86. Human v Animal

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 86. Human v Animal

Mk 5:10-13 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Now I just want to make a simple observation here. There are people (not usually Christians) who maintain that human beings are just another form of animal and so animals should have the same ‘rights’ as human beings. Well these verses suggest something else!

First of all remember that these demons have been living in this man for some time and the worst they have achieved in him is that he used to cut himself a lot. Beyond that they had not been able to go. But now look what happens: as soon as they enter the pigs the pigs immediately rush down a steep bank to the lake and are drowned in the lake. The pigs do not have what it takes to resist the demons.

Second, Jesus presumably knew what would be the outcome but he has no qualms in sending the demons into the pigs and the demons causing a self-destructive stampede in the pigs. Animals clearly are not in the same category as human beings as far as the Son of God is concerned. Of course we know that from the Creation story, because human beings were made separately from animals and they are described as being made in the image of God. We are clearly distinct from all other living creatures according to the word of God.

Now there is just one other point that may be worth nothing here. This is still part of the country where there would be a Jewish population, but pigs we considered “unclean” and were not a meat to be eaten by the people of God then, according to the Law. So what are two thousand pigs doing in this part of the country?  They are obviously being farmed for food. One might suggest that it was for export, but that was somewhat unlikely as this was nowhere near a main trade route.

No, this seems another indicator that this is a particularly godless area of the country, an area where people had little respect for the Law and therefore just did their own thing. We’ll see other signs of this as we proceed. An ungodly society, as most Western nations are, ignores God’s design and simply do what is right in their own eyes, even if it has self-destructive outcomes.


37. Like Animals

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 37 :  Like Animals

Eccles 3:18,19 I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.

When you lose contact with God, you lose contact with reality and when you lose contact with reality it means you lose contact with the truth. You may still retain partial truth, but away from God you are prey to negative thoughts, half truths and utter deception. Three dangerous little words: “I also thought.” How different from the strong words of the prophets who were able to say, “God said…. and God showed me….” It is a sad thing to watch an elderly person lose their grip on reality. Solomon was never a prophet but he was known to be the wisest man in the world – while he stuck with God, but once the deception of idolatry entered the royal palace it was a downward slope, and he’s left thinking his own thoughts, not God’s thoughts!

We have to be careful here for indeed all Scripture is inspired (see 2 Tim 3:16) but sometimes that means God inspired or nudged the writer to write, not that what they wrote was absolute truth. We see this in the arguing of Job; some of it is distinctly off the rails – but it is still useful to teach us! What Solomon says in these verses is basically true, but the sense of it is negative and it is only half truth. Let’s explain.

As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. In ONE sense this is true. In many others it is false. It is the one sense that Solomon is focusing upon. So what is he saying? He is saying that when pride takes a turn and we think we are so great, we need to see that we are just on the same level as all animals. Why? Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. There is it; we are on the same level as the animals in that both we and they are all going to die. That is a common feature of every living creature.

See how he continues: “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (v.20,21) There he moves in the same thinking – we’re all going to die and what is worse, we don’t know what is going to happen then, so like the animals we don’t know our eternal future.  Well of course this was Solomon speaking without the revelation that we now have in the New Testament. Don’t join in Solomon’s ‘Doubt Club’ for that is not where we are today. The New Testament is quite clear that when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ into our life we receive eternal life and that means a life that goes on after death, a life in heaven with God.

But look at the negativity that Solomon is left with: “So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” (v.22)  Just try and get some enjoyment out of your work today because you don’t know what will happen when you leave this earth. That indeed is what many people are left with – godless people, unbelievers. Try to get the most out your work; that all you can hope for. Well fortunately there is much more we can hope for.

In the beginning we are told that God made us in his own image (see Gen 1:26.27). Now what does that mean? What characteristics or abilities do we see in us that makes us anything like God and which differentiates us from the animals?  We have the abilities to communicate, think, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and plan. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop. Go back over these things and catch the wonder of who He has made us to be.  So this doesn’t just leave us with mundane work; this opens up a panorama of possibilities of doing things for pleasure and to please others that means far more than struggling for survival.

We are fortunate to live in a part of history where these things are beginning to come to fullness and we have opportunities to do far more than only work. Meaning in life comes with a sense of fulfilment as we allow God to lead us to become the people He’s designed us to be. Yet there does need to be a warning. We can do all these creative things and yet still not find meaning for that only comes when we are in harmony with God. That IS how He’s designed us to work best and anything less than that means we struggle for meaning just as Solomon did in his latter days. Let’s ensure we avoid the ‘aged-Solomon syndrome’!

34. Cleanliness

Meditations in the Law : No.34 : A Question of Cleanliness

Lev 11:1,2, 44-47 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2″Say to the Israelites: `Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat:….. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. 45I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. 46″ `These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves in the water and every creature that moves about on the ground. 47You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’

I am sure that sometimes when we look at various of these laws that God gave to Moses, we look at them and wonder whatever relevance they have and fail to put them in the context of the day in which they were given. One thing I have seen over the years is that God’s revelation of Himself to His people has been gradual and therefore what He says in the Law is strictly limited to what they could cope with in that day. There are no great explanations (which would have gone over their heads), just simple instructions. Sometimes those instructions find explanation later in the Bible; sometimes they don’t. The ones we are going to briefly look at now don’t and so we will be left, in a measure, to speculate on a number of issues.

We have in the previous meditation briefly considered the question of clean and unclean foods. (We only did a brief introduction to the Offerings.) Because the whole of chapter 11 of Leviticus is given over to this subject, we need to note it in outline at least for it was a very real and significant part of the Law. In fact it was clearly still being observed in Jesus’ day and Peter, even though being just a common fisherman in background, was very much aware of it: He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:11-15) In a very dramatic way the Lord was telling Peter that it was all right to cross boundaries into the Gentile world, but up until then, these laws of cleanliness were clearly being observed.

