Animal Symbolism in Revelation


One of the keys to a detailed understanding of Revelation is a comprehension of the symbolism employed. Whilst the differing schools of interpretation would argue as to the extent of symbolic language within the book there can be little doubt that portions of Revelation are symbolic. If nothing else is agreed upon there are sections such as Rev 16:13 where the Bible clearly states it is using a simile. In addition to similes the Bible contains some well known explicit metaphors. The Lamb of God and Lion of the Tribe of Judah are two that nearly everyone accepts pertain to the Lord Jesus Himself. Further there are places where objects are named that can be very readily taken as normal objects; yet when faced by a book written by an omnipotent God one has to ask if the choice of object employed has significance within itself. Therefore, even if one would prefer to interpret Revelation in a largely literal manner, it is necessary to understand symbolism to perceive the shades of meaning implied by the metaphors and similes used.

To cover all of the symbols within the book of Revelation would be a mammoth undertaking and even the choice of which entities count as symbols would be sufficiently contentious as to justify a paper of itself. Therefore this paper aims to undertake a more modest task and that is to catalog and explore the animals mentioned within the book of Revelation. Note that no a priori determination will be made as to whether the animal is used as a simile, metaphor or literal object. Rather it is hoped that the language of the passage and perhaps the nature of the animal will make that distinction clear.

One of the reasons for selecting animals for a focus is that it is possible that there is some very obvious meaning within the picture given that is not readily available to us simply because of our geographic and temporal position. For example our concept of a lion is molded by Zoo visits and Disney�s Lion King. It is probable that people that faced the possibility of a lion attack in everyday life[1] would view the animal very differently. At the very least it is almost certain that the use of animal imagery in an agrarian society would have conveyed significantly less feeling of mysticism than it does in our mechanized society today.

Some of the symbols of the Bible whilst fairly obvious and universally agreed are also fairly arbitrary in their assignment. Thus forty is the number of testing and seven is the number of completeness but there is no obvious physical or mathematical reason why these were chosen rather than thirty nine or eight. Similarly colors, whilst somewhat tied to the physical landscape, do not come with completely measurable connotations. A final reason for the decision to choose animals is the hope that animal symbols will indeed prove to have meanings that are logically tied to the underlying physical characteristics of the chosen animal. Thus we would expect a leopard symbol to involve speed or camouflage and a scorpion to involve heat or pain.

The method of this paper is based upon the belief that the best interpreter of the Bible is the Bible itself. Thus for each animal found within Revelation a search will be made to show other biblical passages that mention the same animal; then an attempt will be made to find a consensus view of the passages to see what characteristics of the animal are normal in view when it is used in a biblical setting. Additionally a number of Bible dictionaries will be consulted to ascertain other physical facts about the Palestinian animal in question to see if that sheds further light upon the subject matter. Use will also be made of a biblical word association tool which shows those words that cluster around the chosen word[2].


I have chosen the lion as the first animal to consider because it simultaneously demonstrates both the need for analysis to occur but also the complexity involved in doing so. The lion or some component of it occurs on six separate occasions within the Revelation account. Searching the whole of scripture reveals over one hundred and twenty references to this animal. The fact that the lion was a significant part of Hebrew thought is shown by the fact that the Old Testament has six[3] different Hebrew words used to describe different stages within the lion's existence. The significance turns to complexity once it is recalled that both the Lord and the Devil are described as lions in different passages[4].

Moving through Revelation in sequence the first lion reference we find is in Rev 4:7. Here one of the four living creatures around the base of the throne of God is described as a lion. In fact we know from Ez 1:10 that each of the living creatures has four faces; one of which is that of a lion. The language shows the lion is being used as a simile for a creature associated with God. In Revelation 5:5 we see the Lion of the tribe of Judah equated with the Root of David and almost certainly with the Lamb of God. This reference is metaphoric and also is clearly Messianic.

Rev 9:8 uses the teeth of a lion in simile for the teeth of an animal that is described as a locust; in verse 17 an animal described as a horse is also described as having a head like a lion. These two usages come from animals that are clearly meant to be terrifying and almost certainly evil. From the four references thus far it would appear that the two on the side of holiness refer to the whole lion and the other two have particular characteristics, particularly pertaining to the head and teeth, mimicked.

