” treasures in heaven. Instead of focusing on having nice things in this temporary life, think about what really matters. In a recent post, I talked about having an eternal perspective, as opposed to spiritual short-sightedness. We are told to take a lesson from the ants, and become wise! I think there is more than one meaning in that scripture.
Go to the ant, O sluggard,
Observe her ways and be wise.
4. LAMB AND SHEEP
The lamb symbolizes innocence and purity, which is why God wanted the Israelites to use an unblemished lamb as a sacrificial offering, to atone for sin. That, of course, was a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus’ death on the cross – the spotless ‘Lamb of God’ which takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)
In addition to their innocent and gentle nature, the lamb is relational. Sheep are very social animals – they don’t like being alone, they feel much safer in the midst of the flock. In the same way, I believe that God wants us to be relational and social. Solitude can be a good thing at times, but if we’re always alone and we’re not part of a community, it’s easier to get “lost” or end up being prey to the “wolves” of the world.
As Jesus said in Matthew 10:16, He sends us out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so we are to be wise yet innocent.
Another quality of the lamb is that it knows its Shepard’s voice. When we have a relationship with God, we learn to recognize His voice. As Jesus said:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart he gently leads those that have young.
I almost didn’t include camels in this post, because camels have some negative qualities, and a bad rap for being a bit unpleasant at times. But as I thought more about it, I realized that camels have some good qualities too, that we can learn from.
Camels, especially in the past, were known for traveling long distances, across deserts, with very little water. So they are very enduring, persevering and “hardy” animals.
In this life, we go through difficult times and trying seasons, and we have to persevere, keep plodding forward, toward the ‘prize’ (Phil 3:14).
Camels pace themselves. That steady pace along with their ability to adapt to difficult surroundings allow them to make it through.
I also see camels as a metaphor for God’s people, in the sense that we are sojourners, traveling through this world. Like the camel traveling through a harsh, dry desert, this world is a temporary place for us, not our final place. So we need to persevere, keep moving forward at a steady pace, until we get to our final destination!
Locusts, or grasshoppers by themselves are not powerful, but when they get together in a huge swarm, they are formidable! This is an illustration of strength in unity. When people band together in unity and cooperation, things get done.
Locusts also don’t really have a leader, but they somehow understand when it is necessary to band together, and “march in rank” so to speak. As the proverb goes:
The locusts have no king, Yet all of them go out in ranks.
There is wisdom to be learned from the example of locusts. At times, when there is no leader around, it’s up to us to take the initiative and work together with others, in unity.
Like the eagle, doves also normally mate for life. They have long been seen as birds that are loyal, dedicated, honorable and peaceful.
Jesus instructs us to be innocent and harmless, like a dove. Of course, that must be coupled with shrewdness and wisdom.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”
We are also called to be at peace with all people.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Jesus used birds as an example for us, to not worry, but just to trust God everyday.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Matthew 6:25-27
We can learn trust and joyfulness from looking at birds.
The ox is a strong, powerful animal, used for plowing, transporting, hauling, threshing grain and more. In biblical days, oxen were very valuable because of the heavy work they were capable of doing.
Oxen are patient, dependable, composed and have a “servant’s heart.”
Even though they are not smart animals, they are apparently smarter than many people, in one sense, as the scriptures point out:
“An ox knows its owner,
And a donkey its master’s manger,
But Israel does not know,
My people do not understand.”
The ox knows its owner, it knows his voice, it understands that simple truth. Let us not be less wise than an ox, by not understanding and remembering Who is in control!
In the bible, the Lion is used as a symbol of both Christ and the enemy, satan. However, of course the symbol is used in different ways. For satan, it is about ambush, aggression and destruction. (1 Peter 5:8)
One of Jesus’ titles is the Lion of Judah. (Rev. 5:5). The lion denotes great strength, power, majesty, the King of all!
Lions are strong, powerful, fearless, bold and confident – qualities that are universally admired, and worthy of emulating.
Jesus, is both the Lion and the Lamb. It is an interesting paradox, but it shows the perfect balance between Jesus’ power and authority, as the conquering King – yet at the same time His sacrificial love, goodness, kindness and compassion.
I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you want to add any animals and lessons they teach us, please do! I realize that I left out a lot of animals, including some of the most popular ones.
Perhaps when I have time, I’ll add a few more, including some of my favorite animals that weren’t included in this post. Thanks for reading, and please leave your thoughts below!
photo credit: Mike (deer photo), Sascha Wenninger (eagle photo), Sebastian Jaramillo (ant photo), Alan Cranshaw (lamb photo), David Lundgren (camel photo), Ricardo Cuppini (dove photo), Andrew (sparrow photo), Arno Meintjes (lion photo)