Issue #664 -------
June 18, 2015
Cruel, but composed and bland,
Dumb, inscrutable and grand,
So Tiberius might have sat,
Had Tiberius been a cat.
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)
I find it somewhat interesting, and have shared this fact in various classes and sermons over the years, that dogs are mentioned in the old and new covenant writings, but cats are not. Some might assume from this that the Lord favors felines less than canines, but that would perhaps assume too much. After all, dogs are rarely portrayed in a very positive light in the Scriptures (even being used figuratively to depict the depravity of the godless: Rev. 22:15; Philp. 3:2). Jesus said not to give unto dogs that which is holy or sacred (Matt. 7:6), and Peter spoke of dogs lapping up their own vomit (2 Peter 2:22; cf. Prov. 26:11), which is hardly an appetizing depiction. And yet, when it comes to cats, nothing at all is mentioned in the Bible (neither good nor bad). They would, of course, be counted among the many "living creatures" and "beasts," but these are general terms covering a great many species. There is just no discounting the fact that dogs are given recognition in the sacred writings of the old and new covenants (even though that recognition is largely unfavorable), whereas cats receive no recognition at all. I doubt there is any theological significance to this fact, but it is an interesting observation (and a good way to get an amusing debate started in a mixed crowd of dog lovers and cat lovers).
In biblical times, cats were not kept as pets; they were wild animals (although the Egyptians considered them sacred). My wife is allergic to them, so we tend to stay clear of these little "critters." I have never owned a cat, but know people who did/do (although they are generally quick to clarify: they don't own the cat; the cat owns them, and tolerates them only as long as it gets something out of the relationship). Cats are curious creatures. While dogs often display their emotions quite demonstrably, cats are more inscrutable. One generally knows what a dog is thinking, but a cat, on the other hand, is a mystery. It watches you silently ... plotting who knows what! I suppose this is one of the things that makes a cat so fascinating to many humans: we're never quite sure what they're up to (and are probably better off not knowing). Someone once said, "If you want to be loved, get a dog; if you want to be humbled, get a cat." Cats are deep, and there is much we could learn from them. Thus, it is surprising we don't find them mentioned in the Bible. But, feline fans will be fascinated to learn that cats are mentioned in the Apocrypha. Specifically, in the sixth chapter of "The Book of Baruch" (in some versions of the Apocrypha this chapter is deleted from Baruch and constitutes a separate document known as "A Letter of Jeremiah," a single chapter of 72 or 73 verses, depending on the translation, and whether or not the translators counted the introductory scribal remarks as verse one).
In biblical history, Baruch was the companion and secretary of the prophet Jeremiah, and the one who recorded in writing many of the latter's prophecies. "Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and while Jeremiah dictated all the words the Lord had spoken to him, Baruch wrote them on the scroll" (Jer. 36:4). "This is what Jeremiah the prophet told Baruch son Neriah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, after Baruch had written on a scroll the words Jeremiah was then dictating: ..." (Jer. 45:1). The sixth chapter of "The Book of Baruch" purports to be a letter the prophet Jeremiah dictated to Baruch to be read to the people of God. It is patterned after the earlier letter of Jeremiah that is recorded for us in Jeremiah 29, but the content of this later letter contained in "The Book of Baruch" deals entirely with the folly of idolatry (much in the same spirit and with the same literary force as Jeremiah 10 and Isaiah 44). It is well worth reading and studying, whether one considers the work itself "God-breathed" or not (as a general rule, although there are exceptions, Catholics consider the Apocrypha "a part of the Bible," while Protestants do not).
"The Book of Baruch," in some cases referred to as "1st Baruch," is classified a deuterocanonical book of the Bible. Some scholars even strongly suggest it was not written by Baruch, but by an unknown scribe or scribes during or shortly after the period of the Maccabees (during the so-called "Intertestamental Period;" for those of you who might be interested in learning more about this 400 year period of history, I would refer you to my study: The Silent Centuries). Whoever the author may have been, the message of chapter six of "The Book of Baruch" (or "A Letter of Jeremiah") is a powerful one, and one certainly filled with divine truths. It is a condemnation of idolatry, and the folly of idolatry, that is powerfully worded. Time and again in these 72/73 verses the reader/hearer is challenged to consider: These are not gods; they are frauds; how can anyone believe they are real?! Let me share just a few of the dramatic declarations of this text (these are taken from The New English Bible):
"The idols are plated with gold and silver, they have tongues fashioned by a craftsman, but they are a fraud and cannot speak."