The fifth reference in Rev 10:3 is rather more oblique; it is a simile relating to a lion roaring. The Bible is very clear regarding the significance of a lion roaring. Firstly the Bible distinguishes two of the lion types the general term for an adult lion and the younger lion old enough to roar and kill[5] but perhaps only recently adult. The former will only roar from a position of cover if its' prey is in sight. The latter will only roar from within its' den if the prey has been caught. In one picture the roar therefore speaks of two aspects of a lion's behavior. It will wait and watch and operate by stealth[6] but the once a roar has been issued the lion has moved to full commitment[7] and will not be shaken from its' course. The Lord has operated in both of these manners[8].

The final reference is another case of an animal described as one thing, in this case a leopard that has a mouth like the mouth of a lion. This one is stated as being satanically driven. Thus it would appear that the Revelation references are evenly split between the forces of God and those of the adversary. However in the case of the adversarial references it is always another animal that is replicating some lion-like behavior from a whole head to just the teeth. From the heavenly side we have a full metaphor of a lion, a full simile and a direct reference to a lion roaring which resonates squarely with the Old Testament references to God where the strength[9] and courage[10] of the lion all usually signify divine characteristics.

However the equation of genuine lion characteristics with God still leaves unexplained the simile in 1 Pe 5:8 where the devil is seen as being like a lion. A search for those words biblically associated with lion[11] reveals an interesting clue:

Word Number of Co-occurrencesNumber of verses jointly occurring in Statistical Significance
WHELP 7 3 227
COUCHED 5 2 201
ROUSE 3 1 164

This shows that the words most linked to lion are Whelp, Couched and Rouse all three of which appear in the first biblical[12] reference to lion in Gen 49:9. This verse seems to define a temporal progression from a lion's whelp, through a period of bowing and then lying down (or couching) followed by arousal as an Old lion. Could this not refer to the Lord's stoop, rest and then final stand for His people? It is surely significant that the reference in Rev 5:5 is clearly an allusion to Gen 49:9 yet it is to the Lion of the tribe of Judah - not the lion's whelp. If so then we are currently in a period when the true lion is couched and before He arises. In this interim period the deceiver is essentially doing his lion impersonation and this continues through Revelation.


Compared to the lion the leopard is a much less significant animal both within the Bible in general and within Revelation in particular. The Bible has six references to the leopard[13] one of which occurs in the last book. This relatively low verse count makes interpretation much simpler for the leopard but the results are at least somewhat surprising.

Firstly in is interesting to note the other words that co-occur with leopard:

Word Number of Co-occurrences Number of verses jointly occurring in Statistical Significance
WOLF 2 2 192
LION 4 4 44
BEAST 2 2 6

The most obvious point being that two thirds of the occurrences of leopard have a lion reference too; a third of them also reference the wolf which is another rare animal in the Bible. In fact the two references that have all three[14] show that the three animals are used to show different aspects of the predator.

Probably the most interesting fact to come from the study of verses upon the leopard is that the standard modern view that the leopard is renowned for speed is not the Biblical facet that is brought out. None of the six references to 'leopard' have the animal moving. In Hab 1:8 the speed of the leopard is noted but primarily to emphasize that something else is moving faster. The biblical characteristic feature of the leopard is watching or observation. In Jer 5:6 the lion slays when it chooses, the wolf attacks under cover of dark and the leopard watches looking for an opportunity. The leopard is able to watch undetected because of the spots which are an intrinsic and immutable part of its character[15] and provide camouflage.

Having established the basic symbolism that a leopard hides, watches and then attacks when it can it is worth noting one feature of the leopard in prophetic passages: it forms the basis of composite creatures. In Dan 7:6 and Rev 13:2 a beast is described that is similar to a leopard. However in both cases the mode of transportation of the beast is provided by some other creature: wings in the case of Daniel and bear's feet in the case of Revelation. It must therefore be the secretive, watchful and possibly hidden nature that is the basis of these animals.


Performing a comprehensive analysis of the 'bear' in scripture is complicated significantly by the fact that the same word is also a verb meaning to carry and the verbal usage is more common in the Bible that the animal noun. Thus word associations for 'bear'[16] cover 'witness' and 'record' long before the animal usage becomes significant. Of those associations that are animal related the two dominant ones are 'whelps' and 'lion'.

