Sunday, 31 July 2011

Some thoughts about Bible dogs. Pt 1. Beware of dogs!

You're joking! Not at all. There are more than forty references to 'dogs' in the Bible but no references to 'cats'! (I rest my case!) There are some interesting ideas and themes connected with dogs throughout the Bible, but you will have to adopt a non-English mind-set to really understand them.

The Hebrew peoples didn't generally like dogs. If you really disliked or despised someone you called them a 'dog'. The Hebrews used the term 'dog' to describe non-Hebrews. When Mephibosheth wanted to express his self-humbling at the feet of David he went a step further and called himself a 'dead dog'. 2 Sam 9:8. Paul calls those who wanted to bring Christians under the yoke of the law, dogs and the mutilation and says we are to 'beware' of them; Philippians 3:2. and finally the Revelation tells us that 'dogs' will be outside the heavenly city. Strong stuff.

This is the language of metaphor. The phenomena of animals as 'pets' is foreign to the Bible. This is not easy for western Christians to appreciate. At a period on my life I lived next door to a university with beautiful open parkland and ornamental lakes. I had many African visitors and we frequently strolled through the university grounds. I always knew the questions I would be asked. They would see a squirrel and ask 'can you eat them?' They would see rabbits and ask 'can you eat them?' They would see flocks of Canada geese on the lakes and they would ask 'can you eat them?' It seemed such a waste to have so much good food going to waste. My African friends also found it difficult to understand why we allowed 'dogs' into our houses. In an African house you may get chickens but no dogs! Biblically, a dog is never part of a family.

Jesus called a non-Hebrew woman and her daughter 'dogs' and he distinguished very specifically the difference between 'dogs' and 'family'.
But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. Mark 7:27–28 KJV
The word translated 'dogs' is really little dogs but you must not think of an adorable puppy when you say 'little dogs'. Tyndale translated this word as 'whelps' which was usually used in an insulting manner. Did you notice the distinction between 'family members' and the 'whelp' which ought not even to have been in the house but crept in to pick up a few crumbs under the table.

It was a measure of the woman's humility they she pressed her case in the way she did. Genuine poverty cannot afford to take offence. All that mattered to her was that she gained a few crumbs for her daughter. Jesus knew the woman's heart all the time...
Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Matt 15:28 NKJV
There is a profound truth here. We may have no claim on his care and may not deserve even to me in the same home but there is a simple prayer that will always gain access to his heart.
Lord, help me. Matt 15:25 KJV

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