Now perhaps to start to understand this more clearly we need to go back to the beginning of the Sinai experience: And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Ex 19:10,11). In modern society today, those who might be invited to meet either the President of the United States in the White House, or perhaps the Queen at Buckingham Palace, are given strict rules of protocol, as to how they should dress and how they should act. These rules essentially say, respect this very senior person you are going to meet; recognise and honour the status of the role that is theirs. But the other side of that, is that you have just become a special person, one of the few granted an audience.

Now there is an element of this when Israel come to meet God. The instructions they receive tell them something of God and something about who they are becoming. He is the Holy One, the Lord of all things, and they are about to become His special people. Perhaps it is to help them constantly remember this that they are given various laws that separate them out from the rest of the world. That may be the first reason that they are given these rules about what food they may eat and what they may not eat. There will be constant reminders as to who they are – a people called by God into relationship with Him to be a light to the rest of the world. This covers animals on the land (11:1-8) sea creatures (11:9-12), birds of the air (11:13-19), insects (11:20-23), dead creatures (11:24-28) etc.

Now some commentators suggest that another reason for these distinctions is that some of these forbidden creatures were those used by pagan nations for worship, but that is not very clear. Perhaps the strongest reason, and a number have written on this, is to do with hygiene, as we noted in the previous meditation, that the forbidden creatures were the most likely to carry infection and this was one way that the Lord was protecting His people. I suspect that there is likely to be a combination of these reasons, but for the moment the Lord has not made it clear. We’ll have to wait until we get to heaven to find the answers.

Today our distinction, if we are Christians, lies mainly in the fact that we are now Spirit-indwelt and He is the One who now makes us distinct by His presence within us. No longer are these food-hygiene laws applicable for today we live in a very hygiene conscious age and anyone who has been on a hygiene course knows the rules and knows why the rules exist, which modern laws apply to protect us. We may not understand the detail when it comes to the laws in this chapter and so it is one of those parts of Scripture where we have to trust that the Lord knows better than we do.

In all the laws that we considered in Exodus, there were very clear, common sense reasons for every law. When we moved into the ceremonial, sacrificial laws of Leviticus, we moved into a completely new area of understanding about the sinfulness of mankind, and about the Lord’s understanding of us, and His provision for the people to be brought back into relationship with Him after a failure. Now in this area of the Law we must trust that, again, there are good reasons for each rule and they are designed to protect and bless God’s people. Let’s maintain a teachable spirit.

19. Animal Injuries

Lessons from the Law: No.19 : Injuries by Animals

Ex 21:28,29 If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death.

From injuries caused by humans, the law now moves on to injuries caused by animals. In an agricultural society this is a very real issue to be dealt with. Bulls are notoriously dangerous and the possibility of a person being gored to death by a bull is very real. If that should happen, possibly in recognition of the seriousness of a human life being taken, the bull shall be killed but not eaten. Presumably it would just be burnt to get rid of it. As towards responsibility for the bull, the starting place is that the owner of the bull will not be liable for what it has done.

However, as with most of these laws, there is a caveat, which is that if the owner knew of the tendency of this bull to injure people who got near it, then he would be held liable and both he and the bull are put to death for causing the death of another when the owner had known of the likelihood.

The law of “Strict Liability” in our land says that if you bring something onto your land known to be dangerous if it escapes off the land, and it does escape, you are liable for the damage caused if you do allow it to escape. This is the same sort of law behind these verses here. They deal with, first of all, a bull killing a human being, and then a bull killing another bull.

But the laws continue on from our verses above to cover another possibility in a case when the owner has been shown to be liable: However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.” (v.30) We have seen already that the owner’s life is thus forfeit but the family of the dead person may take compensation instead if they wish and the owner thus keep his life. This was no doubt the more preferable option. It continues, This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter.(v.31) in other words, the law is no different if the person killed by the bull is a child. This point is made in the light of what then follows: “If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.” (v.32) i.e. if a slave was killed the compensation goes to the owner for his loss. Because a foreign slave (see earlier meditations) was considered to be less important than a Hebrew, the death penalty for the owner does not apply and he just has to pay compensation to the owner of the slave.

(Note: in the two verses above, death was not mentioned but the assumption is that that is what followed being gored by the bull, as they follow on from our initial verses above. It is also assumed, because of the natural flow of the verses, that they refer to a situation where the owner was aware of the bull’s propensity to harm.)

The law then moves on to cover the loss of animals by the carelessness of others: If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his.” (v.33,34). This is simply a case where compensation must be paid for the loss of an animal by his carelessness, but the dead animal remains his for him to do whatever he will with it.

Where the carelessness comes in the form of allowing one bull to kill another, then both dead and live bull values are divided between the two owners: “If a man’s bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally.” (v.35) This assumes that the first owner was not aware that his bull had a propensity to be vicious: “However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and the dead animal will be his.” (v.36) i.e. if he was aware of its propensity, then he simply has to pay the full price of the dead bull to its owner and the carcass becomes his for him to do whatever he wants with it.

When we read these laws we may have a tendency to think they are completely irrelevant to us today but we would be completely wrong. As we have pointed out, these laws are exactly the same as what is called the law of Strict Liability today. Whether it be an animal or dangerous substances, if we knew or should have known the danger if the animal or substance ‘got lose’ then we are liable for injuries or damage caused by it when it does ‘get lose’. There is, in other words, nothing strange or out of date in these laws we have just considered. It took English law until 1868 to catch up on God’s wisdom in the case, that any Law student will know, of Rylands versus Fletcher which was all about the escape of reservoir water. Water, animals or explosives etc., the law is just the same – you are liable if you know or should know of its danger.