Starting therefore with the nine verses where lion and bear co-occur we find that the two animals are almost viewed as alternative versions of a similar thing. David watched against the lion or bear and killed both[17]. A wicked person is likened to a roaring lion or charging bear[18]. In Lamentations we hear that both the lion and bear and been lying in wait. Amos notes[19] the irony of someone who escapes a lion only to be met by a bear. It may be significant that both animals are recorded in scripture as being man killers[20].

The references to whelps do allow us to start making a distinction between these two animals. Whilst the lion is generally pictured as launching an announced, regal and formidable attack the bear appears to work from blind fury. On three separate occasions[21] the anger of a bear separated from her young is noted. It may even be significant that the anger referred to and the known case of a bear killing people each refers to female bears. Another distinction is that whilst the lion usually is viewed as having power in the teeth it is the paws of a bear that allow the prey to be dismembered[22].

The two animals are almost the man-killing pair of scripture. Their formidable nature is implied my millennial conditions; whilst the wolf is the natural predator of a lamb and a leopard of a kid the bear is the natural enemy of a cow and the lion of an ox[23]. Both of the latter are huge, strong horned animals.

With this in mind Rev 13:2 because relatively easy if scary to interpret. The animal in question is inherently a watchful, secretive animal but it carries the lethal weaponry of the two more violent predators of scripture and is possibly motivated by blind fury and a regal determination that it will not be thwarted.


Having started at the lion and following the evil conglomerate of Revelation 13 we can now restart at the lion and follow the holier collection of Revelation 4:7. The second animal mentioned is the calf. This is particularly interesting as it is different from the picture given of a similar scene in Ezekiel where an ox is named. Whilst some may choose to view this as a biblical error I deem it more probable that the Spirit is attempting to convey some particular piece of information by this apparent incongruity in account.

In addition to this apparent shift of expression a reading of the 48 verses containing calf or calves show that there is also an apparent contradiction in the meaning of this animal. The same dual result is obtained if the two most closely related words are considered:

Word Number of Co-occurrences Number of verses jointly occurring in Statistical Significance
FATTED 3 3 109
MOLTEN 5 5 34

The two strands of thought relating to the calf appear to be that they are the ultimate in luxurious meat; but also a source of idolatry. In fact as well as the fatted calf being a delicacy for a special guest[24] it would appear from Mic 6:6 that it was considered 'above and beyond' as a sacrifice to God; only being mandated as a sin offering for the high priest and as a burnt offering for him at inauguration. It is somewhat interesting given these two strands of thought that a custom had developed with some scriptural basis[25] that a solemn covenant was formed by taking a calf, dividing it in two and then passing between the pieces[26].

It would perhaps be easiest to simply note that the beasts around the throne were clearly on the side of good and therefore assert that the good side of the calf must be the correct interpretation and thus ignore the molten calves. However the worship of the molten calf occurred twice; once in Exodus under Aaron and it occurred again under Jeroboam in the divided kingdom. In fact the idolatrous references significantly outweigh the good. I also suggest that there is actually an interesting link between the good and bad side of the calf. In the good side the calf is used as the ultimate sacrifice in worship; on the bad side it becomes the object of worship. This can happen today when those methods given to us to worship God can actually become an end in themselves. It is perhaps germane that the good side of calves happens with real calves made by God; the dark side occurs from calves manufactured by man.

Returning to Revelation it would appear safest to assume that the beast that looks like a calf is there to represent the ultimate in worship; we are specifically told it is living and thus not created by man. It is not supposed to be worshipped directly itself. The meaning of worship may also possibly explain the ox of Ezekiel. Revelation is set in heaven; here worship is beautiful and mystical represented by the calf. In Ezekiel the same animals are seen but in an earthly setting where worship is adequately represented in faithful and determined service; as shown by the ox.


The eagle appears twice in Revelation; both times in a context that suggests it is on the side of God. The first is Rev 4:7 where the final living creature is described as being like a flying eagle. The second is Rev 12:14 where the persecuted woman was given the wings of a great eagle so that she might fly. These references alone appear to suggest that the eagle is linked to flying; which is not entirely surprising.

The word associations for eagle show a similar link:

Word Number of Co-occurrences Number of verses jointly occurring in Statistical Significance
OSPRAY 2 2 138
GIER 2 2 138
PELICAN 2 2 92
NEST 4 4 73
FLY 5 5 64
WINGS 10 8 60
HASTETH 2 2 30
SWIFT 2 2 13
FACE 12 4 14
LION 4 4 10

The first four are rare words that appear alongside the eagle as a list of unclean animals that are an abomination to eat. The next four: nest, fly, wings and feathers emphasize the eagles flying capability. The next two emphasize the speed of the each and the last two are caused by the eagles association with the living creatures.