"Sometimes the priests filch gold and silver from their gods and spend it on themselves; they will even give some of it to the prostitutes in the inner chamber."
"Like a human judge the god holds a scepter, yet he cannot put to death anyone who offends him."
"Their eyes get filled with dust from the feet of those who come in."
"They are like one of the beams of the temple; their hearts are eaten out, for creatures crawl out of the ground (termites) and devour them and their clothing."
"When their faces are blackened by the smoke of the temple they are quite unaware of it."
"Even when they were being cast they did not feel it."
"If ever an idol falls on the ground, it does not get up by itself; nor, if anyone sets it up again, can it move by its own effort, and if it is tilted it cannot straighten itself."
"To set offerings before them is like setting them before the dead. The sacrifices made to gods are sold by the priests, who spend the proceeds on themselves."
"The priests strip vestments from the gods to clothe their own wives and children."
"They cannot restore the blind man's sight or give relief to the needy. They do not pity the widow or befriend the orphan. They are like blocks from the quarry, these wooden things plated with gold and silver, and their worshippers will be humiliated. How then can anyone suppose them to be gods or call them so?"
"They are things manufactured by carpenters and goldsmiths; they can be nothing but what the craftsmen wish them to be."
"These wooden gods of theirs, plated with gold and silver, give no better protection than a scarecrow in a plot of cucumbers."
The passage I really found fascinating, however, since it mentions cats, is located in verses 21-22 (or verses 22-23, depending on the version or translation being used): "Bats and swallows and birds of all kinds perch on their heads and bodies, and cats do the same. From all this you may be sure that they are not gods, so have no fear of them." In this lone mention of cats in the writings of the old and new covenants, we find them depicted as "sitting with impunity on the images of the heathen gods which are unable to drive them off" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 622]. Can't you just picture some cat perched on top of one of these "gods," gazing about with a look of indifference and an air of superiority?! They have no fear of, nor any respect for, these chunks of wood and stone. They are simply inanimate objects worthy of nothing more vital than providing a pedestal for some furry feline! While ignorant men may prostrate themselves before such "gods," cats do nothing more than perch upon them (they're just benches for butts)! The point of this "Letter of Jeremiah," of course, is not lost on most people (although, sadly, it was likely lost on many of the Jews for whom these words were intended): it mocks idolatry, as well as the objects idolized and those who idolize them. In short, it seeks to shame people away from the sham of idol worship. There are times when mockery can be a powerful tool to impress Truth upon an obstinate, deluded people. Elijah certainly used it to good effect on Mount Carmel as he viciously mocked the idolatrous priests, even suggesting perhaps their gods were not responding to their pleas because they were out "relieving themselves" in a toilet (1 Kings 18; you may read my study of this event, and Elijah's tactics, in Reflections #31: "The Fine Art of Godly Mockery").
No, cats are not often mentioned in Scripture. Indeed, they only appear once, and that is in a single verse of a single document in the Apocrypha. They may not get the same coverage as dogs, or other critters, but the one time they are mentioned it is certainly to good effect. They depict complete indifference toward, and perhaps even disdain for, idols created by men. "Thanks for the perch, pal; it's about all it's good for!" Men may fall on their faces before such "gods," but cats present to them the other extremity of their anatomy. Perhaps we can learn something from these felines!
From a Reader in Washington:
Dear Bro. Maxey, please send me a signed copy of your CD titled: Reflections: The Complete Collection, containing all of your Reflections articles (as well as the Topical and Textual Indexes) from December, 2002 to the present. My check is enclosed. I find your writings highly informative and helpful in my quest to find and understand the liberty/freedom of grace that God has extended to all. Thank you so much for your work for the Lord!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Al, I have enjoyed all of your recent articles. Your scholarly input into the deeper understandings of what God is communicating through His Word is very much appreciated. When your articles come in each week, if I don't have the time right then to fully devote myself to reading them, I wait until later because the content is too DEEP for a cursory reading! I also must say that I really enjoyed the input from your readers regarding your article "I Ain't No Stinkin' Duck" (Reflections #662). When one has been held in bondage (blinded to the truth of what God's Word is really saying), being set free is profoundly life changing! Your platform gives readers throughout the world a chance to fellowship and commune in the light of mutually found truth and freedom. Thank you! Signed: Gratefully and Increasingly FREE.
