3.2.13 Wolf: Ferocity
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 2.13
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.” (Genesis 49:27) Thus spoke Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) when delivering his deathbed blessing concerning his sons. These descriptions were predictions of each tribe’s prophetic profile as the centuries unfolded. The most significant of these twelve profiles would be that of Judah (the tribe into which Yahshua was born), who was pinpointed as the tribe from whom Israel’s royal scepter would never depart. But Benjamin was pegged as a ravenous wolf. Although this can be a bad thing, it isn’t necessarily a prediction of evil, considering that it’s the wolves’ usual job to thin out the herd, singling out the weak and infirm and removing them, leaving the healthy and robust animals alone. In that sense, their ferocity, their enthusiasm, can actually be a good thing, in the long term.
As Israel’s “wolf,” Benjamin’s tribal role would begin one way and end another—both within the broad parameters of “wolfishness.” In the “morning” he was to devour prey. Thus we are reminded that Israel’s very first king was a Benjamite. Saul was “asked” (for that is what his name means) by Yahweh to lead Israel as king, as the era of the judges came to an end. And indeed, he led the nation in war as an alpha male wolf leads the pack: “When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them. And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.” (I Samuel 14:47-48) Saul did battle with great success against virtually all of Israel’s traditional enemies, devouring them like prey.
The wolf of Benjamin in the “evening,” however, played a somewhat different role. After the sun had set on the monarchy of Israel—i.e., after it had been functionally destroyed by Babylon—another Benjamite celebrity literally “divided the spoil” in the unlikeliest story of national deliverance you can possibly imagine. Meet Mordecai: “Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish [not Saul’s father, but another man with the same name, living four or five hundred years later], a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away.” (Esther 2:5-6) Mordecai was the uncle of Esther, the Israelite beauty who became the queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus, a.k.a. Xerxes, in about 479 BC.
I won’t recount the whole story of how Ahasuerus got tricked into signing an order of genocide against the Jews (including his queen), and how Esther’s bravery and cunning turned the tables, prompting the king to issue an order for the Jews to vigorously defend themselves (see Esther 8:11). But cutting to the chase, we read, “Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples.” And who was it who organized the Jewish resistance? Mordecai, the evening wolf of the tribe of Benjamin. “All the officials of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal agents also helped the Jews, for the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them. For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces, for the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them.” (Esther 9:1-5)
In the interests of being thorough, I must mention that there is one other Benjamite of note in scripture who has been accused (unfairly, in my opinion) in some circles of being a “ravenous wolf.” You probably won’t believe who I’m talking about. If you’ll recall, Yahshua issued this warning: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-18) In the same vein, Peter wrote, “There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (II Peter 2:1-3) So who is accused by this fringe movement of being a false prophet, this ravenous Benjamite wolf in sheep’s clothing? Believe it or not, it’s a guy who wrote half the New Testament, the one man most personally responsible for introducing Christ to Asia Minor and Europe—the apostle Paul.
Paul’s roots in the tribe of Benjamin are mentioned several times in his letters, so we shouldn’t brush off this “ravening wolf” epithet without looking into it. His name (originally) was the same as that of Israel’s first king—Saul (which if you’ll recall, means “asked”). Saul’s name was changed—we’re not told when or by whom—to Paul (which means “little”). It seems significant to me that the same verse in which the name change is mentioned (Acts 13:9) also notes that Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The conclusion you could draw is that someone becomes “little” in his own eyes when being transformed from an arrogant Pharisee into a Spirit-filled bond-slave of Christ. The accusation against Paul is leveled by those who don’t accept the concept of salvation by grace through faith, who believe that in addition to the sacrifice of Yahshua, we must also perform the rites of the Torah as our responsibility under the covenant. Their line of reasoning is as follows: since the Torah is God’s word, and since God’s word cannot fail, all of mankind must flawlessly keep Yahweh’s Instructions throughout their generations, no matter what Yahshua did.