Reading the thirtytwo verses in the Bible that mention the eagle tends to confirm that which the statistics show; however a number of interesting things can be noted. The first reference to eagles states that the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt on eagles' wings[27], the last reference in the Bible to eagles also appears to be Israel being rescued from persecution using the wings of an eagle. The verses also graphically illustrate the relationship between the nest, flying, wings and speed. The nest is essentially defensive; it renders the eagle and its young unreachable[28]. The wings are frequently seen as moving over an area[29] as the eagle flies indefatigably[30] until it finally spies its prey and swoops[31] with formidable speed.

I believe that whilst the lion is characterizing God on the offense the eagle really shows the defensive side of the might of God. He is unreachable, He protects, He hovers and sees everything and once He finally chooses to swoop He can do so with awesome speed.


The metaphor of the Lamb of God is central within scripture and Revelation shows us that the same metaphor exists in the very throne room of heaven[32]. In some ways it is difficult to know if the Lamb of the remainder of scripture defines the Lamb in Revelation or vice versa; twenty seven of the ninety seven occurrences of Lamb are in the Revelation and all but one of them refer to the Lamb of God.

The identity and meaning of the Lamb of God is also fairly plain having been given to us by John the Baptist in the gospel of John[33]: it is the Lord Jesus. Revelation is not quite so blatant in naming who the Lamb is but given He was slain to redeem people[34], He sits upon the throne[35], He is a shepherd[36], He owns the book of Life and was pre-existent[37] and He is described as 'King of Saints'[38] it would takes someone very unorthodox to view it as anyone other than Christ Himself.

Notwithstanding that this metaphor is no mystery it may prove useful to fully understand the meaning of the lamb outside of Revelation to fully appreciate the picture given. The early references to lamb really define the threads of thought that follow. In Gen 22:7-8 we hear Abraham tell Isaac that God Himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering. Whilst many view this as a prophecy fulfilled in Genesis it actually wasn't. The animal found tangled in the thicket was a ram; the lamb that became the burnt offering wholly for God was Jesus. The next series of lamb references in Ex 12 pertain to the Passover lamb. Exodus 13:13 then details the use of a lamb to redeem. Then Ex 29 uses a lamb as part of the continual offering.

An important prophecy concerning the Lord Jesus appears in Is 53:7 where He is described as 'being led as a lamb to the slaughter.' We see the Almighty God in absolute meekness silently allowing His execution to take place. However there is perhaps a small hint in this verse of the switch that is to come. Whilst the Lamb of God in the Gospels and Revelation is a metaphor the prophecy here is just a simile. He wasn't a Lamb led to the slaughter; that is just the way it appeared.

Then when we reach Revelation we still see the slain Lamb but His character and nature appears to have changed significantly. From the very first reference[39] we suddenly see a lamb with horns. Nowhere outside of Revelation do we see a lamb with horns and this one is carrying seven of them which denote total power. Rev 6:16 then has men cowering from the wrath of the Lamb, in Rev 14:10 we see the Lamb supervising fire and brimstone and then in Rev 17:14 we see the Lamb making war and winning! I therefore suggest that the metaphor of the Lamb in Revelation is almost to be viewed as ironic. Jesus was the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the World; he was meek, humiliated and crucified. In His Revelation He is back in omnipotence and omniscience and the world will feel what that means.

Closing the section upon the Lamb we must deal with the one Revelation reference that does not refer to the Lord Jesus. In Rev 13:11 we see a beast rising from the earth; he has two horns like a lamb and speaks as a dragon. The beast is of course Satanically inspired at it would appear it is trying to mimic the new found powerful lamb; and it is permitted a pair of horns that at least appear to be lambs horns. I am not sure that this picture can be understood from the remainder of scripture which doesn't deal with Lamb's horns. It has to be a link back to Rev 5:6 and a suggestion that the false prophet is deliberately trying to place a veneer of sacrificial and holy power on top of his satanic ministry.

