From the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, the bible accords animals an exalted place in Creation. It is the only sacred text of any major religion which proclaims that both animals and human beings are nefesh chaya: living souls. And just as the first book of the bible juxtaposes the appearance of humans and nonhumans at the dawn of creation, the last book unites them in heavenly places. The book of Revelation repeatedly places both human and nonhuman creatures around the throne of God, at a time when the Lord "shall wipe away all tears." (Revelation 4:6-11; 5:6-14; 6:1-7)
And it is not only at the beginning and end of the bible that animals are given such preeminence. The scriptures also state that at the time of Noah, God entered into a sacred covenant with the animals as well as with human beings. This is an unavoidable biblical fact which generations of preachers and scholars have managed to overlook.
Endless sermons and countless Bible commentaries have explained the divine sigificance of Man's covenantal relationship with God. This bond has been extolled as a sure sign of the great love the Creator has for the human race--of the sacred nature of the relationship between God and Man. But the fact that God also covenanted with the animals is ignored.
This is not an easy thing to do. The same passages of scripture which tell of the God/human covenant also tell of the God/animal covenant. In fact, the report of this divine bond is repeated five times in the ninth chapter of Genesis. Such repetition would seem to insure that a chauvinistic human race would be forced to face the fact that God exalted the animals--as well as human beings--by covenanting with them. But this is not the case. In spite of the repetition, and in spite of the plain language used to describe what took place, God's sacred bond with the animals is disregarded.
For those who are not familiar with the uncomplicated and easily understood wording of the post-Flood covenant, the text follows.
1. "Then God said to Noah...I now establish My covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you--the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you-- with every living creature on earth." (Genesis 9:8-10 )
2. "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between Me and you and every living creature...a covenant for all generations to come." (Genesis 9:11-13)
3. "Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds I will see it and I will remember My covenant between Me and you and all living creatures of every kind."(Genesis 9:14,15)
4. "Whenever the rainbow appears I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."(Genesis 9:16)
5. "So God said to Noah, this is the sign of the covenant I have established between Me and all life on earth." (Genesis 9:17)
What theological implications have millennia of scholars deduced from these passages of scripture that equate humans and animals in their sacred bond with the Creator? None. A student can graduate from Seminary, go on to post-graduate work and never read or hear any comment on this startling revelation.
How often do ministers remind their congregations of the bond the Lord has initiated with animals as well as with human beings? Never. A church member can sit through a lifetime of sermons and never hear a preacher warn those who torment and kill animals, that Almighty God has entered into a covenantal relationship with these creatures.
But in spite of this silence on the part of religious leaders, the biblical record remains: God covenanted with both animals and people. And in spite of the attempt to denigrate nonhuman beings to the status of "things" the bible reminds us that they, like humans, are "living souls".
The fact that they are of a different species than homo sapiens is not a justification for their slaughter and torment any more than racial, ethnic, or gender differences justify the torment and slaughter of human beings.
Reprinted from the March/Apr 1997 issue of Humane Religion. Copyright 1997 by Viatoris Ministries.
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