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Bears in the Bible

I was asked by a friend about what bears meant in the bible, so I took the time to look for a bunch of references and it got a little out of hand, i.e. I wrote too much. Anyways here is the list.

Bears in the Bible and Deutero-Canonical books

Hebrew for Bear

דֹּב (dōḇ) pronounce it like “dōve”

The DBL Hebrew dictionary writes, “bear, i.e., sow or boar of the species Ursus syriacus, a wild large-mammal.”

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament:

Bear, Ursinus Syriacus (the Syrian bear). When deprived of its cubs this animal is a dangerous creature (II Sam 17:8; cf. Prov 17:12); at times it roars out in frustration (Isa 59:11). On occasion they attacked people (cf. Amos 5:19); once they attacked in fulfillment of Elijah’s curse on people who were insolent toward God (II Kgs 2:24).

The bear is used as a metaphor for the activity of both the wicked and of God. In the former use it denotes the wicked as essentially bestial—cruel, insensitive, self-seeking, and without a spiritual consciousness (Prov 28:15; cf. other passages where the wicked are described as bestial: Ps 22:12ff.; Dan 7:1–8). In the latter usage it denotes the ferocity of God’s wrath unleashed against sinful Israel (Lam 3:10; Hos 13:8).”

Bears in the Hebrew Bible

1 Samuel 17.34, 36, 37

In this passage, David is describing past deeds of his in protecting his sheep, against lions and bears, and how God has used him to fight to bears.

Origen of this passage writes, “But as David who took hold of the beard seized the lion, so let us beg the spiritual David, Christ, when taking hold of the lion, to abolish also every Sanhedrin of beasts.” In Fragment of Jeremiah 28.1

2 Samuel 17.8

Here, Hushai (the guy who was on David’s side) is advising Absalom concerning David and his men, comparing them to a bear who been “enraged” due to her cubs being taken.

2 Kings 2.24

The Elisha she-bear eating children passage, never threaten bald men of God.

Job 9.9; 38.32

The first of these two passages is referring to the star constellation, asking who has made them in reference toward the almighty God.

The second, now coming from God asks, “can you guide the bear with its children,” which again is for a no, to denote that I am God Job and you are not.

Proverbs 17.12;28.15

In the first passage, the writer says it is better to meet a mother bear with her cubs rather than deal with a fool and his “folly.”

In the second passage a wicked ruler is here compared to a charging bear. The point here as the NAC Commentary states is “Understanding is a fundamental human trait; to lack it is to be reduced to the animal level.”[1]

Isaiah 11.7; 59.11

The first passage is looking toward a time of peace, where “the cow and the bear shall graze” together, similar to how we often talk about the lion and the lamb laying together.

In the second passage, Israel is compared to animals, in particular that they are all growling like bears while waiting for the “vindication” that is not yet come.

Lamentations 3.10

Jeremiah in reflecting on God and the Exile, notes how God has placed “affliction” in his life and how in this way God is like “a bear lying in wait for me.”

Daniel 7.5

This is the while known Animal passage in Daniel, here,  the second animal, most likely Persia, is depicted as a bear with ribs in his mouth and “raised on one side,” i.e. A bear on his back legs, a rather scary sight.

Jerome noted, “The second beast resembling a bear is the same as that of which we read in the vision of the statue, “His chest and arms were of silver.” In the former case the comparison was based on the hardness of the metal, in this case on the ferocity of the bear.” Commentary on Daniel 7.5

Theodoret of Cyr: Here he indicates the Persian kingdom, which he states to have been like a bear because of the cruelty and savageness of the punishments it meted out. – Commentary on Daniel 7.5

Hosea 13.8

God’s judgment is pictured here like an attacking mother bear whose cubs have been taken.

Amos 5.19

Amos here, describes that those who desire the Day of Yahweh are not thinking straight, for it is a dark day, and it is inescapable, and the picture Amos uses to illustrate this is that it is like a man who was running from a lion only to meet a bear.

Deutero-Canonical books.

Wisdom 11.17

Pseudo-Solomon writes, in the middle of showing God’s punishment of God’s mercy. He explains that he same hands that made the universe, sent upon the Egyptians bears and lions (and he could do more), but that God has mercy.

“or not without means was your almighty hand,  that had fashioned the universe from formless matter, to send upon them many bears or fierce lions,” (NABRE).

Sirach 47.3

This passage is related to the story of David i.e. the passage looked at above concerning his previous shepherd feats. Here Ben Sira wrote, “He played with lions as though they were young goats, and with bears, like lambs of the flock.” (NABRE)

New Testament

Bear in Greek

“ἄρκος ,”arkos

Used in 4 kings 2.24 LXX (2 Kings Elisha passage) and Apocalypse 13.2

Revelation 13.2 is the only time this word appears in the New Testament.

Revelation 13.2

The beast is described by various animal parts, its legs are described like that of a bears.

Victorinus of Petovium in his Commentary on the Apocalypse 13.1 writes, ““Its feet were like the feet of a bear,” that is, they were of a strong and utterly filthy beast. He speaks of the leaders [of this kingdom] as his “feet.””

Oecumenius in his commentary on the Apocalypse 13.1-4 wrote, ““And its feet were like a bear’s,” it says, since they are sturdy and steadfast, that he might “walk to and fro upon the earth under heaven,” [Job1.7] plotting against humankind.”

Caesarius of Arles writes in his Exposition on the Apocalypse 13.2, Homily 10 “he is like a bear because of his maliciousness and madness.”

The Abingdon NT Commentary on Revelation notes “ “bear,” and “lion” may allude to the beast/kingdsom of Daniel 7:4-6, but they are common names for monstrous, dangers animals (Hosea 13:7-8; Wis 11:17-18; Sir 47:3-4; Vita Mos. 1.109; Strabo 17.3.7). According to Plutarch, Chrysippus said that he gods created “horses to accompany us to the wars … panthers  (= leopards), bears, and lions as a school for training in bravery” (Frag. 193). So, for John, Horses are associated with war, and the other three animals here with the dangerous and monstrous.” 138.

Final Note

The Bible uses bears to show a ferocious animal, at times concerning God’s judgment, at others as a symbol of a person or country. It all depends on the context. One imaged used most of is the female bear protecting her cubs. This was just a quick survey and brief note, but should be a good spot to start if you’re pondering about bears and the Bible.

1 Comment

  1. […] 1 Samuel 17:34, bears are treated in the same way that wolves are in some parts of the Bible: as symbols of evil […]

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