Serpent & Dragon

I have listed the Dragon and Serpent together as we are told that they refer to the same thing[40] and as all the Old Testament references to dragon in the KJV (the rendering given to tanniyn) are references to jackals or serpents in the NKJV and others. Most of the dictionaries describe the dragon as a huge serpent[41] and note that tanniyn can variously mean a huge sea monster or a jackal. Even in a more worldwide secular context the dragon is closely tied to the serpent[42]. Therefore I think it is sensible to consider the serpent as the basic animal described here and then briefly consider why the Holy Spirit choose to add the dragon 'adornment' to the basic description.

Whilst the language may have made it a little difficult to ascertain when we are referring to a serpent or dragon the Bible has left no such ambiguity about what the metaphor refers to. Twice we are told in Revelation that the dragon is the serpent which is the Devil and Satan. The old adage of first mention also gives us the serpent tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden so again the interpretation of the metaphor is clear. Similarly to the lamb fourteen of the fifty references to serpents or dragons are in Revelation so the book itself is fairly central to the definition of the animal.

The word association index does throw out something that I was aware of but that startled me in context:

Word Number of Co-occurrences Number of verses jointly occurring in Statistical Significance
POLE 4 2 346
BITTEN 4 2 346

In the OT there are three main passages that refer to the serpent; it is used as a metaphor in Genesis 3, literally in Exodus 7 but then as a symbol in Numbers 20. The fascinating feature of the usage in Numbers 20 is that the Lord Himself interprets that serpent upon a pole as a simile of Himself being crucified. Whilst Adam Clark denies it strenuously a number of the commentators even go as far as to suggest the serpent upon the pole is a type of Christ. It should be noted that this serpent upon a pole eventually became a snare and had to be destroyed[43].

It is interesting that a symbol that is almost exclusively used for evil is momentarily a picture of Christ. It is a similar oddity to the symbol of the lion momentarily being used of the devil. I think the use of it as a simile to a work of Christ is explainable although it is delicate. The serpent was to represent the sin and pain of the people; it was to be hung where it could be seen by all. When Christ hung upon the cross He took upon Him the sin of us all[44]. It some sense then He actually was 'sin' hanging upon the cross; although obviously this was by substitution not nature. So in the same sense that the 'Evil One' sometimes is similar to good; it was apparantly appropriate to use an evil simile to describe part of the Lord's work.

The usage of Dragon and Serpent within Revelation is sufficiently blatant and metaphoric to not require much description. It is introduced in Revelation 12 and used nine times in that chapter with the following providing another three. However the last of those also gives us the one use of dragon in simile; the beast from the earth talks like a dragon. Given we know from the whole of scripture but particularly Gen 3 and 2Co 11:3 that the serpent is characterized by deception then we know that the beast from the sea will be a fluent liar and deceiver.

The one remaining question is why did scripture introduce -'drakon[45]' in addition to the serpent? The usage in Revelation 12 is quite deliberate; dragon is introduced in Rev 12:3 but then not defined until Rev 12:9. I believe that what is happening is that the Spirit is repositioning the serpent in much the same way that the Lamb is repositioned within Revelation. Whilst we are warned in the NT that the Devil is a roaring lion we primarily see him as a deceiver. He is viewed as cunning, sly and therefore dangerous but not particularly intimidating in terms of size or strength, much like an ordinary snake. Revelation changes that to the Great Serpent; overtly aggressive, large and intimidating. We thus see that in Revelation the Devil is slightly less about deception and more about outright hostility.


Having tackled the adversary himself it is probably profitable to look at some of his minions. One of the ones mentioned in Revelation 9 is the scorpion, it is mentioned by way of simile to describe another animal and three features of it are mentioned, power, torment and tails[46]. In fact the latter reference says the tails have a sting which has the power to cause pain.

Scorpion and scorpions only occur eleven times in the Bible, eight outside of Revelation. The word correlation table shows an extremely strong correlation between scorpions, whips and chastisement. This is caused by Rehoboam's statement that his father had used whips but he was now going to use scorpions. There is also a link to 'tails' which is obviously the scorpions attack weapon. There is a link too to serpents which is reasonable given the scorpion appears to be in league with the serpent.

Word Number of Co-occurences Co-occurrences Number of Co-occurences verses jointly occurring in Statistical Significance
WHIPS 4 4 770
CHASTISE 4 4 308
TAILS 2 1 128
YOKE 7 4 128
HEAVY 4 4 77
ADD 3 3 55
WHEREAS 2 2 23
POWER 5 3 16

However the word that caught my eye especially within Revelation was power. In Revelation 9 these giant locusts were coming out of the fiery pit and they were given power, even as scorpions have power. Rehoboam was seeking to assert himself so the threat he used was the scorpion. When the Lord was commissioning his disciples[47] he gave them power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy.

