The Wolf

Wood's Bible Animals, 1875

There is no doubt that the Hebrew word Zeëb, which occurs in a few passages of the Old Testament, is rightly translated as Wolf, and signifies the same animal as is frequently mentioned in the New Testament.

This fierce and dangerous animal was formerly very plentiful in Palestine, but is now much less common, owing to the same causes which have extirpated the lion from the country. It is a rather remarkable fact, that in no passage of Holy Writ is the Wolf directly mentioned. Its name is used as a symbol of a fierce and treacherous enemy, but neither in the Old nor New Testament does any sacred writer mention any act as performed by the Wolf. We have already heard of the lion which attacked Samson and was killed by him, of the lion which slew the disobedient prophet, and of the lions which spared Daniel when thrown into their den. We also read of the dogs which licked Ahab's blood, and ate the body of Jezebel, also of the bears which tore the mocking children.

But in no case is the Wolf mentioned, except in a metaphorical sense; and this fact is the more remarkable, because the animals were so numerous that they were very likely to have exercised some influence on a history extending over such a lengthened range of years, and limited to so small a portion of the earth. Yet we never hear of the Wolf attacking any of the personages mentioned in Scripture; and although we are told of the exploit of David, who pursued a lion and a bear that had taken a lamb out of his fold, we are never told of any similar deed in connexion with the Wolf.

This animal was then what it is now. Seldom seen by day, it lies hidden in its covert as long as the light lasts, and steals out in search of prey in the evening. This custom of the Wolf is mentioned in several passages of Holy Scripture, such as that in Jer. v. 5, 6: "These have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds. Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them." In this passage the reader will see that the rebellious Israelites are compared to restive draught cattle which have broken away from their harness and run loose, so that they are deprived of the protection of their owners, and exposed to the fury of wild beasts. A similar reference is made in Hab. i. 8: "Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves." The same habit of the Wolf is alluded to in Zeph. iii. 3: "Her princes within her are roaring lions: her judges are evening wolves."

Individually, the Wolf is rather a timid animal. It will avoid a man rather than meet him. It prefers to steal upon its prey and take it unawares, rather than to seize it openly and boldly. It is ever suspicious of treachery, and is always imagining that a trap is laid for it. Even the shallow device of a few yards of rope trailing from any object, or a strip of cloth fluttering in the breeze, is quite sufficient to keep the Wolf at bay for a considerable time. This fact is well known to hunters, who are accustomed to secure the body of a slain deer by simply tying a strip of cloth to its horn. If taken in a trap of any kind, or even if it fancies itself in an enclosure from which it can find no egress, it loses all courage, and will submit to be killed without offering the least resistance. It will occasionally endeavour to effect its escape by feigning death, and has more than once been known to succeed in this device.

But, collectively, the Wolf is one of the most dangerous animals that can be found. Herding together in droves when pressed by hunger, the wolves will openly hunt prey, performing this task as perfectly as a pack of trained hounds. Full of wiles themselves, they are craftily wise in anticipating the wiles of the animals which they pursue; and even in full chase, while the body of the pack is following on the footsteps of the flying animal, one or two are detached on the flanks, so as to cut it off if it should attempt to escape by doubling on its pursuers.

There is no animal which a herd of wolves will not attack, and very few which they will not ultimately secure. Strength avails nothing against the numbers of these savage foes, which give no moment of rest, but incessantly assail their antagonist, dashing by instinct at those parts of the body which can be least protected, and lacerating with their peculiar short, snapping bite. Should several of their number be killed or disabled, it makes no difference to the wolves, except that a minute or two are wasted in devouring their slain or wounded brethren, and they only return to the attack the more excited by the taste of blood. Swiftness of foot avails nothing against the tireless perseverance of the wolves, who press on in their peculiar, long, slinging gallop, and in the end are sure to tire out the swifter footed but lees enduring animal that flees before them. The stately buffalo is conquered by the ceaseless assaults of the wolves; the bear has been forced to succumb to them, and the fleet-footed stag finds his swift limbs powerless to escape the pursuing band, and his branching horns unable to resist their furious onset when once they overtake him.

