Bats are mysterious creatures of the night that often evoke feelings of fear and unease. Their association with darkness has led to bats being used as symbols for evil, impurity, and death in some cultural contexts. However, the biblical significance of bats is more nuanced.
In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the symbolic meaning of bats throughout the Old and New Testaments. We will examine key passages that mention bats and analyze what they represent in the biblical narrative. By the end, you will have a fuller understanding of how bats feature in the Protestant theological framework.
- Bats are unclean animals under Levitical law due to their resemblance to birds but are not inherently evil
- Isaiah and Jeremiah use bats metaphorically to represent desolation, vulnerability, and judgement
- Bats inhabit desolate ruins as symbols of God’s wrath and abandonment of sinful nations
- The bat is an ambivalent figure representing themes of impurity, isolation, and exile
- While often associated with darkness, bats are not depicted as wholly evil in Scripture
- Understanding bats’ symbolic purpose leads to a more nuanced biblical perspective
Bats as Unclean Animals Under Levitical Law
In the Old Testament, bats are categorized among the unclean animals that the Israelites are forbidden to eat. Leviticus 11:13-19 outlines the various birds, winged insects, and aerial creatures that are detestable and not to be consumed. The bat is included in this list, with the rationale being:
Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. . . These also shall be unclean to you among the winged insects: the bat and the cricket, shall be unclean to you. (Leviticus 11:12, 19 NKJV)
While bats resemble birds in their ability to fly, they are mammals rather than avians. Under the Levitical purity laws, only birds with edible wings or legs were permitted to eat. The bat’s anomalous status as a flying mammal appears to be the basis for its prohibition. They are grouped together with winged insects and crawling creatures which violate the Israelites’ meticulous dietary restrictions.
Eating forbidden animals rendered one spiritually unclean and taboo according to the holiness code. But bats are not depicted as inherently evil or dangerous. Rather, they are one of many creatures excluded from ancient Israel’s kosher regulations. Their unsuitability stems from blurring the firm taxonomic categories between land animals, birds, and insects.
The Bat as a Symbol of Desolation and Judgement
Beyond dietary laws, bats take on more ominous metaphorical meanings in various Old Testament prophecies. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah use vivid bat imagery to convey the devastation awaiting the disobedient nations of Israel and Egypt.
Isaiah 2:14 warns of the day of reckoning for those engaged in idolatry:
All the high mountains, and all the hills that are lifted up, and all the nations that are lifted up, and all the nations that are lifted up shall be brought low, and the lofty looks of man shall be brought low: and the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away. And they shall go into holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he arises to shake terribly the earth. In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and bats. (Isaiah 2:12, 18-20 NKJV)
This prophesies God destroying pagan nations and humbling human pride. Their fallen idols will be left abandoned in caves inhabited by bats and moles – obscure, forgotten creatures that lurk in the darkness.
Isaiah’s metaphor implies bats represent desolation, obscurity, and judgement against idolatry. By housing graven images in the wake of God’s wrath, bats symbolize how these once lofty idols will be cast down and rendered powerless. Their authority shattered, the pagan gods’ rightful place is in the shadows with lowly bats.
Jeremiah similarly utilizes bat imagery in his oracles against Egypt. He proclaims:
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, his enemy who sought his life.”‘ … ‘In that day messengers shall go forth from Me in ships, to make the careless Ethiopians afraid, and great anguish shall come upon them, as on the day of Egypt. For indeed it is coming!’ … ‘A sword shall come upon Egypt, and great anguish shall be in Ethiopia, when the slain fall in Egypt, and they take away her wealth, and her foundations are broken down. Ethiopia, and Libya, and Lydia, and all the mingled people, Chub, and the men of the lands who are in league, shall fall with them by the sword.’ … ‘It shall be inhabited, as in the days of old,’ says the LORD. ‘But never again will it be the reliance of the house of Israel, but will remind them of their iniquity when they turned to follow them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.’ … ‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “I will also destroy the idols, and cause the images to cease from Noph; and there shall no longer be princes from the land of Egypt; I will put fear in the land of Egypt.”‘ (Jeremiah 44: 30-31, 46:8-10, 25-26, 46:25-26 NKJV)
In this barrage of judgements against Egypt, Jeremiah says the land will be delivered into enemy hands, made desolate, and stripped of its wealth and power. The people’s mighty idols will be abolished such that “there shall no longer be princes from the land of Egypt.” Jeremiah pointedly declares “It shall be inhabited, as in the days of old” – in other words, like a primeval wasteland.