So where does the tiny scorpion get power from? A clue might be in the close association with the word whip. The whip is typically a weapon of power. It is relatively useless if the other person can fight back; but if the victim is defenseless it is a brutal method of control maximizing pain whilst minimizing the long term ill affect on the whipped. The scorpion is thus all about pain and control.

But I believe another scorpion reference, Eze 2:6, gives us the best clue. It says that the people should not be afraid even though they have briers and thorns and dwell amongst scorpions. The picture is graphic. Thousands of tiny little pricks from thorns and with every one that moment of sheer terror as the victim wonders if the searing pain of a potentially fatal bite is about to arrive. The scorpion has power because it can instill terror. Therefore I think in Revelation the scorpion is used to refer to potentially lethal pain but more importantly the control that can be exerted through the fear that people have of that pain.


The metaphor of the locusts used in Rev 9:3,7 has to be one of the strangest of the animal symbols used in Revelation. It is strange because the Spirit uses the metaphor and then appears to go out of its way to emphasize the extent to which the metaphor doesn't work. The locust is usually viewed as a crop-pest alongside caterpillars and beetles. When first seen in as a plague Exodus 10 it is said to eat every herb of the land. In Joel's famous passage wave after wave of pests are seen to eat everything. Locusts eating crops is a threatened punishment of God on at least five occasions[48] yet the locusts of Revelation are told not to eat any green thing as soon as they are introduced[49].

Even in the details these locusts do not fit the pattern. One proverbial feature of the locust is that their swarming is not controlled by a leader[50] but again the Revelation account refutes this for this metaphor[51]. Locusts are also viewed as being easy to scare and readily shaken off; neither of which appears to fit with the Revelation animals. The description of these locusts in Rev 9:7-10 is extremely detailed and graphic and shows that no part of these locusts looked or sounded like locusts.

We therefore appear to have a metaphor that is not based primarily upon the physical characteristics of the locust; even those told us by the Bible. However a study of the verses of the Old Testament where the locust is used in simile possibly gives us the picture we are to have. In Judges 6:5 & 7:12 the Midianite and Amalekites were compared to the locusts and the Bible draws out that the similar feature was their number. Locusts are not individually threatening or even damaging; they get their efficacy from weight of numbers. In fact the Hebrew word 'arbeh' which is commonly rendered locust is based upon the word 'rabah' which means to increase or multiply.

Nahum 3:15-17 possibly gives us the clearest picture of the meaning of the locust, because it is using it as a simile in the context of a human battle. Here the enemy is seen as a locust and the reader is advised to multiply as a locust. The locust is seen as able to consume men. However the passage also gives an insight into their battle tactics. Whilst it is cool or convenient they will hang around and do battle; then they simply disappear to a location unknown. In fact that was also similar to the tactics used in Judges 6&7. It induces a form of fear that comes from expectation and the seeming insurmountable nature of the adversary.

Thus having seen what the locust part of the metaphor means the locusts of Rev 9 become truly terrifying. Having an armory of much stronger animals and having leadership, these locusts will be able to instill a torment and fear in the human population that is unprecedented. It may also be worth noting that in the locust plagues mentioned in the Bible, and especially the first one, God is seen as the agent that brings the locust and eventually takes them away.


The frog simile in Rev 16:13 is I believe fairly simple to interpret although it was a connection I hadn't seen before I looked. The primary and almost exclusive mention[52] of frogs outside of Revelation comes in Exodus as one of the plagues. Reading the eleven verses and looking at the word association for frogs both create the same impression:

Word Number of Co-occurences Co-occurrences Number of Co-occurences verses jointly occurring in Statistical Significance
INTREAT 2 2 33
HOUSES 3 3 8

The frogs get everywhere; they are entirely pervasive. Ex 8:3 describes them in the house, the bedroom, in with the servants and even in the ovens and kneading bowls. Ps 105:30 shows that even the chambers of the kings were not immune; frogs were a plague that could not be avoided.

I suggest that this pervasiveness is the key feature of the three spirits like frogs that come forth in Revelation 16. This is not just a false doctrine restricted to politics or the seminary; it gets everywhere. I cannot be avoided and it affects the populace from the greatest to the least.

