The deer is an animal which the Bible uses to teach us spiritual lessons.
Characteristics of the deer
When we see a deer what thoughts come into your mind?
We probably marvel at its speed – a deer is a fast animal so that it can escape many predators. They can reach speeds of 60 kilometres per hour (around 40 miles per hour).
They are very much aware of their surroundings – they need to be in order to keep themselves safe from predators. The deer’s eyes are at the side of its head which gives it a wider angle of vision. It is easier for it to see any approaching predators. Its hearing is very sensitive and is able to pick up sounds other animals cannot hear. They can use the muscles in their head to move their ears in different directions therefore making it easier to pick up distant sounds. They also have an impressive sense of smell which can detect predators from distances far away.
As well as bring fast, the deer is agile and therefore makes it a powerful animal. They can leap distances of 5 metres and can jump to a height of 2 metres. They have the stamina to run for long distances. This allows them to escape from predators. However, if they are confronted by another animal they can use their antlers to protect themselves and injure the other animal. Agility can be seen in the way they use their antlers.
The deer has long, powerful legs which allow them to walk, run or climb across rough uneven ground. They very rarely stumble while climbing higher up a mountain side. The Bible says they are sure footed.
When we see a deer grazing in a field we cannot help but think of a picture of gentleness, gracefulness and elegance. They have a gentle nature and their manner is docile. They quietly spend their day feeding from the field or resting quietly. When danger is nearby, they prefer to run away than confront their adversary.
Some of the above characteristics make the deer a good choice to teach spiritual lessons in the Bible.
The deer in Israel and surrounding areas
Three types of deer once lived in the Middle East area. The Red Deer is the largest standing at 1.5 metres. The Fallow Deer stands at 1 metre high (at the shoulder) and was a common deer to the Middle East area in the past. The Roe Deer is the smallest of three at just 80cm. It does not normally travel in herds and is therefore hard to see. All three of these deer were not seen in Israel for a while. The Fallow Deer was reintroduced into Israel in 1996 and are gradually growing in numbers.
The deer is mentioned a number of times in the Bible. There are spiritual lessons taught by the actions of the deer.
The deer panting for water
One of the most valuable references is in Psalm 42 and verses 1 and2 where it talks of the longing desire of the godly man.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
As we saw earlier in this article, the deer has the characteristics of speed, sure-footedness and elegance. But it is also timid and gentle. In this verse we are told of the deer panting with thirst at the dry and barren wadis.
What does it mean by “panting”? When the deer cannot get water and they are in agony from thirst, they make a strange braying noise in their suffering. Therefore, we have a distressing picture of the gentle deer desperately looking for water amongst the wadis and not finding anything to quench its thirst. As a result, it is braying in a stressful way as it searches for the one thing that will save its life. It is exposing itself to danger by making this loud noise and openly walking around the wadis but it is willing to do this to find water.
After we are given this dramatic picture of the deer panting, the Psalmist then says “so pants my soul for you, O God”. It strongly shows how much Psalmist longs for his God. It was like he was without life-saving water when he was not seeking his God. Do we long for God like this Psalmist did? How many times in our life have we sought God with such passion and desire? Do we have that same hungering and thirsting for righteousness in our lives?
The Lord Jesus Christ knew this thirsting for God was important in the life of each believer. As matter of fact, some of his last words recorded in Revelation ch.22 and verse 17, were about this very thing:
And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
The water of life is not offered indiscriminately to all, but only to those who thirst for it. It is essential for us to develop that thirst during our lives. We must truly have the purpose in our lives to be with God…we must have the desire. If we thirst for the God and His Truth then we will find satisfaction in the future, for God will quench it.
This is the way the Psalmist thought in Psalm 42. In verse 2 he writes “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God”. Like the deer panted for water to keep it alive, so the Psalmist thirsted and fainted for the living God. He used the term “living God” to contrast the one he seeks with the lifeless idols which King Jeroboam had set up for the nation of Israel to worship instead. People still worship these lifeless idols, in different forms, in our modern age.
The deer is timid and gentle
Earlier on we saw that the deer is gentle and docile (especially the female). The deer was mentioned when referring to Naphtali.
Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words. Genesis 49:21 KJV
Naphtali was one of the sons of Jacob and Bilhah. He founded the Israelite Tribe of Naphtali. These words are a blessing pronounced on him (and his tribe) by his father Jacob.
The hind is a female deer. The female deer has a characteristic of being timid which is a characteristic shared with the tribe of Naphtali. The hind is a graceful animal with agility and beauty. She is confident with her movement and leaps without fear among the rocks and precipices. However, when she hears a nearby disturbance she is startled and afraid.
The gentle hind teaches us that the small and weak amongst God’s children may be “sure-footed” in their knowledge of His words in the Bible. With the knowledge they have accumulated, they are swift to teach God’s message both to those close by and those far away. No matter what the obstacle, they can leap and bound over the hard places and precipitous difficulties to bring that message to those willing to listen. Though they are timid, their joy helps them to teach others about God. But they always show the meekness and gentleness like the master who they obey – the Lord Jesus Christ.
The deer is sure-footed and agile
As we have seen, the deer has strong legs which make it sure-footed when climbing up a mountain side. The Bible makes mention of this sure-footedness in a number of places:
For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. Psalm 18: 32-33
David was involved in a war against his enemies and he cried to God for help. David wrote these words about relying on God his rock. As a result, he gained strength and agility like a deer. We likewise can rely on God who is our rock.
The agility of the deer was described in the Song of Solomon:
The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice. Song of Solomon 2:8-9
There is symbology in this verse. The bridegroom is coming to the bride. He has the agility of a deer bounding over the mountain sides. The bridegroom is representative of Christ and the bride represents the believers waiting in love for their Messiah to come.
This leads us to the final words of Habakkuk in his book. This is what it says in Habakkuk chapter 3 and verse 19:
God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places.
Even though Habakkuk’s legs shook with fear and were weak as he worried about the future of the people of Israel, he acknowledges God as his master,God was the source of his strength. This strength from God allowed him to walk as sure footedly as a deer. The hoofs of a deer allowed it to navigate high and steep places. In the same way God gave Habakkuk the strength to navigate through the difficulties and challenges he faced in life.
We likewise need to use God’s strength to make us sure footed in life so that we don’t stumble when we face difficulties in life.
When Habakkuk refers to treading or walking on high places he also is referring to the future. He is telling of his confidence that he will find a place in the kingdom where he can be with the conqueror. To him this a high place of exaltation where he can be with the King who overcame the wicked nations of the earth. It is a place of victory over sin.
He sees the temple erected in Jerusalem and all the earth silent before God who is enthroned their through his son the Lord Jesus Christ.
He sees the righteous rule of the Lord Jesus extended across the earth so that the knowledge of the glory of God covers it as the waters cover the sea.
He sees the just, who have waited so long, now living forever before the King.
He sees them as a royal priesthood reigning with Christ to the glory of God and the wellbeing of all human life on the earth.
Each one of us faces trials in our lives. The Psalmist in Psalm 42 faced his own trials but his faith was so strong that he called out to God no matter how difficult his life was. He thirsted for the life giving water on offer from God and His son the Lord Jesus Christ. We likewise will undergo distress at times but we need to focus our minds fully on God and the kingdom he has promised to those who truly thirst and desire to be with Him.