Ronny Graham, noting that animals often serve to symbolically represent human traits, points out that Jacob referred to some of his offspring in Genesis 49 as having animal characteristics: Benjamin as a ravenous wolf, Naphtali as a peaceful deer, Dan as a wily serpent, Issachar as a burden-bearing donkey, and Judah as a lion's whelp, symbolizing the protective fierceness of a mother lion. The lion, the king of the beasts, symbolizes the coming King of Kings, who will appear as a terrifying lion to end all human wars and forms of government, sitting on God's throne, bringing peace, righteousness, and harmony under God's government, enforcing God's laws.
Ronny Graham, reviewing the fifth and sixth days of Creation, when God created the sea-and land-animals, points out the symbolic traits many have come to associate with some animals: Snakes trigger fear; the sloth connotes laziness, and the ant represents industry. We are familiar with the clean and unclean distinction in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, where God commands His People to shun eating unclean meat or touching the carcasses of dead animals, this last being a wise health precaution as exampled by people contracting leprosy via contact with armadillos. Historically, in Middle Eastern cultures, the dog has a bad reputation. As people began to domesticate animals, they removed many disparaging stigmas, even to the point that, today, they promote some animals to the status of family members, sometimes according them equal legal footing with humans. Some have even dared to domesticate Pit Bulls, only to have loved ones mauled to death. All this points to the lack of balance exhibited by many in Western society.
Each of the four gospels include a description of the fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy that Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Ronny Graham explores what we know of the donkey as an animal, revealing that this misunderstood beast has a symbolic meaning that sheds light on both our Savior and Christian character.
Ronny Graham, focusing on the prophecy of the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, recorded in Zechariah 9:9, and fulfilled in Matthew 21:1-7, speculates about the animal Jesus rode. Donkeys are not stupid animals, but they need to trust the individuals who ride them. The donkey is sure-footed and has a strong survival instinct. A donkey is also known for being protective of his owner. Riding a donkey throughout the Scriptures denoted kingship and royalty, as well as a symbol of wealth. Jesus riding on a donkey indicated he was not a common man but a King. When He returns, He will come as a warrior on a horse, putting down the hostile armies of evil mankind.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that understanding comes through sacrifice and that our lives alternate between light (understanding) and darkness (confusion). Abraham's experiences teach us not to try to force God's will by contrivances of the flesh. When any sin or self- will is involved, the fruits of such an endeavor will be bitter and disappointing (as was the incident involving Abraham and Hagar). Abraham's righteousness equated with his acquired humble unflinching trust in God rather than his skill at law keeping. The gift of grace comes only to those who yield to God by faith, establishing a warm working relationship with Him, performing righteousness through the power of His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the special sacrificial extravagance of Mary, having expended a half-year's wages for perfume to anoint Jesus' feet, demonstrating extraordinary godly love and devotion, indicating that there are some areas of life where extravagance and waste are not even relevant. Judas, a man of talent and skill for fiscal management, but whose mind had become defiled through temptation, could not relate to or comprehend this sublime expression of love. The totally selfless sacrifice of Mary paralleled or prefigured the sacrifice Christ was later to make, giving His precious life for mankind. The key to the real abundant life and glorification is to follow our Elder Brother's example of forcing His will into submission to the Father's will, even to the point of death. We must guard against the precarious blinders of tradition and self-interest — blinders that prevented Judas, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the multitudes from comprehending or following the truth. Instead, we are admonished to walk in the light while we have the light, being willing to sacrifice ego and self-interest, unconditionally yielding to the Father's will in order that we may also become glorified members of the God family.
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