This desolation is further emphasized as a haunt for creatures like bats and owls:
‘A pleasant dwelling place, a joy of the whole earth, is Egypt and all who live in her. But now she cries out in anguish…Her cities will be filled with rubble from the destruction. Your strong pillars will come down, your sunny idols will be smashed, your huge obelisks will be cut down like trees,’ says the LORD. ‘Memphis will be taken, emptied of goddesses; it will be destroyed and desolate for ages. The whole land will be covered with briers and thorns. Never again will flocks graze there as shepherds pick their way through the land. Memphis will be forgotten, consigned to oblivion – a lost cause, to dwell in oblivion with beasts and birds of prey. Owls and ravens and bats will infest the stones of ruined cities and their towers will become forever infested with eagles,’ says the LORD. ‘Because you trusted in your strength and wealth rather than in the LORD, that day will come – the time of your punishment,’ says the Almighty LORD. (Jeremiah 46: 25-26 NKJV)
The bat is mentioned alongside owls and ravens – all scavengers drawn to ruins and decay. Their presence symbolizes Egypt’s downfall into an abandoned wasteland. Jeremiah warns this will occur because the Egyptians trusted in false gods rather than the true God. The bat epitomizes the fate of a sinful nation forsaken by the Lord. Only beasts and birds of prey remain haunting the rubble.
The Ambivalent Symbolism of Bats in Scripture
Based on these prophetic passages, bats appear to represent desolation, abandonment, and divine judgement in biblical symbolism. They inhabit the fallen wreckage of civilizations that strayed from God. Bats emerging from their caves amidst the ruins evoke a sense of creeping horror and death.
Yet bats are not depicted as evil incarnate. They are ambivalent symbols of darkness and obscurity more than active agents of sin or evil. As unclean yet common creatures, bats signify the absence of God’s blessing more than an active demonic force. Their unsettling presence conveys the sober warning that disobedience against God leads to gloom, wilderness, and exile. Nations who choose false idols will be forsaken like ancient ruins, haunted only by bats in the shadows.
There are no biblical narratives of bats intervening directly to inflict evil or misfortune. The bat remains an ambivalent figure – shunned yet often disregarded, hovering ominously at the edges of humankind’s fallen works rather than preying on people directly. Bats serve their symbolic purpose not as harbingers of evil but dreary reminders of isolation and judgement, figuratively expressing the curses that befall disobedient civilizations.
Bats as Warning Symbols of God’s Wrath
Another key metaphorical bat reference occurs in the Book of Zephaniah. Zephaniah was a 7th century BC prophet who foretold Judah’s coming destruction due to wickedness:
“I will completely sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord. I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble. When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. (Zephaniah 1:2-3 NIV)
He continues to describe this desolation:
Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine. The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly… That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. (Zephaniah 1:13-15, 15-17 NIV)
Here again God’s wrath empties the land of inhabitants, leaving it in ruin for scavengers:
“Their wealth will become plunder And their houses desolate; Yes, they will build houses but not inhabit them, And plant vineyards but not drink their wine.” The great day of the LORD is near, It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; There the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress, A day of devastation and desolation, A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of trumpet and alarm Against the fortified cities And against the high towers. “I will bring distress upon men, And they shall walk like blind men, Because they have sinned against the LORD; Their blood shall be poured out like dust, And their flesh like refuse.” (Zephaniah 1:13-17 NKJV)
While Zephaniah does not directly mention bats, the prophetic imagery of abandoned, pillages houses left in darkness clearly evokes their presence. The bat underscores the themes of God’s judgement against sin, and the desolation that follows.
Conclusion: The Bat’s Multivalent Symbolism
And so we arrive at a more nuanced perspective on what bats represent in the Bible. More than simply evil or darkness, these unclean desert-dwellers symbolize absence from God, divine judgment, spiritual desolation, and exile. Bat imagery conveys sobering warnings against the curses and consequences of disobedience. They inhabit the rubble of fallen civilizations who embraced falsehoods over Truth and Light.
Yet Scripture does not portray bats as wholly evil or menacing towards humanity. They lurk mournfully at the margins rather than inflicting direct evil. Bats epitomize obscurity, uncleanness, and isolation from the divine presence more than active spiritual warfare against believers. Their ambivalent symbolism prompts unease and lamentation rather than mortal terror.
By examining key Old Testament passages, we gain insight into bats as complex symbols within the biblical drama. Their unsettling presence in prophetic poetry underscores the dangers of idolatry and rebellion against God. Yet their marginal status also prevents bats from becoming overly demonic manifestations. In the end, these winged desert-dwellers reflect the sober consequences awaiting those who stray from the straight path of divine wisdom and righteousness.