Animals Named in the Bible – Part 1

A Horse of a Different Color

Revelation 6:1-8, Horses of a Different Color

Ordinary horses were used primarily by kings, high officials, and soldiers:

Luke 13:11-17, Everyone had a domestic ass, or donkey.

Job 39:1-12, The wild ass is untamable.

Leviticus 19:19, 1 Kings 1:23-39, Mules were against the Law, but so useful that they were bred anyway.

Flocks and herds were always important.

Genesis 4:1-16, Sheep

Genesis 13:1-11, Sheep

Genesis 30:25-43, Sheep

Matthew 12:9-13, Sheep

Luke 15:1-10, Sheep

Genesis 27:1-10; Leviticus 16:6-10; Exodus 26:7-10, 35:25-26, Goats

Leviticus 1:1-9; Deuteronomy 30:9-10, Cattle

Genesis 24:1-27, Camels

Leviticus 4:32-35; John 1:29-36; Revelations 5:1-14, Most important of all: the Lamb of God

More Animals Named in the Bible

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Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Click to enlarge.
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov.
From left to right are Death, Famine, War, and Conquest; the Lamb is at the top. Wikimedia Commons.
Revelation 6:1-8, Horses of a Different Color (6/26/17)

The mountain lion of the western hemisphere, Felis concolor, has at least three other common names (puma, panther, catamount) and around forty names altogether in English - see mountain lion We see more than one name for specific animals in the Bible, as well. Furthermore, “lion” can refer to either the mountain lion or the African lion, and we see cases like that in the Bible, too. The problem of identifying animals in the Bible is also complicated because sometimes no one knows what animal the Hebrew or Greek name is talking about, and different translators decide on different English animal names! This study will broaden our knowledge by reading scriptures about both identifiable and unidentifiable animals named in the Bible.

The first thing I learned is that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are not War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. Really? Everybody knows those are their names! Nope. (Always read for yourself!) Only one of the riders, Death, is actually given a name. From vss. 1 to 8a, it sort of looks like they ought to be Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. But then in vs. 8b we see death by war, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. Oh, well. In any case, the horses are white, red, black, and pale green (per the Greek); two of those I definitely think qualify as “horses of a different color.”

Exodus 14:5-31, Ordinary horses were used primarily by kings, high officials, and soldiers. (6/27/17)

Horses are expensive and demand high maintenance, and generally the only people you see in the Bible who are using horses are kings, soldiers, and a few high government officials. When the Pharaoh changed his mind about letting the people of Israel leave Egypt, he was about to take an army of 600 “chosen” chariots, plus “other chariots,” to chase after them. Each chariot was pulled by two horses. (You can just barely see the second horse as a second set of legs in this chariot picture.) The horses pulled the chariot by means of reins tied around their necks, and sometimes the archers in the chariots tied the reins around their waists to free both hands. It wasn’t the safest arrangement under the best of circumstances, and following the Israelites across the muddy bottom of the Red Sea certainly wasn’t the best of circumstances. Pharaoh lost at least 1,200 so horses on this day, not to mention the chariots and soldiers.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20, Ordinary horses were used primarily by kings, high officials, and soldiers. (6/28/17)

Moses is giving the people of Israel all the rules and statutes that the LORD gave to him. One of these I had never noticed before: the king of Israel must not acquire many horses! The reason given is that they are not supposed to go back to Egypt; apparently that was the place to go if you wanted horses.

Now here’s a thought – not from the text, so you don’t have to agree with it at all. Another reason that many horses were prohibited was probably what I’ve said before, that is, that horse are expensive to buy and maintain. Moses warns the people that God does not want their king to have a lot of horses, to be wealthy, or to acquire many wives. Many of the rules we see in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are trying to separate God’s people from the surrounding nations. The Pharaoh was wealthy, and later on the kings of Assyria and Babylon were wealthy. They had gold, horses, and harems. God’s king wasn’t supposed to be like them.

2 Chronicles 9:23-31, 1 Kings 11:3, Ordinary horses were used primarily by kings, high officials, and soldiers. (6/29/17)

Do you remember what we read yesterday from Deuteronomy? Solomon did not. According to Moses, God did not want the kings of Israel to have a lot of horses, to get horses from Egypt, to acquire much silver and gold, or to have a lot of wives. The scripture says that “his wives turned away his heart.”

I think Solomon had broken enough of God’s laws on his own that he has to shoulder some of the blame for turning his own heart away from God. Every time I blame someone else for my own faults, I commit a new sin (false testimony) and move even farther from God. We need to stand up, take the blame, get forgiveness, and move on. Let’s not come to a bad end, like Solomon (1 King 11:9-11).