From a Reader in New Zealand:
I am presently teaching "the one chapter books" of the Bible. I have jokingly told my students that if they memorize one of these, then they can truthfully say they have memorized an entire book of the Bible! My study on 2nd John has been interesting regarding Gnosticism. I came across the following two statements in my research on Gnosticism that I thought you might enjoy. The first is: "The spirit of this heresy is present with us today when people emphasize 'correct' doctrine to the exclusion of personal relationship and lifestyle faith." The second is: "The spirit of this heresy is present with us today when people turn Christianity into an exclusive intellectual eliteness." My question to you, Al, is: "Have you ever met anyone like this?!" (LOL) God bless you, brother.
From a Reader in Scotland:
I wait patiently every week for your Reflections to be posted. I get so much out of them, Al, and I thank you for all the hard work you put into them!
From a Reader in Texas:
"I Ain't No Stinkin' Duck" contained great understanding and explanation of deeper truths! Thank You, brother!
From a Senior Minister in Tennessee:
I just read "I Ain't No Stinkin' Duck." Love it, brother! As always. From now on I believe I shall borrow your following phrase from that article and put it on my business card: "No longer participating in rabid partisanship and empty quackery of delusional dogmatism!"
From a Reader in Texas:
GREAT article ("I Ain't No Stinkin' Duck")! When I was baptized at my fiancÚ's church way back in 1972, I received a steady diet of what "the one true church" was, and that ONLY members of this one, true church ("Church of Christ") would see heaven, while everyone else was just a "denomination" and thus excluded from salvation unless they repented and joined US in doing everything the "proper way" (our way) in "the one, true church." I at that time believed what they taught, but I have to say that it was one of the most depressing beliefs taught, because in my immediate family alone I had loved ones who were strong Christians in two "denominations," and I myself had come from an independent Presbyterian church background. It was about fifteen years before I stumbled upon the theology of the universal Church of Christ, something that was just starting to be discussed within "our" fellowship. It lifted the sectarian, exclusionist, and very spiritually depressive cloud that had hung over me until that time. The phrase sometimes heard in the movies that says, "We are not alone," took on a whole new meaning!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I often wonder how many times I've just read past the names of men and women listed in the Scriptures without pausing to consider their role and significance. Thank you for reminding me in your article "Our Fellow Soldier Archippus" (Reflections #663) to take my time and not rush through to finish reading a chapter in the Bible. Oh, I am also encouraged by the responses to your previous article "I Ain't No Stinkin' Duck." It seems that many are appreciative of their faith-heritage, and yet they want this group to be more faithful to the call of UNITY. The communities we reach out to would be better served if we stop the squabbling and work hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm with our brothers and sisters of different faith-heritages! It seems many want to divide this country into separate divisions that don't support and encourage one another like we should. The church should be leading the way toward reconciliation and unity, rather than making judgmental determinations as to who is a Hatfield and who is a McCoy!
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Thanks for another great article, Al ("Our Fellow Soldier Archippus"). I really appreciate all your efforts to immerse people in the Name of our holy God rather than limiting "immersion" to water only, as so many have done. If I understand John correctly, all who confess that Jesus is the Son of the living God and attempt to follow Him are brothers or sisters in Christ. I also appreciate the reader from Georgia who made the comment, "I will applaud the day when we can freely speak of simply being in the 'Body of Christ.'" I love the label "church of Christ," as it was applied in the Scriptures to all, rather than a select few, of Christ's disciples. Many of our true brothers and sisters in Christ use labels such as Methodist, Baptist, which connote mere human attributes, yet these brethren often follow the example and teaching of Christ more closely than "we" do (who use the label Church of Christ). Grace United Methodist Church on Cuba Avenue in Alamogordo, NM (just a few blocks down the street from you) is a prime example as they share a common meal with all who come on Saturday mornings to their building. Many of their members formed a team of builders who have helped the Otero County Habitat for Humanity tear down walls between brothers and sisters in Christ as they put up roofs in partnership with a considerable number of very low income families. Certainly they shared, and are sharing, the love of Christ for their neighbors just as He commanded all His disciples to do. Of course, many others have also helped in this, but Grace United Methodist Church really has set a wonderful example of showing "love of neighbor."
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