Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Does God Care about Rover?

“A righteous person maintains continual regard for the life of his animal, but the compassions of the wicked are cruel.” (Personal Translation)

Wisdom literature is to be understood at least partially in the context of the Mosaic Covenant. The Jews were obligated to obey all covenant stipulations, and even the animals benefited from this arrangement.

Proverbs 12:10 contrasts one difference between a righteous person and a wicked one. The righteous lives in accordance with God’s covenant standards; the wicked disregard God’s rules. In this proverb, the recognition point for classification as righteous or wicked is the treatment of one’s animals.

The animals involved here are of the domesticated variety. This is clear from both the term used for “animal” and in the attached possessive pronoun “his”(בְּהֶמְתּוֹ). Although unstated, one point of covenant faithfulness perhaps underlying this proverb is Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle the ox while it is threshing.” If the ox provides service to its owner, then it is wrong to fail to provide for its physical needs. The righteous person will take proper care of his animal and feed it; the wicked will act cruelly and starve it. Also, in accordance with the proverbial genre, this cruelty is two-edged: if the servicing animal is mistreated its service to its owner will diminish, and the cruel person only hurts himself.

If God’s people are to reflect the character of God, then this seemingly minor animal proverb takes on spiritual importance. God does not mistreat His creation; God’s people should not do so.

This proverb can be applied in at least two ways: (1) how we treat animals, pets included and maybe especially so in our urban society, reflects something of how godly we are living. (2) The treatment of animals is used in the New Testament as a paradigm for how we behave towards fellow believers who serve God as pastors and Christian leaders (1 Timothy 5:17-18). In this 1 Timothy passage Paul uses the Jewish argument from the lesser to the greater to focus attention on how God’s servants are to be treated.

Does God care about Rover? Yes, I think He does!