Animals play a central role in many of the stories and teachings in the Bible. Not only do we get a sense of people’s lives at the time and how they interacted with both wild and domestic animals, we also get insights into spiritual ideas and lessons. In this post, we’ll explore some of the animals in the Bible and what they symbolize.
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In the Bible, bears are used as both positive and negative symbols. In addition, sometimes they’re a symbol of strength and protectiveness. Other times, they symbolize ferocity and God’s wrath.
Here are some examples:
1 Samuel 17:34-37
“But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth.’”1
2 Samuel 17:8
“You know your father and his men, that they are mighty men and they are fierce, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. And your father is an expert in warfare, and will not spend the night with the people.”2
2 Kings 2:23-24
“As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”3
“Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool bent on folly…”4
You can read more about bear meanings in my post about bear symbolism.
In biblical times, a bull was a valuable asset because cattle were a source of food, clothing, and other items. Thus, the bull was a symbol of wealth. In fact, bulls were so valuable that they were viewed as a sacrifice that was worthy only for God.5
In addition, bull symbolism in the Bible includes God’s strength and protection, majesty, strength, and fertility.
Here are some examples:
“If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the Lord a young bull without defect as a sin offering] for the sin he has committed.”6
“In majesty he is like a firstborn bull; his horns are the horns of a wild ox. With them he will gore the nations, even those at the ends of the earth. Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim; such are the thousands of Manasseh.”
“Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.”
In biblical times, crocodiles were plentiful in the Nile River. While today, they are mainly found in the southern Nile River Valley. In fact, archaeologists have discovered crocodile mummies in ancient Egyptian tombs. Apparently, the Egyptians were trying to appease the giant reptiles by sending them to the afterlife so they would be more civil to humans.7
So, it’s no surprise that crocodiles are associated with Egypt in the Bible. Notably they symbolized the reign of the Pharaohs.
For this reason, the crocodile symbolized danger and destruction in the Bible. Indeed, they are often depicted as fierce and aggressive predators and used to represent the power of evil and the danger of sin.
While translations vary, the crocodile was often described as a “monster” or a “dragon.”
“It was you who divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.”8
“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?”9
“You consider yourself a young lion among the nations, but you are like the sea monster! You thrash about in your rivers, you roil the waters with your feet, and you muddy your rivers…”
Then, God goes on to say, “‘The sword of the king of Babylon will come against you. I will cause your hordes to fall by the swords of mighty men – the most ruthless of all nations. They will shatter the pride of Egypt, and all her hordes will be overthrown.”10
You can read more about crocodile meaning in my post on crocodile symbolism.
4. Crow or Raven
The raven, or crow or an ancestor of modern-day corvids, appears throughout the Bible. In fact, they are the first bird mentioned in the Book of Genesis.
Raven and crow symbolism in the Bible includes death and destruction as well as God’s judgment and wrath.
In fact, the Bible often gives these birds a bad rap, notably when they are depicted as unclean because they eat carrion. This irrational fear was undoubtedly one of the reasons why ravens and crows came to be associated with the occult and death.
However, at other times they are symbols of renewal and new beginnings.
Here are some examples:
“At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth.”11
1 Kings 17:4
“You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”12
“He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.”13
You can read more in my posts on raven symbolism and crow symbolism.
In the Bible, deer serve as a reminder for people to maintain their surefootedness and devotion to God amidst the perils they can face in life.
Deer also symbolize the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. As well, they are symbols of grace, beauty, and gentleness.
Here are some examples:
“He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he sets me secure on the heights.”14
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”15
You can read more about deer symbolism in my post about deer meanings.
The dove has deep spiritual meanings in the Bible. In general, they symbolize gentleness and purity. They also represent the Holy Spirit.
Despite these positive associations, or perhaps because of them, at the time of the Old Testament, doves were sacrificial animals.
“If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, he is to offer a dove or a young pigeon.”16
“When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.”17
Of course, one of the most famous biblical stories that involves a dove is in the Books of Genesis – the story of the Great Flood. In this case, the dove symbolizes hope, faith, and renewal.
8 “Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark…
11 ”… And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.”18
In the New Testament, the dove came to symbolize the Holy Spirit.
