Are We to Show Compassion to Animals?
The Book of 2 Samuel describes a story told to King David. In the story, a poor man owned a small ewe lamb. He raised it as one of his children—he and the lamb shared the same food and drank from the same cup. It slept in his arms, and he loved it like a daughter. When David heard that a rich man came and took the beloved lamb from the poor man to be prepared for his dinner, David burned with anger at the rich man, and he demanded that the callous rich man pay retribution for his selfishness. Later, David learned that the story was only a parable. But compassion for the animal resonated with both King David and the teller of the story. People who have a heart for animals are especially to be defended.
God wants us to have compassion, both on fellow humans and on animals. God’s concern for us was engraved by His own finger on the tablets of the Ten Commandments. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns" (Exodus 20:9). God prescribed rest not just for people, but for animals too.
Jesus's story of the Good Samaritan teaches us to try to relieve the suffering of each other, even perfect strangers. And Scripture teaches the same responsibility toward animals. Even those that belong to people we don’t like.
“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.” (Exodus 23:4-5). We must feel and alleviate the burdens the animals we come in contact with.
Now, those of us who live in large cities may not see donkeys or oxen wandering the streets. But we sometimes see dogs or cats. These lost pets are frightened, and they can't find their way home. They also run the risk of getting ill or injured, or of falling into evil hands. God asks us to take a lost animal back to a benevolent home, as much for the sake of the animals as for the humans who are missing them—just as we would help a lost child in a store find her panicked mother.
And if God has entrusted pets to our care, it is our responsibility to look after them as well as God looks after us. This is an outward expression of our inner worship. "The righteous care for the needs of their animals" (Proverbs 12:10).
We can find several mandates in the Bible about:
Treating work animals fairly: “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together” (Deuteronomy 22:10), since this would cause one to work much harder than the other
Keeping animals from extinction: “If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7). This verse comes with a mandate for mercy, as well as a promise of prosperity.
Not overworking animals: ““Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12). Rest is a God-given right of animals as well.
Providing for the needs of work animals: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” (Deuteronomy 25:4). We should give the animal the right to be nourished by the food it is harvesting for us.
Providing for the needs of wild animals: “But during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove” (Exodus 23:11). Our generosity should extend to the wild animals, allowing them to be fed by the produce of the lands. God makes the harvest plentiful for us, and in compassion, we are to let animals share in the bounty.
Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain. (Deuteronomy 25:4)
If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. (Exodus 23:4-5)
But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. (Exodus 20:10)
Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed. (Exodus 23:12)
“If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. If they do not live near you or if you do not know who owns it, take it home with you and keep it until they come looking for it. Then give it back. Do the same if you find their donkey or cloak or anything else they have lost. Do not ignore it.” (Deuteronomy 22:1-3)
“If you see your fellow Israelite’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help the owner get it to its feet.” (Deuteronomy 22:4)
The righteous care for the needs of their animals. (Proverbs 12:10)