Their argument may seem quite logical, until you realize several things: (1) Scores of times, Yahweh stated that the Torah was to be kept by Israel. Furthermore, the covenant in question was made with Israel alone. Therefore, the nations (we may presume) aren’t required to perform its precepts in any literal sense, though we are to observe them—to “hear and heed” what they meant. (2) No one (other than Yahshua) has ever flawlessly kept the Torah. If that’s God’s criteria for our salvation, it’s going to be a long, lonely eternity for Him. It also implies that Christ died for no reason. Either His death and resurrection are perfectly efficacious for our salvation, or they aren’t: there is no middle ground. (3) There is a fundamental difference between performing the rites of the Torah and fulfilling its precepts. Offering up a sacrificial lamb is not remotely the same thing as being that Lamb. (4) Paul is (wrongly) accused of being anti-Torah by both the “Judaizers” and the grace-equals-license Christian apostates with whom they’re at war. But Paul never claimed that the Torah was wrong, or evil, or outmoded, or obsolete in any sense of the word we’d ordinarily use. His point—the one for which he is taken to task by his critics—was that the Torah was never designed to save people from their sins. It was “merely” designed to reveal the One who could: Yahshua the Messiah. (5) Paul is accused of “starting a new religion” and thus “dividing the spoils” like the evening wolves of Benjamin’s prophetic legacy. But the only “spoils” his life as apostle won him were persecution, pain, prison, poverty, unceasing labor, and in the end, martyrdom. Far from wanting to start a new religion, Paul merely sought to explain how the Torah had been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. It’s not exactly sacrilege to point out the truth.
That’s not to say others didn’t come in centuries after his martyrdom and twist his teachings into an idiotic caricature of what he’d actually said, preaching that if we’re under grace, our works are meaningless. Paul never taught any such thing. We must remember the prophecies of Revelation 2 and 3 concerning the then-future history of the church. Paul’s legacy is more than just the inroads of apostasy inherent in Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea. It’s also found in the struggling faithfulness of Ephesus and Pergamos, and in the triumphant perseverance of Smyrna and Philadelphia.
And we should critically analyze what happens when Paul’s letters are declared heretical and removed from the canon. They don’t “go quietly into that good night.” No, they take prisoners, kicking and screaming. First, Peter’s writings have to go, because he personally vouched for Paul. Then Mark’s gospel gets tossed, since it depends on Peter’s eyewitness testimony. Luke’s writings are declared suspect, because their author was Paul’s closest traveling companion. Hebrews: gone. John’s writings: gone. Before you know it, you’ve got nothing left, nothing beyond Malachi to inform you as to how Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Without Paul (and those whose lives he touched) you’re still bound by the constraints of the Law (as far as you know), even though you have no temple and no priesthood with which to perform the Torah’s rites, leaving you—as they say in theological jargon—screwed. But since Christ’s death achieved our liberty, Paul fought tooth and nail against both self-imposed chains and self-indulgent spiritual anarchy. Ravenous? No. But he was as fierce as a pack of wolves in his defense of the efficacy of the blood of Christ.
A few of scripture’s “wolf” references we’ve already seen, for they’re mentioned alongside other animals that have been recruited as scriptural symbols. For instance: “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome. their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses [a subject we’ll address shortly] are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves.” (Habakkuk 1:6-8) This passage establishes the primary metaphor: wolves are fierce, ferocious, and focused.
We’ve also seen this passage in another context—also speaking of the Babylonian threat: “A lion from the forest shall strike them down. A wolf from the desert shall devastate them. A leopard is watching their cities. Everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces, because their transgressions are many; their apostasies are great.” (Jeremiah 5:6) Israel and Judah were warned for centuries about the “beastly” peril that awaited them if they did not heed the word of their God. Yet they did nothing to change their ways. Prophets like Jeremiah saw the whole thing happening before their eyes like a slow motion train wreck. And I’m getting a serious case of déjà vu here: I see the same thing happening to my beloved America. Judgment is coming, swift and sure, yet the vast majority of us go about our lives willingly ignorant of our looming destiny—ignoring our God, despising our gifts, robbing our children, and indulging our lusts. May we wake up before it’s too late.