Ridden Horses

The horse in scripture appears to have two and arguably three distinct strands of interpretation. The first referring to a literal horse on its' own is used as a symbol of wealth; this use of horse occurs in Rev 18:13 and will be considered in the section upon literal animals. In this section I wish to deal with the second and possibly third strands of interpretation which relate to horses being ridden.

The overriding impression upon reading the 150+ verses relating to horses or horseman is that they were a fearsome military unit. In the Exodus it was the horseman that chased Israel. In De 20:1 when the Lord is telling Israel not to fear the enemy it is the horsemen and chariots that are listed first. Then as we proceed through Samuel, Kings and Chronicles we find that in all the major battles it is the horse and chariot that are the spearhead of that attack.

However a closer reading also reveals an interesting trait; it is usually the side that trusts in the horses and horsemen that ultimately loses. Egypt of course lost its' horsemen. Deborah wrought a famous victory over chariots despite the effort of the horses[53]. It is interesting that David the great Israeli military king captured a thousand chariots but then destroyed ninety percent of them[54]. David also shows the physical weakness of the horse which is literally the Achilles� heel, or more accurately tendon. In fact the first mention of a ridden horse[55] shows that the heel of it is the weakness that can throw the rider.

The wisdom literature actually underlines the weakness of the horse. The horse is perceived as being inherently strong[56] but the strength is not couple with reason[57] and therefore has to be guided or even forced[58] into correct behavior. This latter fact is underlined in the New Testament too[59]. Ultimately the horse is viewed as completely inadequate[60]: the Jews were forbidden from multiplying them[61] and the believer is urged to trust in the Lord instead[62]. In fact Isaiah later castigated the Jews for reliance upon horses rather than God[63]. In fact he also underlines the fault of the horse; it does not have a spirit. We therefore see the horse as a reservoir of strength that is only as good as the rider upon it.

There is one other set of references that may be important which are in Esther 6:8-11. Here the horse is a symbol of honor and is associated with royalty. It may perhaps be argued that this is simply an association with wealth. However the verses do not suggest that Mordecai even got to keep a single horse; the point of the sequence is that he was to be honored and that the riding of a horse conveyed that honor even if there wasn't actually the wealth to back it up. In fact the writer of Ecclesiastes bemoaned the incongruity of a servant riding upon a horse whilst princes walked on foot[64].

Having thus dealt with the horse pictures in the rest of the Bible we need to look at the usages of the term within Revelation. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the so called 'Four Horses of the Apocalypse' a subject I have dealt with elsewhere[65]. However, I previously, along with many others, focused upon the horses and the colors they had. The analysis performed here would suggest that the horse and therefore color of it should be largely subservient to the rider upon it. What the horse tells us is that these were all men heading out to battle; the beasts they ride contain strength but no real aim or direction. Ultimately they also convey no safety.

Revelation 9 mentions horses four times; twice as a simile and twice in a manner which is metaphoric. The first two[66] are actually applied to the locusts and clearly state that the aspect of the horse used in the simile is their preparedness for battle and intimidating nature when large numbers of them gallop into battle. The second two[67] represent a composite animal; the base of which is the horse. Interestingly the riders are mentioned and are given graphic descriptions but we don�t know too much about them. The horses in contrast have been loaded with weaponry; having a lion's head, the ability to belch fire and brimstone and then tails of serpents. This is an escalation upon a normal horse; especially as it builds upon the horse basis of fairly mindless strength. The other feature of the horses of Rev 9 is their number; two hundred million. A sizeable and intimidating Philistine army had thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen[68]. Solomon managed to gather[69] fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen. The army is more than ten thousand times larger than that and almost unstoppable army; in fact one third of mankind is destroyed by this assault.

The final image of the horse in Revelation is rather different however. It is still an army seated upon horses; but this time the Lord Himself is amongst them. Some view the Lord upon the white horse here the same as the one in Revelation 6. However that would suggest that the Lord is followed by war, pestilence and death for everyone which runs counter to the rest of scripture. The other point to note is that the army of Revelation 19 is a little weird in that it doesn't fight[70]; only the Lord Himself does battle. I think therefore that the majority of the riders on horses in Revelation 19 are not riding as a fighting force; rather they are riding to show their association to the King. It has even been suggested[71] that the white horses actually represent a victory parade that has been assembled prior to the war due to the surety of the victory.