In the passage from Habakkuk which has already been quoted, allusion is made to the ferocity of the Wolf, and the same characteristic is mentioned in several other parts of Scripture. Take, for example, Gen. xiix. 27: "Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil." Or the passage in Ezekiel xxii. 27: "Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood." Or time well-known metaphor of our Lord in Matt. vii. 15: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."

That the Wolf is a special enemy to the sheep-fold is shown in many parts of the Scriptures, both in the Old and New Testaments, especially in the latter. In John x. 1-16, Jesus compares himself to a good shepherd, who watches over the fold, and, if the wolves should come to take the sheep, would rather give up His life than they should succeed. But the false teachers are compared to bad shepherds, hired for money, but having no interest in the sheep, and who therefore will not expose themselves to danger in defence of their charge.

This metaphor was far more effective in Palestine, and at that time, than it is in this country and at the present day. In this land, the shepherd has no anxiety about the inroads of wild beasts, but in Palestine one of his chief cares was to keep watch at night lest the wolves should attack the fold, and to drive them away himself in case they should do so. Therefore the shepherd's life was one which involved no small danger as well as anxiety, and the metaphor used by our Lord gains additional force from the knowledge of this fact.

A similar metaphor is used when Jesus wished to express in forcible terms the dangers to which the chosen seventy would oft be subjected, and the impossibility that they should be able to overcome the many perils with which they would be surrounded. "Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves" (Luke x. 3).

The well-known fact of the ravages of wolves among sheep has been employed by the prophet Isaiah in two passages, wherein he foretells the peaceful state of the world when the kingdom of the Messiah shall have been established: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them" (Is xi. 6). The second passage occurs in chapter lxv. 23-25, and is of a similar character: "They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord."

Mr. Tristram several times met wolves while he was engaged in his travels, and mostly saw solitary specimens. One such encounter took place in the wilderness of Judah: "On my way back, I met a fine solitary wolf, who watched me very coolly, at the distance of sixty yards, while I drew my charge and dropped a bullet down the barrel. Though I sent the ball into a rock between his legs as he stood looking at me in the wady, he was not sufficiently alarmed to do more than move on a little more quickly, ever and anon turning to look at me, while gradually increasing his distance. Darkness compelled me to desist from the chase, when he quietly turned and followed me at a respectful distance. He was a magnificent animal, larger than any European wolf, and of a much lighter colour."

Those who are acquainted with the character of the animal will appreciate the truthfulness of this description. The cautious prowl at a distance, the slow trot away when he fancied he might be attacked, the reverted look, and the final turning back and following at a respectful distance, are all characteristic traits of the Wolf, no matter to what species it may belong, nor what country it may inhabit.

On another occasion, while riding in the open plain of Gennesaret, the horse leaped over the bank of a little ditch, barely three feet in depth. After the horse had passed, and not until then, a Wolf started out of the ditch, literally from under the horse's hoofs, and ran off. The animal had been crouching under the little bank, evidently watching for some cows and calves which were grazing at a short distance, under the charge of a Bedouin boy. The same author mentions that one of the monks belonging to the monastery at Marsaba had contrived to render a Wolf almost tame. Every evening at six o'clock the Wolf came regularly across the ravine, had a piece of bread, and then went back again. With the peculiar jealousy of all tamed animals, the Wolf would not suffer any of his companions to partake of his good fortune. Several of then would sometimes accompany him, but as soon as they came under the wall of the monastery he always drove them away.

The inhabitants of Palestine say that the Wolves of that country are not gregarious, and that they hunt singly, or at most in little packs of few in number. Still they dread the animal exceedingly, and say that one Wolf will do more damage in a flock of sheep than a whole pack of jackals.

As a general rule, the Syrian wolf, like the Syrian bear, is of a lighter colour than its European relatives, and appears to be a larger and stronger animal.