Ezekiel too saw wolves lurking in the shadows: “And the word of Yahweh came to me: Son of man, say to her [i.e., Judah, but again, I can’t help seeing my own nation as an object of the warning], ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst….” “Prophets” here speaks of those whose assigned task is to see what’s coming and offer sound and godly advice and counsel. Today, the “prophets” are the influential media, those in academia, the powerful but unelected functionaries of government (ironically called “civil servants”), and yes, even those who occupy our pulpits. I’m afraid Ezekiel could look at us today and note that nothing much has changed. Note that he calls the complicity of these people “a conspiracy.” Those of us who can’t help but see behind-the-scenes collusion in the world’s efforts to suppress the word of God—and are called “paranoid” for our troubles—are being reminded that there’s more to this than meets the eye: this is spiritual warfare on a global scale.
“Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.” The “priests” are, as always, those who are charged with interceding between man and God—today, the ekklesia of Christ. We, sadly, have failed in our responsibility to keep ourselves set apart from the world and consecrated rather to the honor of Yahweh. The church’s propensity to ignore the word of God in favor of self-serving religious claptrap makes a mockery of our supposed relationship with the Almighty Creator of the universe. “Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.’” (Ezekiel 22:23-27) Not to be outdone, the “princes” are our political leaders, captains of industry, and the movers and shakers of global finance—the wolves of the story, roving in packs seeking unsuspecting (or merely undefended) prey to attack and devour for their own advantage. Yahweh, it must be noted, is not unaware of what they’re doing, even if He is maddeningly patient in calling them to account for their crimes.
Another prophet came to virtually the same conclusion: “Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice. She accepts no correction. She does not trust in Yahweh. She does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions.” The “city” here is apparently a reference to Jerusalem, who should have known better. But I see no reason not to tar every capital city on earth with the same brush. “Her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning.” This time, those cast in the role of ferocious, ravening “wolves” are Judah’s judges. They’re roughly analogous to the “princes” we saw above in Ezekiel’s tirade, but here the emphasis is on their responsibility to make just and wise legal and policy decisions, judgments designed to honor Yahweh and defend His people against oppression. But again, what we see in reality is a colossal betrayal of trust, one that does not escape Yahweh’s notice. “Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men. Her priests profane what is holy. They do violence to the law.” (Zephaniah 3:1-4) And once again, we see the prophets and priests utterly failing to fulfill their mandate before God. The ultimate example of “doing violence to the law,” of course, is being a party to the death of the One whom God’s law was designed to reveal: the Anointed Yahshua. The “officials, judges, prophets, and priests” of Israel—with a few notable exceptions—conspired with Satan and his minions to murder the Messiah. It matters not (to the lawbreakers, anyway) that the Torah predicted His death—the Lamb of God providing the atonement that made possible our reconciliation with Yahweh. Bringing about the fulfillment of the Torah’s imagery by killing the Christ was no more their purpose than it was Adolph Hitler’s intention to “found” the modern state of Israel—even though that’s exactly what resulted from his genocidal intentions.
The Hebrew word for “wolf” is ze’eb. Not coincidentally, the name of one of the Midianite princes who used to periodically raid Israel during the age of the judges was named Ze’eb—the wolf. Thus by studying the interaction between Israel and the Midianites, we can perhaps learn a bit more about what wolves do, and what they symbolically represent. Here’s the historical situation: “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds…. ” This was precisely the sort of thing that had been prophesied—actually, promised—in Deuteronomy 28:25, 31, 33, and 48-53.