Acts 8:26-39, Ordinary horses were used primarily by kings, high officials, and soldiers. (6/30/17)

I was once watching barrel racing, either at the New Mexico State Fair, or at the state 4-H contest, I forget which. For those very few of you who don’t follow rodeo, barrel racing is a contest for horse and rider. A bunch of tall poles are set in a line, and the horse and rider snake through the poles, passing each pole on the opposite side. Touching the pole is a fault. The fastest team wins, providing they’ve also touched the fewest poles.

Well anyway, there was some sort of delay, and one of the young men helping to run the contest suddenly burst from the starting gate and snaked through the poles on foot at top speed! He had the fastest time. We all cheered for him, although the judges did not award him the prize – some technicality having to do with not having a horse. Over a short distance, a man can outrun a horse. Don’t say that you never get any useful information from this study.

Earlier this week we saw that Pharaoh and his army, and Solomon and his charioteers, had horses. The Ethiopian eunuch was a high official in the Candace’s court, and he also had a chariot and horses. I think we can assume that the horses were walking, because the chariots had no springs and Luke says the Ethiopian was reading. Probably Philip didn’t have to run very fast to catch up – but he could have.

Luke 13:11-17, Everyone had a domestic ass, or donkey. (7/4/17)

I have always liked this passage about Jesus healing the bent woman. My mom was bent for many years, but I know she stands straight and tall in Heaven, so I translated vss. 11-13 for her funeral bulletin.

Now that we’re doing this study on Bible animals, however, I notice something that I never paid attention to before: everybody in the synagogue owned a donkey. Jesus says, “Does not each of you” – which many translations render “every one of you” – untie his donkey? Horse were for the elite, but everybody had a donkey, or domestic ass.

Job 39:1-12, The wild ass is untamable. (7/5/17)

The domestic ass, or donkey, is smart and independent, but still friendly and compliant. Its wild cousin is smart and independent, but not friendly or compliant. When Job demands answers from God, God says, “What do you know about anything? Do you understand mountain goats, or wild donkeys, or wild oxen? No – and the wild donkey won’t even listen to you!” The implication is that when Job learns more than he knows now (unlikely), he might be in a position to question God. I love this picture of God’s care for every individual creature in the world.

The wild ass, by the way, is a critically endangered species.

Leviticus 19:19, 1 Kings 1:23-39, Mules were against the Law, but so useful that they were bred anyway. (8/25/17)

The Law of Moses is very clear: breed your livestock only with livestock of the same kind. Cattle with cattle only, horses with horses only, goats with goats only, donkeys with donkeys only, etc. Although no reason is given (except, “I’m God, and I say so”), most likely this is intended as one of the continual reminders that the children of Israel are supposed to be a separate people, holy to the LORD.

For the most part, the law about cross-breeding isn’t a problem, because you can’t cross, say, goats and cows. You can, however, cross horses with donkeys, and you get an intelligent, hardy, strong, useful animal called a mule. Theoretically, the Jews would not be producing or using mules. In practice, those who could afford them, did.

The background for today’s story is that David promised Bathsheba that their son Solomon would be king after him. The oldest son, Adonijah, thought that he should be king, so when David got old and feeble, Adonijah just declared himself king. Bathsheba went to the prophet Nathan. Nathan went to the king. It turned out that David wasn’t quite as feeble as Adonijah thought he was.

Genesis 4:1-16, Flocks were always important (7/31/17)

We all know the sad story of Cain and Abel. Notice that it was Abel (and his offering) that was acceptable, and Cain (and his offering) that was unacceptable. The emphasis is on the person, not the offering, as God makes clear in vss. 6 and 7.

But what I really want to talk about is that even in this very early story we read about sheep. Flocks were important to the children of Israel as far back as they could remember.

Genesis 13:1-11, Flocks were always important (8/1/17)

After Abram left his homeland, he traveled through Palestine and down into Egypt. There he became wealthy (Genesis 12) and then returned north. Notice in 13:1 that “livestock” are listed before silver and gold in the inventory of Abram’s wealth. From the “also” in vss. 5-7, we surmise that Abram’s livestock included both flocks (sheep and goats) and herds (cattle). Because the livestock were so numerous, the workers belonging to Abram and his nephew Lot could no longer travel together peaceably. Abram allowed Lot to choose which direction he wanted to go; Lot chose Sodom and Gomorrah, which didn’t turn out well for him in spite of his great wealth of flocks and herds.

Most of the places mentioned in this reading are on this map of the Lands of the Sojourn and Wandering.

Genesis 30:25-43, Flocks were always important (8/2/17)

We all “know” that Jacob was a sneaky guy. I think the truth is that he came from a sneaky family. The idea of getting Esau’s blessing for Jacob actually came from their mother, Rebecca (Genesis 27:6-10).

Later, Rebecca’s brother Laban got seven years’ worth of work out of Jacob and then gave him the wrong bride (Genesis 29:18-25). After several more years went by, Laban agreed that Jacob should have all the speckled and spotted goats and black lambs as his wages (vs. 32); however, Laban promptly got his own sons to remove all of those animals from the flock before Jacob got there (vss. 35-36). So maybe Jacob’s trick of putting the striped, speckled, and spotted sticks in front of the ewes (which doesn’t work, by the way) was no more than Laban deserved.