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.”19
“And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'”20
You can read more about dove meaning in my post on dove symbolism.
The eagle is often used as a symbol for strength, courage, spiritual enlightenment, and God’s protection in the Bible. They are also depicted as fierce and powerful.
Here are some examples:
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”21
“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft..”22
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint..”23
“The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.”24
You can read more about eagle meaning in my post on eagle symbolism.
Fish have deep symbolic meaning in the Bible. To begin, they are symbols of abundance and prosperity. They are also symbols for Jesus Chirst and his resurrection, as well as his followers.
In fact, the Greek word for fish is ichthys. This word is used as an acronym for the phrase “Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter,” which translates to “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
Early Christians, who were persecuted, used the acronym as a secret symbol of their faith to identify each other and share the Gospel.25
Here are some passages that reference fish in the Bible:
“And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'”26
“So, Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.”27
In biblical times, even the poorest of families had a goat, which was used as a source of milk. The goat was so important that families would bring the goat inside the home for protection and extra warmth. Goats were a part of everyday life and they are mentioned throughout the Bible.
Although people relied on their goats, they didn’t always view them kindly. For one, goats were used often in religious sacrifices. And the Old Testament has the first reference to goats as satanic beings.
For example, Isaiah 13:21 references satyrs or se’īrīm, which were viewed as goat demons. (Sa’ir is the Hebrew word for “he-goat.”) Thus, the goat was associated with lewdness and even worshiping false gods.
“But desert creatures will lie down there, And their houses will be full of owls; Ostriches also will live there, and wild goats will dance there.”28
Furthermore, the practice of sacrificing goats dates back thousands of years. And the first example of a scapegoat dates to 2400 BC in what is now Syria.
According to the strange tradition, a pair of goats was selected. One was sacrificed and the other was released into the wild. The latter was the scapegoat, or the goat who escapes.
However, the scapegoat didn’t totally escape. He was burdened with the people’s issues: their sins, impurities, and other negative behaviors and thoughts.29
Here are some additional references to goats from the Bible:
“So he said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.'”30
“Or if his sin which he has committed is something other than these, then he shall bring for his guilt offering a female goat a year old for a sin offering.”31
“Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.”32
You can read more about goat meaning in my post on goat symbolism.
The hawk, along with other birds of prey, was seen as an “unclean” animal who should not be eaten.
In addition, like other animals, that hawk is seen as God’s creation. In this quote from Job 39:26, biblical scholars theorize that God is asking a rhetorical question. He is saying that the hawk’s instincts are governed by the laws of nature, which are divinely pre-ordained:33
“Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings towards the south?”34
In addition, the hawk is used to symbolize God’s wrath/
“But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plumb line of emptiness.”35
You can read more about hawk meaning in my post on hawk symbolism.
In the Bible, jackals are given a bad rap. Because they are scavenger animals, often found in the desert, they were associated with loss, desolation, loneliness, and abandonment. The jackal was also used as a symbol for the consequences of sinning and being disobedient to God’s will.
Here are some examples:
“I am a brother of jackals and a companion of ostriches.”36
“They will die by the sword and become the food of jackals.”37
“But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about.”38
In biblical times, the lamb was a symbol of innocence, peace, harmony, and sacrifice. The lamb is also another symbol for Jesus. Here are some passages that illustrate this:
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”39
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”40
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”41
“Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”42
In the Bible, the leopard symbolizes stealth, cunning, and destructive power.
Here are some examples:
“Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down; a wolf from the desert shall devastate them. A leopard is watching their cities; everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces, because their transgressions are many, their apostasies are great.”
“Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour.”
“So I became to them like a lion; like a leopard I crouched against the way.”
You can read more about leopard meaning in my post on leopard symbolism.
Lions, including winged lions, also have important symbolic meaning in the Bible. They represent majesty, power, strength, and angels. They also symbolize danger. In addition, they are used to represent the power of kings who, by contrast, lack the power of God. At other times, they symbolize God’s protection.