If you’ll recall, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro had been a “priest of Midian,” a believer in the One True God. When Moses had his initial encounter with Yahweh at the burning bush, he was tending Jethro’s sheep at Horeb, the mountain of God, “on the west side of the wilderness” (or as the NKJV puts it, in the “back of the desert”). Thus the desert/wilderness in question could not have been in the Sinai Peninsula, as is commonly thought (due to a mistake in geography made by Constantine’s mother). Midianite territory was in present day northwestern Saudi Arabia, east of the Gulf of Aqaba. So the western edge of their home base—the “backside” of the Midianite desert—was where the wilderness wanderings began (once Israel had crossed the Red Sea, i.e., the Gulf of Aqaba)—at Mount Horeb. These Midianite raiders, then, were several hundred miles north of their home. “For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites [whose territory lay between the Sinai and Canaan] and the people of the East [i.e., Moab and Edom] would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to Yahweh.” (Judges 6:1-6)
And what did Yahweh do in response? He raised up Gideon. You remember the story: upon verification that Yahweh was who He said He was, Gideon raised a rather large army—32,000 men strong—which God, to make the point that it was He who would provide Israel’s victories, promptly pared down to a paltry 300 “special forces” commandos. Yahweh then instilled a spirit of fear and defeat among the Midianite soldiers, sending them dreams from which they surmised that “God had delivered Midian and the whole camp” (Judges 7:14) into the hand of Gideon. Gideon’s little band then crept up on the camp of the enemy in the middle of the night, blew trumpets, shouted battle cries, and lit torches, sending the entire Midianite army into panic and disarray. Their “fight or flight” response kicked into high gear, causing massive “friendly fire” casualties as the terrified Midianites struck out at anything that moved—themselves. (This, by the way, is hauntingly familiar. The same sort of scene—the invading horde turning on each other in utter panic—will again be a big factor in Israel’s victory in a major last-days battle, prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39. See in particular, Ezekiel 38:21.)
Anyway, the next move was to secure all the local water sources so Midian couldn’t regroup. “Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, ‘Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.’ So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” Then, the only thing left to do was to cut off the head of the snake: “And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan.” (Judges 7:24-25) There is some fairly heavy linguistic symbolism in play here. Ze’eb, as we have seen, means “wolf.” And Oreb, the name of the other Midianite prince, means “raven.” Gideon’s name is derived from a verb that means “to cut, to hew, or to chop down.” So, metaphorically at least, the repentant Israelites under Yahweh had “cut down” both the ferocious pack-hunting wolf that had been ravishing them and the unclean carrion bird who had been picking their bones clean for the past seven years—read: “completely.” Just remember how Israel’s troubles began: they did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh.
This cycle—idolatry, to oppression, to misery, to repentance, to deliverance, to complacency, and back again to apostasy—happened over and over again during the four hundred years of the age of the judges. It is apparently a symptom of the human condition itself, for it recurs in one form or another in practically every civilization. Americans (at least until recently) tended to think we were immune to this sort of thing. We had our Bible, and we had our Constitution, and we had our pride. But somewhere along the way we lost sight of the Scriptures, and we elevated the Constitution to the status of holy writ. That was the beginning of the end, for us and for our beloved Constitution.
Perhaps we should have heeded the words of Scottish historian Alexander Tyler, writing (in 1787, when we were implementing our shiny new Constitution) about the fall of the Athenian Republic. He said, “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government…. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship…. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence: (1) from bondage to spiritual faith; (2) from spiritual faith to great courage; (3) from courage to liberty; (4) from liberty to abundance; (5) from abundance to complacency; (6) from complacency to apathy; (7) from apathy to dependence; (8) from dependence back into bondage.” Not exactly the plan Yahweh had in mind.
The wolves of our corrupt human nature, it would seem, are always on the prowl. There is only one way to break this vicious cycle—to ensure that we never again slip from faith, courage, liberty and abundance into complacency, apathy, dependence, and bondage. But the road to this blessed state is not democracy, for men are flawed and fallen. It is, strangely enough, to be found only in a scepter of iron wielded by an absolute dictator—but one whose unlimited power is exceeded only by his unfathomable love. Like it or not, that “dictator” is Yahshua the Messiah. Under His reign (coming soon to a world near you), the ravenous wolves of our human nature will be transformed into implements of God’s unending capacity for love. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) That’s not to say democracy doesn’t have a part to play. Under Yahshua’s reign, we all get to choose our own personal destiny: life or death; blessing or cursing; the cycle of good versus evil, or this: “‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind…. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together. The lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,’ says Yahweh.” (Isaiah 65:17, 25)
(First published 2014)