During my lifetime, I have had many pets. When I was young, my family had a dog, several cats, an injured bird, aquarium fish, and Buck Buck the guinea pig. During our time together, Sharon and I have had several cats, a dog, chickens, ducks, a Chinchilla, and a water dog. Most of these animals were just pets but they have been an enjoyable part of our life together.
Have you ever wondered why God made animals? There are a lot of different animals, fish, and birds. But what are they for? They provide food for us, help with work, guard us, and provide companionship. But beyond these things, does God have a special use for animals? When you look in the Bible, you will often see that the Lord used animals to accomplish part of His plan.
- Animals used by God to get someone’s attention
It would seem that people are not as willing as animals to be used by the Lord at times. In the following three stories, God used an animal to get the attention of a hard-headed person. In each case, the animal accomplished what God desired..
Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:21-33)
When Moses and the Israelites camped in the plains of Moab, the Moabites were afraid of them. Fearing that the Israelites would try to conquer them, they attempted to hire one of God’s prophets to curse the Israelites. Balaam refused to curse them but was later enticed to go along with them. Balaam mounted his donkey and followed the Moabite princes. But God was not pleased.
The Lord prepared a donkey to accomplish his plan with Balaam. As he traveled, the Angel of the Lord stood in the way several times so that Balaam’s donkey went the wrong direction, stopped, or fell down. Balaam became so angry with the donkey that he struck the beast. When the donkey spoke to Balaam, he didn’t seem surprised but carried on a conversation like he would have with any other person. Having gotten Balaam’s attention, the Angel of the Lord then made himself visible and rebuked him for being contrary to God’s purposes.
Jonah’s whale (Jonah 1:17; 2:1, 10)
When God sent Jonah to preach against Nineveh’s wickedness, he refused and ran from God’s plan. He took passage on a ship going in the opposite direction and was soon asleep in the hold. But God showed his displeasure with Jonah by sending a fierce storm that scared even the seasoned sailors. It wasn’t until they threw Jonah overboard that the storm ended. But what happened to the runaway prophet?
The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah.2 What this great fish was, we are not told. We only know that Jonah stayed inside the fish for three days and nights. Inside that dark and slimy compartment, Jonah cried out to the Lord and repented of his sin. God had used the great fish to get Jonah’s attention. Having accomplished God’s purpose, the great fish vomited Jonah out onto dry land. God then gave Jonah a second chance to obey His will.
Peter’s Rooster (Mark 14:29, 72)
During the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that they would all be scattered like sheep just as the Old Testament prophecy had foretold. But Peter, the ever confident one, stated that even if everyone else stumbled, he would not. The Lord may have smiled at this moment as Peter’s confidence was soon to be tested. He told Peter that he would deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed a second time.
That night, the Lord prepared a rooster to get Peter’s attention. After Jesus was captured, Peter swung his sword and cut off the ear of one of the servants. But he later fled just as Jesus had said. He later circled back to the high priest’s courtyard to see what could be done. But several people seemed to recognize him. Fearing that he would be assaulted, Peter denied that he was one of Jesus’ disciples and even denied knowing the Lord. When the rooster crowed a second time, God got Peter’s attention. He realized what he had done and wept.
Thankfully, God was able to get the attention of these men and point them in a right direction. And in each case, he used and animal in the process. While Balaam didn’t turn out very good, God used Jonah and Peter to turn many people from sin to faith in the Lord. And an animal played a big part in accomplishing God’s purpose.
- Animals used by God to meet a need
Do you remember when Jesus told his disciples to stop worrying. He told them that if God clothes the field with flowers and provides food for the birds, then He could certainly take care of those who seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). In the following three stories, God used animals to provide for the needs of people.
Elijah’s Ravens (1 Kings 17:2-6)
Elijah was one of the great prophets used by God in the Old Testament. During his tenure, Ahab and Jezabel ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel for 22 years. Together they led their people to turn way from God and worship the idol Baal. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord’s anger than any king before him. Because of this wickedness, God sent a years-long drought. You can imagine what the king and queen thought about Elijah at this point. Elijah had to hide from their searching and had a difficult time finding food and drink.
