Christianity 201

July 28, 2013

Biblical Foxes

Vulpes thaleb, or Syrian fox, the only species of this animal indigenous to Palestine. It burrows, is silent and solitary in its habits, is destructive to vineyards, being a plunderer of ripe grapes. The Vulpes Niloticus, or Egyptian dog-fox, and the Vulpes vulgaris, or common fox, are also found in Palestine.

Vulpes thaleb, or Syrian fox, the only species of this animal indigenous to Palestine. It burrows, is silent and solitary in its habits, is destructive to vineyards, being a plunderer of ripe grapes. The Vulpes Niloticus, or Egyptian dog-fox, and the Vulpes vulgaris, or common fox, are also found in Palestine.[Text: Easton’s Bible Dictionary; Image:]

As a general rule, there is a consistency in scripture where a particular word, idiom or phrase is used; but in other cases, a word may create an overall picture but the passage applications are quite different. This morning our pastor quoted a verse in Nehemiah that got me thinking about the way foxes are mentioned in scripture. Knowing I was a cat-lover, someone once told me, “The cat is the only domestic animal not mentioned in the Bible.” It took me awhile to have a comeback for that, but I finally came up with, “Yes, but the dog is never cast in a positive role.” Since the fox and dog are cousins (I think) it’s not surprising that Biblical foxes aren’t portrayed favorably.

It’s The Little Foxes That Spoil The Vines

While I often repeat this phrase, the exact rendering of Song of Solomon 2:15 is

Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (ESV)

If you read nothing that follows, this principle is an important one to grab hold of if you haven’t heard it before.  Switching the analogy, sometimes in life it’s the obvious boulders that trip us up, but more often it’s the little pebbles. Small things work over time to erode our relationship with God, even the very core of our faith.

Of course, interpreting Song of Solomon isn’t easy. On a more contextual, literal level, the Reformation Study Bible notes:

The foxes are the one negative element in the otherwise ideal spring setting of vv. 10–15. The imperative with no specific subject is like a passive (“May the foxes be caught”), and the whole verse is a wish by the lovers that nothing should be allowed to interfere with their lovemaking.

Matthew Henry goes for the broader application:

…the little foxes, that creep in insensibly; for, though they are little, they do great mischief, they spoil the vines, which they must by no means be suffered to do at any time, especially now when our vines have tender grapes that must be preserved, or the vintage will fail. Believers are as vines, weak but useful plants; their fruits are as tender crops at first, which must have time to come to maturity. This charge to take the foxes is,

1. A charge to particular believers to mortify their own corruptions, their sinful appetites and passions, which are as foxes, little foxes, that destroy their graces and comforts, quash good motions, crush good beginnings, and prevent their coming to perfection. Seize the little foxes, the first risings of sin, the little ones of Babylon (Ps. 137:9), those sins that seem little, for they often prove very dangerous. Whatever we find a hindrance to us in that which is good we must put away.

2. A charge to all in their places to oppose and prevent the spreading of all such opinions and practices as tend to corrupt men’s judgments, debauch their consciences, perplex their minds, and discourage their inclinations to virtue and piety. Persecutors are foxes (Luke 13:32); false prophets are foxes, Ezek. 13:4. Those that sow the tares of heresy or schism, and, like Diotrephes, trouble the peace of the church and obstruct the progress of the gospel, they are the foxes, the little foxes, which must not be knocked on the head (Christ came not to destroy men’s lives), but taken, that they may be tamed, or else restrained from doing mischief.

Foxes Have Holes

This occurs in Luke 9:58 and Matthew 8:20

And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.  (KJV)

We live in an area surrounded by nearby woods and ravines where you often see foxes at twilight, and I’m sure that their activity increases dramatically after dark. But in the daytime you can walk through the woods and never see them. They are nocturnal and have a place to sleep that is safe, secure and invisible.

The nature of Jesus’ itinerant ministry didn’t necessarily assure him a place to sleep. We know that Jesus often stayed in the houses of his supporters, but there was no base, no ministry head office.  Your new word for today is peripatetic. defines the word as “Traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods.” So not exactly roaming like a nomad, but just a step up from that.

The Message translates the Matthew passage:

20 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

The call to follow Jesus may mean not knowing where the road is leading. You might get what AAA called “a strip map” showing part of the journey, but you may not get an atlas showing the journey’s big picture destination.

Herod, The Sly Fox

Jesus engaging in name-calling? It would certainly give us a different snapshot of the way Jesus spoke with his disciples and it happens in Luke 13:

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!  (NIV)

Again, the Reformation Study Bible:

The Jews used the metaphor of a “fox” to mean worthless and sly. Jesus is unmoved by Herod’s threats and says He will continue with His ministry.

A Fox Could Knock The Wall Over

This is the passage that kicked this off this morning. It’s from Chapter 4 of Nehemiah:

Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices?  Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?”

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”  (NLT)

Sanballat and Tobiah are trying their best to discourage Nehemiah from rebuilding the wall. They use a series of five questions to try to get them to quit the project:

  • “What are these feeble Jews doing?
  • Are they going to restore it for themselves?
  • Can they offer sacrifices?
  • Can they finish in a day?
  • Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” ;  (NASB)

And then the final insult about a fox being able to cause the wall to crumble. But Nehemiah isn’t discouraged:

 Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have  demoralized the builders.So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a  mind to work.
Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the  repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry.

Basically, the people refused to allow the doubting questions and in the fox-insult to stick. They stick with the task and build the wall with tools in one hand and a swords in the other.

Don’t let the enemy stop you from whatever task God is giving you to do.


Update:  As you’ll see in the comments, Ben Nelson wrote on this topic just a few days ago.  Had I known, I might have “borrowed” his column!  Have a look at his study on the passage from Song of Songs aka Song of Solomon aka Canticles at this link.