Animals have long fueled our imaginations. They come in many sizes, colors, and textures. And from web-spinning to flying, to changing color, to climbing trees, most animals do things that humans are unable to do.
We know that God teaches us through mentors, prophets, and pastors. But with a wide array of creatures at His command, can God work through animals, too?
God works through all of His creation, including animals, in different ways. Sometimes He performs miracles through animals, but He also uses their normal activities to serve His creation and teach us His truths.
Animals in the Bible
As we explored in our previous piece about miracles, God is the Creator of all things and the author of the laws of nature, so He may choose to act in contradiction to natural laws if it suits His purposes.
Both modern and Biblical accounts of miracles include examples of animals acting in extraordinary—even impossible—ways to achieve God’s purposes. Let’s look at some well-known examples from scripture.
The most famous—and entertaining—example of God working through an animal is found in Numbers 22.
Balaam had been summoned by the people of Moab, who were hoping to entice him to speak a curse against Israel. When Balaam went (on his donkey) to meet the people of Moab, God sent an angel to obstruct his path.
Balaam could not see the angel, but his donkey could. Three times, the donkey stopped or changed directions, and each time Balaam beat the donkey to encourage it to continue.
When the donkey—and God—had had enough, the following exchange took place:
Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said.
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. – Numbers 22:28-31
A talking donkey could only be a supernatural phenomenon. Everything we know about animal physiology tells us that animals are incapable of human speech, much less the rational thinking required to make any such speech intelligible.
Still, animals don’t have to act like humans in order to be used by God. Even animals that behave like animals are sometimes used in miraculous ways.
Elijah Fed by Ravens
Shortly after Ahab became king of Israel, Elijah prophesied that there would be several years without rain. The Lord then sent Elijah into hiding, and promised him that ravens would sustain him:
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”
So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.1 Kings 17:2-6
The Plague of Frogs
Prior to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, the Lord brought ten plagues upon Egypt. The second plague saw the land overrun with frogs:
If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will come up on you and your people and all your officials.’”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’”
So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land.Exodus 8:2-6
Neither Elijah’s ravens nor Egypt’s frogs behaved in a manner that was inconsistent with their species, yet their number, timing, and effect indicate that it was God who directed their activities, just as scripture says.
We don’t have space to explore all of the times that God called upon animals to complete His work. But here are a few more examples for the curious:
- God sent a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place. (Genesis 22:13)
- God sent a fish to rescue Jonah. (Jonah 1:17)
- God used a fish to pay the temple tax for Jesus and Peter. (Matthew 17:24-27)
- God supplied a donkey for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem prior to his arrest and crucifixion. (Matthew 21:1-5)
Why Use Animals?
God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.Genesis 1:25
Even without these stories, the animal kingdom reveals the depth, complexity, and beauty of God’s creative genius. God filled the earth with a variety of animals to fulfill different functions and purposes in His ecosystem. Some animals do work while others provide food. But all of them are part of the good system that God designed for us to care for as His image-bearers.
Even the mundane, everyday purposes of animals are useful for illustrating spiritual truths and helping us understand our relationship to God:
- Jesus is called both the (sacrificial) Lamb of God and the (kingly) Lion of Judah.
- Jesus called the disciples to be ‘fishers of men.’
- Jesus taught that, like the birds, we ought to worry less and trust that God will care for us.
A few of us may be given the opportunity to witness God using animals in supernatural ways (this author has had such an experience). But even if our experience with animals is limited to the natural and the expected, God’s power, creativity, and care are revealed in them.
So whether you work with animals on a farm, admire the beauty of birds and fish, volunteer at an animal rescue, or simply enjoy the unconditional love that your dog lavishes on you, every animal that you encounter can be used by God to direct your heart and mind toward Him.