Lizards are mentioned several times in the Bible, often in metaphorical ways. As cold-blooded reptiles, lizards were seen as unclean animals in ancient Jewish law. However, they have symbolic meanings related to ruin, desolation, and judgement. Understanding the cultural context helps shed light on the biblical authors’ use of lizards. This article will examine the main passages about lizards and their significance.
Lizards belong to the order Squamata, which includes snakes and other reptiles. There are over 6,000 lizard species, with great diversity in size, appearance and habitat. Small lizards are found throughout the Middle East, living in rocks, walls, and rubble.
Several kinds of lizards are specifically named in the Bible:
- Chomet (KJV “snail”) – Probably refers to the Skink lizard family, known for their short legs and elongated bodies (Leviticus 11:30).
- Tinshemeth (KJV “chameleon”) – Likely the common chameleon found in the region (Leviticus 11:30).
- Letah (KJV “lizard”) – A general term for lizards, often translated as “lizard” (Leviticus 11:29-30).
- Tsepha (KJV “tortoise”) – Most scholars believe this refers to a lizard known for clinging to walls and rocks (Psalms 91:13, Proverbs 30:28).
Reptiles like lizards were considered ritually unclean under the Mosaic Law. Anyone who touched their carcass was considered unclean until evening (Leviticus 11:29-31). This may have been for hygienic reasons, as lizards often live in dirty and disease-prone habitats.
Beyond ritual purity laws, lizards appear in prophetic texts, poetry, and proverbs. Often they symbolized ruin, desolation, and judgement. Their stealthy nature also lent them as metaphors for elusiveness.
Here are some key passages where lizards are mentioned or alluded to:
Key Bible Passages about Lizards
- Isaiah 34:11-15 – Prophecy of Edom’s desolation, with lizards occupying ruined buildings.
- Isaiah 13:19-22 – Babylon left desolate, with lizards infesting the land.
- Jeremiah 49:33 – God will make Hazor desolate, a dwelling for lizards.
- Micah 1:8 – The prophet mourns and wails for ruined cities, now home to lizards.
- Proverbs 30:28 – The lizard grips walls with its hands yet is found in king’s palaces.
- Psalms 44:19 – Comparing Israel’s defeat to being crushed as easily as a lizard.
- Psalms 91:13 – Faithful will trample lions and lizards, triumphing over evil.
Lizards as Symbols of Ruin and Desolation
The most common symbolic role of lizards in the Bible is representing ruin, desolation, and judgement upon nations. Isaiah and Jeremiah frequently depict lizards inhabiting the rubble of once great but now destroyed cities.
For example, Isaiah prophesies the fate of Babylon:
“And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation; Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there, Nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there. But desert creatures will lie down there, And their houses will be full of owls; Ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there. Hyenas will howl in their fortified towers And jackals in their luxurious palaces. Her fateful time also will soon come And her days will not be prolonged.” (Isaiah 13:19-22, NASB)
The ruined city will become home to scavenging animals like hyenas and “jackals” (likely lizards or chameleons based on the Hebrew). The once stately palaces will become haunts for lizards. Similar imagery is used for the prophesied fate of Edom:
“But pelican and hedgehog will possess it, And owl and raven will dwell in it; And He will stretch over it the line of desolation And the plumb line of emptiness. Its nobles–there is no one there Whom they may proclaim king– And all its princes will be nothing. Thorns will come up in its fortified towers, Nettles and thistles in its fortified cities; It will also be a haunt of jackals And an abode of ostriches. The desert owl and the hyena will meet with howls of laughter; There also the night monster will settle And find herself a resting place.” (Isaiah 34:11-14)
Along with owls, ostriches, hyenas, and other desert creatures, lizards will inhabit the desolate ruins. Their stealthy presence in the once mighty structures represent the futility of human power. God’s judgment has reduced them to crumbling, lizard-infested habitat.
