“Dog” is a term that crops up again and again in both the Old and New Testaments. Unfortunately for any cynophilists reading, dogs are not portrayed in a very favourable light. Literal dogs are largely seen as filthy scavengers, usually tasked with consuming the flesh of recently deceased unpleasant people[eg].
Because there are so many excellent usage examples, it would seem meet to briefly discuss a few of my favourites.
Goliath, hubris personified, is unimpressed when he sees that his challenger is just some shepherd kid. On sighting Dave, he shouts out “Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?” After some cursing, the Philistine invites Dave to do his worst: “Come here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the sky…!”
Say what you like about Goliath—he was generous to the birdlife.
Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27
Jesus’ ministry was nearly entirely amongst his own people. In fact, most Jews expected their Messiah to conquer other nations, not allow them in to His Kingdom. So when a Syrophoenician woman asks Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter, He answers in line with expectations: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The woman continues to beg him for help, but Jesus pushes back insultingly: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”
“Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!”
Jesus happily loses the argument: “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done.”
Written by King Dave hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified, the 22nd Psalm is incredibly striking. Not only does Jesus quote it while on the cross—“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46)—but the content of the despairing psalm itself bears an uncanny resemblance to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion:
- “Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: ‘He relies on the Lord; let Him rescue him…’”
Psalm 22:7–8 (see Matthew 27:41–43)
- “For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet.”
- “They divided my garments amongst themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing.”
Psalm 22:18 (see Matthew 27:35)
Interestingly, one notable person flies in the face of the negative view of dogs. In the Bible, where the meaning of names are usually strikingly significant, it is strange to see Caleb, the Israelite spy whose name literally means “dog”, recorded as a hero. In Numbers 13-14, Josh and Caleb are the only two out of twelve spies sent to scout out the Promised Land who aren’t scared witless by the current inhabitants. Showing great faith in spite of the detractors, Caleb ballsily proclaims “We must go up and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!”