I’m glad we’re doing this study about animals, because I’m seeing points in the scripture that I never noticed before. We all know about Jacob’s sharp dealing with Laban with regard to the flocks, but this is the first time I noticed that Laban started it.

Matthew 12:9-13, Flocks were always important (8/3/17)

Jesus frequently used sheep and shepherds as examples or metaphors in his teaching. From the parallel scripture in Luke 6:6-11, we see that Jesus in this case was speaking primarily to the scribes and Pharisees present in the synagogue. They are trying to accuse him of working on the Sabbath by healing; he points that they would obviously do work on the Sabbath to save one of their sheep. A sheep is valuable; a man is more valuable.

Luke 15:1-10, Flocks were always important. (8/4/17)

In yesterday’s reading, Jesus directly compared rescuing a sheep with healing a man. Today’s comparison is more elaborate, but it makes a similar point. If someone loses a sheep, that one sheep is valuable enough to go after and to justify a party when it is found. The sheep is like a silver coin, because one silver coin is valuable enough to search for and to justify a party when it is found. “Just so,” Jesus says, a sinner is so valuable to God that there is a party in heaven when one repents.

Of course we all know that the third story in this group is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It really ought to be called the Parable of the Lost Son, because that’s where it comes out: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” A sheep is important enough to give us an insight into the importance of the lost son.

Genesis 27:1-10; Leviticus 16:6-10; Exodus 26:7-10, 35:25-26, Goats are multi-purpose animals. (8/7/17)

Goats are almost as common as sheep in the Bible, and just as useful. You can eat them, you can use them for sacrifices, or you can make fabric out of their hair. Two goats played an especially important role on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this holiest of days, one goat was offered for a sin offering. All the sins of the people were transferred onto the other goat, which was sent out into the wilderness. This is the origin of the term “scapegoat,” which is a person who bears the blame for others’ misdeeds.

Leviticus 1:1-9; Deuteronomy 30:9-10, Cattle of various ages were important liturgically and economically. (7/17/17)

Nomadic people, like the Hebrews, can’t amass wealth in real property such as houses or land. Often, even today, the wealth of nomads is measured in (a) herds and flocks and (b) jewelry (which we’ll come back to tomorrow). For this reason, when a member of the children of Israel wanted to bring just about any kind of offering – voluntary or required – to the Lord, the list frequently started with cattle, the most expensive item you could bring. If you weren’t rich enough to afford a bullock, the list worked its way down through rams (e.g., Leviticus 1:11-13), lambs, and turtledoves (Leviticus 1:14-17). It was a sliding scale, but you were expected to bring the best you could afford, and the very best was a head of cattle. Assorted grain, meal, and oil wine offerings are also described (e.g., Leviticus 2), but typically each type of offering begins with a description of sacrificing cattle (e.g., Leviticus 3:1, 4:3).

When God promised to make the children of Israel wealthy, cattle ranked right after children. Cattle were important both liturgically and economically.

By the way, have you ever noticed that the only English singular for “cattle” is “head” or “head of cattle”?

Genesis 24:1-27, Camels were essential for long-distance travel (7/18/17)

Abraham was so rich that he not only had herds and flocks and jewelry, but he also had camels. Everybody had a donkey, but for long-distance travel across the desert, you needed camels. Abraham’s servant has to travel 600 or 700 miles to get to the city of Nahor, and he must take supplies and gifts. Of course, he also hopes to come back with a wife for Isaac, plus whatever she wants to bring with her. He takes ten camels.

Leviticus 4:32-35; John 1:29-36; Revelations 5:1-14, Most important of all: the Lamb of God (9/15/17)

Back in July, we learned that flocks were important to the Hebrews and Jews from their earliest days, and sheep and lambs continued to be important even in early Christian times. We finish up our study of animals in the Bible with one particular, symbolic lamb, the Lamb of God. As part of the Levitical sacrificial system (from the time of Moses until 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem), the lamb was one of the acceptable offerings for the atonement of sin. A lamb without blemish was supplied by the person who committed the sin, and each sin had to be atoned for by an individual sacrifice. One sin, one sacrifice. Sin was a serious and expensive business.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” God’s lamb was perfect, so perfect that its sacrifice could take away all sin, for the whole world, once and forever. In Revelation, Jesus is usually referred to as “the Lamb” or “the Lamb who was slain,” whose blood is capable of redeeming all of God’s people. Sin was still, and remains, a serious and expensive business.

More Animals Named in the Bible
Animals Named in the Bible – Part 1
Animals Named in the Bible – Part 2
Animals Named in the Bible – Part 3
Animals Named in the Bible – Part 4

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