Beauty of the Beasts

Genesis 1:24-25
Martin Luther has a rather interesting presentation of how a mouse is formed, and I am not making this up. He says this: “But as far as mice are concerned, Aristotle states that certain animals are produced by their like, others by their unlike. Thus mice belong to the kind produced by their unlike, because mice originate not from mice alone but also from decay, which is used up and gradually turns into a mouse.” Then further on, talking about the power which produces this mouse, Luther says this, “The sun warms; but it would bring nothing into being unless God said by His divine power: ‘Let a mouse come out of the decay.’ Therefore, the mouse, too, is a divine creature and, in my judgment, of a watery nature and, as it were, a land bird; otherwise it would have the form of a monster, and its kind would not be preserved. But for its kind it has a very beautiful form-such pretty feet and such delicate hair that it is clear that it was created by the Word of God with a definite plan in view. Therefore here, too, we admire God’s creation and workmanship. The same thing may be said about flies.” Now, two things may be said about this. First of all, it is obviously a man writing this. I don’t know of a single woman of my acquaintance who would describe mice this way. We won’t even get into how these same women react when a mouse is in their house. Secondly, it is a man writing this who probably does not have to deal with a mouse problem in his home. Most likely, his wife Katherine had to deal with issues like that. When we come to the creation of land animals, thought, it is true that their beauty can be somewhat veiled.

On the third day, dry land appeared, as well as the entire vegetable world, the world of plants. Now, on the sixth day, God creates the rulers of that land realm. These rulers have a place well prepared for them. It has all manner of food stocked in the form of trees with fruit, and plants that animals and humans can eat. Notice that during the entire creation week, we have seen a progression of creation from lower to higher. This is not true in any evolutionary sense. But the birds and the fish are lower than the land animals in intelligence. The birds and the fish are also much more different from mankind than the land animals are. That is to say, land animals look a lot more like mankind than the birds and the fish. This progression that we see in creation points to the fact that the most important creation of the creation week is that of mankind. Only mankind was created in the image of God. But the animals that are created on the sixth day are of most use to mankind. Think of horses, dogs, cats, cows, sheep, buffalo, even coyotes, how helpful all these animals are to mankind. That is why Moses put the description of their creation right before that of mankind on the same day.

There are three categories of land animals: livestock, creepers, and wild animals.

The first is that of livestock. The translation “livestock” is actually a bit too narrow. If one translated it by “ the tamer animals” we might come a bit nearer. It does include cattle, which are not always so tame, as well as dogs and cats. These animals have immense importance for mankind. It is impossible to farm without them. Before tractors and combines, oxen and horses were used to plow the earth. Dogs are used even now in Alaska for transportation, as they are used also for any number of other jobs. Cats keep the mice (!) population under control.

In the OT the livestock was also used for sacrifices. Leviticus discusses these sacrifices in great detail. The fact that these animals are the closest to human beings means that they make the best substitute sacrifice instead of humans themselves, which was forbidden in the OT. Human sacrifice was not just forbidden because of the high view of life, though that was an important reason. Human sacrifice was also in part forbidden because God wanted to teach His people that they needed a substitute because of sin. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.

Our sin makes our very lives forfeit to God. We as the image bearers of God have spit in God’s face. We have dishonored Him. Our sin means a sundering of relationship between us and God. Life was lost. Life needs to be regained if we are to have fellowship with God again. In those times, that meant that a life had to be substituted for a life, so that the person did have to give his own life. Most of the animals offered on the altar were of this group of livestock, the first category of land animal that Moses mentions. As Paul says in the letter to the Hebrews, though, the blood of bulls and goats does not take away the sin problem. It does not atone for sin. Why? Because it was not human, first of all, and secondly, because it was not perfect. That is why Jesus, as the perfect sacrifice came to take away sin upon himself, so that we might have life: His life now lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was our great high priest, who offered up himself. He was both the priest and the sacrifice. And now, because He lives (since death did not have power over him), we can now live in fellowship with God. For a wonderful telling of this story, I would invite you to read C. S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