But the Lord had prepared some ravens to bring meat to Elijah. God told the prophet to hide by the Brook Cherith. It was there that God would command the birds to bring him food to eat. This may have seemed like a strange way to provide food for Elijah, but God made it work. The birds brought both bread and meat in the morning and evening of each day. God used these birds to accomplish his purpose.
The Fish’s Coin (Matt. 17:24-27)
During his earthly ministry, there were many conflicts with officials—especially the religious leaders. But in this situation, officials confronted Peter about a temple tax. “According to custom every Jew 20 years old and above was required to pay a temple tax of half a shekel or two drachmas each year to help support the temple.”1 Peter went inside to ask Jesus about it and was eventually told how to pay the tax.
The Lord had prepared a fish to accomplish his purpose. Jesus told Peter (who was a seasoned fisherman) to cast a hook into the sea and take the first fish he caught. Once the fish was out of the water, Peter was to open its mouth and find a piece of money, enough to pay the tax for Peter and Jesus. The chapter ends without telling what happened, but you can guess what the outcome was. Peter found the coin in the fish’s mouth just as Jesus had said and the need was met.
The Donkey’s Colt (Matt. 21:1-11)
Each year, we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Some churches also celebrate Palm Sunday which commemorates the day that Jesus came into Jerusalem joyously greeted by throngs of people. But there was only one problem. A great king was expected to ride on a donkey into the city, but Jesus didn’t have one. What was he to do?
The Lord had prepared a donkey’s colt for this purpose. Jesus instructed two of his disciples to go into a nearby village to find a donkey and her colt. They were to bring both to Jesus. And if anyone questioned them, they were to reply that “the Lord has need of them.” The disciples found the donkey and colt and brought them back to Jesus. As he rode into Jerusalem on the colt, an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah was fulfilled.
Zechariah 9:9 – “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Once again, the Lord had used an animal to accomplish his purpose.
In these three cases, the Lord used a bird, a fish, and a donkey’s colt to accomplish his purposes. Through them, He provided for the needs of three people who were seeking to do God’s will.
While there are many more mentions of animals in the Bible, these six show us how certain animals were used by God to accomplish His purposes at that particular time. This reminds me of something that happened in Willard, Ohio. When a man joined our church a few years ago, I asked him to share one of his favorite Bible verses. He surprised us all by bringing up the story of Balaam’s donkey. That wasn’t expected but made us all think. God had used a talking donkey to accomplish his plan and this had gotten the attention of this man… and us.
I think that one of the lessons we can learn from these animals in the Bible is that God can use anyone to accomplish His purposes. God used several donkeys, a whale, a rooster, a raven, and a fish. If He could use these animals to get things done, how much more could He use each one of us to accomplish His purposes today? Perhaps we should follow the example of these willing servants of the Lord and make ourselves available for God’s use this week.
1 Barbieri 61.
2 “Apart from the Bible, there is no conclusive historical proof that Jonah was ever swallowed by a fish and lived to tell about it; however, there is some provocative corroboratory evidence. In the third century BC, a Babylonian priest/historian named Berosus wrote of a mythical creature named Oannes who, according to Berosus, emerged from the sea to give divine wisdom to men. Scholars generally identify this mysterious fish-man as an avatar of the Babylonian water-god Ea (also known as Enki). The curious thing about Berosus’ account is the name he used: Oannes. Berosus wrote in Greek during the Hellenistic Period. Oannes is just a single letter removed from the Greek name Ioannes, which happens to be used in the Greek New Testament for Jonah. As for the I being dropped from Ioannes, Professor Trumbull writes, “In the Assyrian inscriptions the J of foreign words becomes I, or disappears altogether; hence Joannes, as the Greek representative of Jona, would appear in Assyrian either as Ioannes or as Oannes” (ibid., p. 58). Nineveh was an Assyrian city. What this essentially means is that Berosus wrote of a fish-man named Jonah who emerged from the sea to give divine wisdom to man—a remarkable corroboration of the Hebrew account.” —GotQuestions
Barbieri, Louis A., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.
“Was Jonah truly swallowed by a whale?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=1633 on 7/16/2023.