Even the Wolves are Welcome
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
The calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. – Isaiah 11:6 (NRSV)
Relationships between wolves and lambs have never been easy in the West. Ditto for that between jaguars (the Americas’ version of leopards) and goats, or mountain lions and calves. As a result, both wolves and the big cats have been hunted, trapped, shot, and poisoned almost to extinction, from Yellowstone down to the Mexican border.
The animals Isaiah saw in his vision of the peaceable kingdom haven’t fared much better. Throughout the Middle East, wolves and leopards are endangered species, due to a combination of hunting, war, and loss of habitat. The Syrian brown bear, which Isaiah envisioned grazing together with a domesticated cow, has been extinct in the wild since 1932.
Many other animals of the Middle East, not included in the prophet’s vision, also face uncertain futures. Griffin vultures and honeybees—once part of the Biblical landscape—are now rare. The white oryx would be extinct were it not for zoo breeding programs.
Isaiah saw the possibility of all kinds of animals living together. In our time, it’s a challenge to see the possibility of those animals—wolves, bears, leopards, lions, honeybees—simply staying alive.
When Isaiah promises that a little child will lead the wolves and lambs, cows and cougars, it is not only a plea for the renewal of humanity; it is a plea for the renewal of all creation.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come, little child of the prophet’s vision, and lead us into a right relationship with all your creation. Amen.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Part 1 and Mark Part 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.