The prophet Jeremiah uses similar imagery regarding the city of Hazor:
“For this is what the LORD says: “See, an army is coming from the land of the north; a great nation is being stirred up from the ends of the earth. They are armed with bow and spear; they are cruel and show no mercy. They sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses; they come like men in battle formation to attack you, Daughter Babylon. The king of Babylon has heard reports about them, and his hands hang limp. Anguish has gripped him, pain like that of a woman in labor. Like a lion coming up from Jordan’s thickets to a rich pastureland, I will chase Babylon from its land in an instant. Who is the chosen one I will appoint for this? Who is like me and who can challenge me? And what shepherd can stand against me?” Therefore, hear what the LORD has planned against Babylon, what he has purposed against the land of the Babylonians: The young of the flock will be dragged away; their pasture will be appalled at their fate. At the sound of Babylon’s capture the earth will tremble; its cry will resound among the nations.” (Jeremiah 50:41-46)
The prophetic warnings of lizard-infested wastelands underscore God’s power to bring judgment and reduce the greatest human cities to mere animal habitats. The lizard’s stealthy adaptability likely represents the futility of resisting divine will.
Lizards as Symbols of Evil and Deceit
In addition to representing desolation, lizards sometimes symbolized evil and deceit in biblical poetry. Their ability to cling to walls andremain unseen matched the stealthy, hidden nature of evil.
The Psalmist uses lizard imagery to convey Israel’s weakness and deep troubles in Psalm 44:
“Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.” (Psalm 44:22-26)
The people of Israel are compared to helpless sheep, while their enemies are strong like lions:
“You have given us up like sheep to be devoured; you have scattered us among the nations. You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale.” (Psalm 44:11-12)
In contrast, Israel is as weak and crushed as a simple lizard:
“You crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness.” (Psalm 44:19)
The lizard represents their defeat, humiliation, and downtrodden state in exile. Yet they trust God will rise up and restore them.
In Proverbs 30:28, the small lizard is contrasted with creatures of power and majesty:
“The lizard you may grasp with the hands, Yet it is in kings’ palaces.”
Though weak, the lizard’s ability to cling to walls allows it to sneak into the most splendid royal halls. The proverb advises that cunning and craftiness can sometimes prevail over strength. Some see implications of evil and deceit triumphing through stealth, though goodness will ultimately prevail.
Triumphing over Lizards
One positive use of lizard imagery involves the faithful triumphantly walking over dangerous creatures including lizards:
“You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. Because he loves me, I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalms 91:13-16)
In this psalm of divine protection, God’s chosen ones will be safe from all dangers, able to trample even deadly snakes and lions. The lizard represented a common creature easily stepped on, symbolizing victory over all evil forces.
##Conclusion: Understanding Lizards in Biblical Context
Though lizards and their cold-blooded reptile relatives were considered unclean, they served important symbolic purposes in the Bible. Mostly they represented ruin, destruction, and desolation – God’s judgment reducing the mighty to lizard haunts. Their stealthy nature also lent them as metaphors for deceit and evil. Yet faithful believers could also tread on lizards, triumphing over wickedness through divine empowerment.
The ruins of ancient sites today still contain small lizards basking in the rubble, just as the biblical prophets foretold. The real-life adaptability of lizards lended them as warnings against those who oppose God’s plans. Their presence in prophetic texts underscores the fulfillment of God’s promised judgment upon sinful nations.
In summary, here are some key lessons from lizards in the biblical context:
Key Takeaways about Lizards in the Bible
- Unclean by the Mosaic Law, lizards symbolized ruin, desolation, evil, and deceit.
- Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah used lizards to represent judgment and downfall of wicked nations.
- Lizard imagery conveyed stealthy cunning, able to secretly infiltrate without notice.
- The weak and easily crushed lizard depicted Israel’s defeat and oppression by enemies.
- Yet the faithful could trample lizards underfoot, triumphing over evil through God.
- Ruins of ancient sites being haunts for lizards prove God’s prophetic judgments.
Understanding these nuances helps modern readers grasp the significance of lizards in biblical poetry, prophecy, and wisdom literature. Though reptiles to avoid, their negative symbolic meanings pointed to spiritual truths concerning judgment, faithfulness, and divine protection.