Here are some examples:
“He lies in wait like a lion in his thicket; he lies in wait to catch the oppressed; he catches the oppressed when he draws him in.”43
“For thus the Lord said to me, ‘As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey, and when a band of shepherds is called out against him he is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the Lord of hosts will come down to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill.’”44
In the Book of Daniel, Daniel dreams of four mythical creatures, one of which is a winged lion. Some biblical scholars theorize that the lion is symbolic for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar and three other kings (of Persia, Rome, and Greece) are represented as mythical beasts. Their symbols convey that while these mythical beasts (or kings) are strong, none are as strong as God.45
“The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it.”46
You can read more about lion meaning in my post on lion symbolism.
In the Bible, the ostrich symbolizes foolishness, a lack of responsibility, and selfishness. Thus, they represent the type of person who is not following God’s will. Despite this, other passages underscore that God will still protect them.
Here are some examples:
“The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are they the pinions and plumage of love? For she leaves her eggs to the earth and lets them be warmed on the ground, forgetting that a foot may crush them and that the wild beast may trample them. She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers; though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear, because God has made her forget wisdom and given her no share in understanding. When she rouses herself to flee, she laughs at the horse and his rider.”47
“The beast of the field will glorify me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people.”48
“Even the jackals offer the breast; they nurse their young, but the daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.”49
In the Bible, the owl, as a bird of prey, is described as “unclean” and not fit for human consumption. Generally, owls are described in negative terms in the Bible. For example, they symbolize loss and loneliness and were also associated with demonic creatures.
“I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.”50
In the Book of Isaiah, under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the kingdom of Edom would experience a land filled with dragons, unicorns, owls, and other fearsome creatures that symbolized desolation, death, darkness, and disobedience in the Bible.
Depicted as mysterious and fearsome, they represent the dangers and uncertainties in the world.
“‘But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plumb line of emptiness.”51
You can read more about owl meaning in my post on owl symbolism.
The peacock is one of the animals in the Bible who is mentioned only once. Nevertheless, they hold important symbolic meaning.
In the Book of Kings, the peacock is included in King Solomon’s spoils of wealth. Thus, they symbolized beauty, pride, and vanity. While they were portrayed as beautiful and majestic, they also represent the dangers of pride and self-importance.
1 Kings 10:22
“For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.”52
You can read more about peacock meaning in my post on peacock symbolism.
18. Serpent or Snake
The serpent, or snake, is one of the animals in the Bible who holds powerful symbolic meaning.
In early Hebrew culture, snakes were symbols of fertility, healing, and divination. But that’s about the extent of positive symbolism for snakes. Thereafter, the snake was viewed quite negatively.
To begin, the serpent in the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was a deceptive trickster. He played a pivotal role in deceiving Adam and Eve by enticing them to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree. And once they did, God banished them from Paradise.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?'”53
Thus, the serpent, or snake, symbolized temptation and sin.
In the Book of Exodus, Moses’ staff turns into a serpent. Biblical scholars surmise that because the snake was a symbol of the pharaohs’ sovereignty over Egypt, God was showing Moses that he held an even higher sovereignty than that of the pharaohs.
And Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.”54
Finally, the snake symbolized the devil himself.
“And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”55
You can read more about snake meaning in my post on snake symbolism.
In Judeo-Christian stories, wolves were often portrayed in a negative light. Mainly, the authors portrayed the wolf as a threat to the flocks in the way the Devil was a threat to mankind. At the same time, Jesus and God were viewed as the shepherds who protected the flocks.
Thus, the wolf symbolized unsavory behavior, deceit, danger, and the devil. Indeed, these negative associations most likely played a role in why wolves are unfairly persecuted to this day although they pose little threat to humans.
Here are some examples:
“Her officials within her are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.”56
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”57
“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”58
You can read more about wolf meaning in my post on wolf symbolism.
Animal symbolism is a key aspect in Bible stories. While many of the associations are negative, it’s important to keep the historical context in mind. Thousands of years ago, people had a very different relationship with nature and animals. Ideally, we can appreciate these stories while still seeing animals for themselves as sentient beings.
2 thoughts on “19 Animals in the Bible and What They Symbolize”
Crows are the best! Jesus was way cool!
True on both counts.