When you are visiting the Holy Land, it may seem practical and obvious to just look for archeological ruins and relics and want to know exactly where things from the Bible happened. This however makes your trip and ability to comprehend the Bible incomplete! A major part of your learning is understanding the context of the Bible and the land in which the events occurred. So many things are described using examples of nature, from the weather to the terrain and the animals.
Just think of Jesus’ parables, if you are there during the spring you will see mustard plants all over the hills surrounding the Galilee. With this knowledge then, you will know just how small a mustard seed is. You can perhaps imagine that Jesus was in a field reaching for a mustard seed to show as an example of the lesson and you can maybe even assume that it was in the spring. The context is what brings the story to life and gives it more depth!
Animals were used throughout the Old and New Testament to give examples to an audience who would have been well acquainted and tangible explanations. Here is a short list of the many animals you should be on the look for next time you are in the Promised Land. You never know when one will pop up on your trip and then make your Bible study so much richer years later as you recall your trip!
At some point on your journey, you may be given the opportunity to ride a camel, but you will also see them in herds as you drive through the deserts. Make sure you keep an eye out the window on the bus as you make your way to the desert. (Genesis 24:10, Leviticus 11:4, Isaiah 30:6, and Matthew 3:4, 19:24, and 23:24)
You may not see the same breeds they had two-thousand years ago, but the Golan Heights have herds of them right next to the Syrian border. You may be surprised that you are still in Israel watching the herds eat on hills of green grass! The picture below was taken from an Immanuel Tours bus window in the Golan Heights in April of 2019. (Isaiah 11:7, Daniel 4:25, Luke 14:5)
Depending on the time of year you visit, you may see massive flocks of cranes en route between Africa and Europe using Israel as a layover. They number in the thousands at times. This photo was taken in spring 2019 on one of our tours. Isaiah 38:14
Hyraxes are large gopher-like animals that lives among the cliffs. This one was spending time on the ruins of Chorzin and made himself known to one of our groups. Leviticus 11:5
Sheep and Goat Herds
While there are many stories of shepherds in the Bible (King David for one) you may not realize that shepherding is still a profession in Israel, especially among the Bedouins. You will see flocks of sheep (Exodus 12:5, 1 Samuel 17:34, Matthew 25:33, Luke 15:4, John 10:7) and goats ( 1 Samuel 17:34, Genesis 15:9 and 37:31, Daniel 8:5, Leviticus 16:7, Matthew 25:33) being moved around the hills looks for food.
Now here is a bonus… lions. Yes, there WERE lions in Israel, as spoken of in the Bible, (Judges 14:8, 1 Kings 13:24, Isaiah 30:6 and 65:25, Daniel 6:7, Ezekiel 1:10, 1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 4:7 and 13:2) however, they disappeared from the region sometime around the 13th century. They are thought to have been hunted extensively and others moved into modern day Turkey, though they have disappeared there now as well. There used to also be bears, cheetahs, crocodiles and even hippos! It is possible Syrian elephants were also once in the region. Sadly, due to overhunting, these are no longer seen in the country, with the beginning of the 20th century ending sightings of the bears, cheetahs and crocodiles. The hippos have not been seen for around 3,000 years, but evidence of them is still sometimes discovered.
Heroic efforts have been made in recent years to conserve the animals of Israel and in some circumstances reintroduce them. Varieties of deer, wild horses, donkeys and other animals are being introduced to bring Israeli animal diversity back.
If you want to see even more animals from the Bible, speak to your tour operator about adding the Bible Zoo to your itinerary in Jerusalem. Particularly good for families, they have a wide variety of animals spoken of in the Hebrew bible, keeping their legacy alive even if they are no longer in the wild in Israel. They offer explanations of not only how they are connected to the Bible, but Israel, and what is being done to help conserve natural resources and species.
Don’t forget to look at your surroundings and see the fingerprints of God all around you. We hope you will find the knowledge of these animals particularly helpful as you continue to dive deeper into the Bible and it’s truths that God reveals to us everywhere we choose to look.