But all this means that we cannot trust to our own merits. We cannot think that anything we can do will get us to heaven. We have to realize our helplessness before God. We have to realize what the real nature of our sin problem is, realize that our life is forfeit, realize that Jesus died for us, and believe in Him. We often have a problem with the first one of those things, realizing our sin problem. We think we are pretty good people, by and large. We aren’t perfect, but God is supposed to know that an take it into account, right? Wrong. God is infinitely holy. No sin is acceptable in His sight. That is why you need to be clothed with righteousness, like a garment. It is the righteousness that Christ has that you must put on. So Moses’ account of the creation of livestock here points us to Christ’s sacrifice.

If we do believe in Christ, then we must ask ourselves whether we take those creatures for granted. Those of us who farm typically have quite a few of these critters around the farm. When you look at that cow that has just kicked you in the leg, do you thank God for sending His son Jesus to be a better sacrifice than that cow ever could be? When that dog leaves a present on your front lawn, do you think about those seeing eye dogs that lead people safely across crowded intersections, and then think of Jesus, who can lead you out of your blindness to sight? Every one of your livestock and every one of your domestic animals is a sermon in itself, pointing you to the love of God shown in sending His Son.

It might be harder to see God’s love in the creation of the little annoying animals like mice, rats, fire ants, squirrels, moles, scorpions, snakes, and other lovely creatures, as Luther would put it. We have to remember that God created these creatures as very good. They were not pests before the Fall. When the Fall happened, all these creatures turned against humanity. Instead of having an easy rule over these creatures, it is now hard. When you see a pest in your house, such as a mouse, remember that they are pests because of sin. Inasmuch as we are in Adam, it is our own fault that these animals are pests. Remember also that they will not be pests when God renews this world at the end of time. The child will play with the cobra. All this enmity between various species will end at the end of time. In the meantime, remember that God uses these little pests for our sanctification. Note the example of Corrie Ten Boom in the German concentration camp, when here sister told her that they had to be grateful for the lice. Only later did Corrie realize that the Germans did not bother the women because there were lice in the camp. We learn patience, do we not, when the church becomes infested with mice. We learn also how to be servants. If there were no problems in life, we could not become servants. We can serve other people when problems arise.

The last set of animals here described are the wild animals. These are animals that cannot be domesticated. This includes all game animals. Remember, Moses is writing this after the Fall. Even if there was no death before the Fall, Moses is writing to people after the Fall, and so uses categories that they would understand, such as game animals.

Notice here that no blessing is given to any of the three categories of animals. There are several reasons for this: Moses is anxious to get to the most important part of the day, the creation of mankind. Furthermore, if animals had the same kind of reproductive power that fish had, for instance, then the world would be overrun with animals, and, most importantly, mankind would be threatened.

So we see the manifold wisdom of God in creation: the world is now ready for the entrance of the crown jewel of creation: mankind. The light is there for him, there is air for him to breathe, he can live and move on dry ground, there are plants for him to eat, sun, moon and stars for him to tell time with, fish and birds for beauty, and for usefulness, and the same is true of land animals. Over all the creation that man can touch, he is to rule over it.

Psalms

An enormous selection of good commentaries.

Start with Van Gemeren (EBC), Craigie/Tate/Allen, Kidner, Wilson, Spurgeon

Second tier: Anderson, Alexander, Briggs, Gerstenberger, Kraus, Leupold, Mays, Plumer, Dickson, Terrien, McCann (NIB), Barnes, Hossfeld/Zenger, and Schaeffer.

Forthcoming: Wenham, Botha/Prinsloo (HCOT), Goldingay

Conservative: Van Gemeren, Craigie/Tate/Allen (though sometimes they disappoint), Kidner, Wilson, Spurgeon, Alexander, Leupold, Plumer, Dickson, Barnes, Wenham

Moderate: Anderson, Mays, Terrien, McCann, Schaeffer, Goldingay

Liberal: Briggs, Gerstenberger, Kraus

Unknown: Botha/Prinsloo. I do not have Hossfeld/Zenger either, so I don’t know about it.