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Do animals have rights?

One of the issues in our society concerns animal rights. Is it okay to eat animals. Is it okay to use animal skins as clothing? Is it okay to own animals, use them as entertainment, or as beasts of burden? Is it okay to use animals for research?

Genesis 1 tells us that God is the One who created the animals; therefore, as we formulate our beliefs about animal rights, we should start with God’s directives concerning animals. Some of these directives are found in Genesis 9. Genesis 9 contains some dialogue that took place between God and Noah after the flood as Noah and his family were resuming life on dry land.

Let’s start by reading Genesis 9:1-2. Notice the words fear and terror. Who would be afraid of whom?

Gen. 9:1 ¶ And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.

Gen. 9:2 “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.

God said that animals would be afraid of Noah and his sons. This explains why animals often run away from humans. They are afraid of us. It also explains why animals sometimes attack. They attack when they are afraid of us. (The fact that God said this to Noah indicates that up to that point in history animals were not afraid of people. This helps explains how Noah was able to get all the animals on the ark. If you take away the fear, the animals would do what Noah wanted.) Anytime we have interaction with animals, especially wild animals, we should keep in mind that they are afraid of us and their actions are dictated by that fear.

Now look at Genesis 9:2 again and notice the last phrase. Who is given into whose hand and what does that have to do with animal rights?

Gen. 9:2 “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.

God said that animals were given into the hand of Noah and his sons. In the book of Genesis, the hand was often used as a metaphor for power and control.

Gen. 14:20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Gen. 32:11 “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children.

Genesis 9:2 teaches us that God gave people control over animals. We see this very clearly in nature. People have the ability to capture and control animals, but animals cannot capture and control people. When we ask if animals have rights, we need to start with the fact that God gave people control over animals.

Now look at Genesis 9:3. Remember that God is speaking to Noah. What does this verse tell us about animal rights?

Gen. 9:3 “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.

The pronoun you refers to Noah and his sons (the Hebrew form of the pronoun is plural). God made it very clear that animals are food.

When we formulate our beliefs about animal rights, we need to start with two facts.

1. God gave people control of animals.

2. According to God, animals are food.

These facts do not give us permission to abuse animals, but they do teach us that animals do not have rights. God gave us permission to kill animals and eat them. God also gave us control over animals and permission to exercise that control.

 

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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”