The term 'birds' is clearly very generic and thus there is very little in the nature or characteristics of birds that can reasonably be implied. Also it is a term for a kind of animal and is thus used very often in a generic sense. However it is interesting that the first use of bird in a symbolic context (a dream) is one of birds eating a dead man[72]. Then in De 28:26 we find a specific threat that their slain in the battlefield would be eaten by birds with no-one to shoo them away. This is a specter that is repeated as a threat by Goliath and David. The Lord also makes use of this device in 1Ki 14:11, 16:4, 21:24 but adds that the birds should eat in the wilderness and the dogs in the city. Yet more examples are given of this ignominy Psalms and Jeremiah[73].

It would therefore appear that a dead corpse being eaten by birds was a reality that people had experienced. For me the most touching affirmation that being eaten by birds is both a reality and also something that bothered people is given in 2Sa 21:10. Here the bodies of two of Saul's children and five of his grandchildren had been hung and the mother of the two literally camped out to keep the birds from her dead children's bodies for five months.

The references to birds in Revelation clearly fit this picture; an angel gathers the birds together to feed and at the end of the battle the slain are such that the birds can fill themselves. This had been a threat to Israel and a reality for Israel many times; but in the end times it is a reality for those that hate Israel.

Literal Animals

Whilst some of the animals previously discussed could and even do have a literal interpretation I wish to deal briefly with a small number of animals that Revelation uses in a manner I consider to be exclusively literal. Three of them are found in the same verse: Re 18:13 "and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men. - (emphasis mine)

Clearly from the context these animals are being viewed as chattels. The Old Testament usage of these animals backs up that impression; it also shows an interesting distribution in time. Cattle is very much an early form of wealth, sixty percent of the reference to cattle are in the Pentateuch. Going back to Abraham[74] his wealth was listed as cattle, silver and gold. When Esau moved, his cattle is listed as a possession straight after his family. In Gen 47:17 Joseph took cattle in lieu of money.

The usage of the term sheep is more evenly spread throughout the whole of scripture. Jacob worked for sheep under Laban. David was a shepherd. Even in New Testament times the symbol of the sheep and shepherd was used to illustrate care, guidance and compassion. However it is in 1 and 2 Samuel that sheep are particularly prominent. As word association for sheep shows:

Word Number of Co-occurences Co-occurrences Number of Co-occurences verses jointly occurring in Statistical Significance
WOLF 6 1 47
OXEN 42 38 40
SHEPHERD 22 17 40

They were subject to predation, needed guidance and were associated with oxen. In fact under Saul the spoils of war were often stated as being the sheep and oxen.

The latter animal used for wealth is undoubtedly the horse. Barely mentioned in the Pentateuch, the horse is conspicuously absent from the list of spoils in 1 Samuel. It is mentioned as a spoil for the first time in 2 Sa 8 where ninety percent were destroyed. Yet in 1 Kings through to the end of the prophets we find the horse becoming increasing central to the notion of wealth.

Whilst not strictly germane to this essay it should be noted that the 'bodies and souls of men' is seen as a progression of this line. We know from elsewhere in Revelation that slavery will once again be common during this period of time[75] and it is perhaps the intent of this passage that they will once again become a primary hallmark of wealth within Babylon.


The sheer breadth of animal imagery with Revelation shows that an understanding of it is important. This paper has tackled every explicit animal reference that I could find and was able to construct a reasonable interpretation based upon other biblical references to the same animal. In the majority of cases the animal had a clear behavior or set of behaviors that could readily be applied to the Revelation interpretation. In a few of important cases, notably the lion, Lamb and serpent the metaphor had been clearly set up prior to Revelation and Revelation was able to take that imagery. This paper also shows that Revelation occasionally takes an existing established metaphor and simile and yet uses it in a counter intuitive manner; the Lamb and locust are examples of this. The position was taken that this inversion was deliberate and used to emphasize a point.

It is not my intent to try to summarize each animal's characteristics in this conclusion. A point that has become even clearer in my mind is that this subject is very broad, detailed and occasionally complicated. Whilst this research has confirmed some of what I believe it has also surprised me a few times. Whether you agree with the analysis or not, it is my hope that it will challenge you to think and pray upon these issues so that the Book of the Revelation will truly prove to be a 'revealing' and not a smokescreen behind which truth is obscured.







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