Thursday, March 18, 2010

The symbolic meaning of swine in the scriptures

We know that pork was forbidden under the Law of Moses:
7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
8 Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you. (Lev. 11:7-8)
Because pork was forbidden under the Law of Moses, the mention of swine automatically became an instant rhetorical symbol of filthiness and not keeping the commandments.

Notice how this informs our understanding in the following scriptures:
3 He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.
4 I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not….
17 They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the Lord. (Isaiah 66:3-4,17, emphasis added)
The imagery that is being built here is meant to show us how the Lord sees beyond our immediate acts of worship and can tell whether we are worthy to participate or not. The unworthy Israelites, when they were offering their sacrifices, offended God through their lack of contrition just as surely as if they had offered unclean animals for sacrifice. They were unclean, so their sacrifices were considered unclean too.
Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; (Isaiah 65:4, emphasis added)
How about in the parable of the prodigal son?
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. (Luke 15:15-16, emphasis added)
The detail that the prodigal son is feeding swine is meant to show us how far down he has fallen. In order to survive, he works in a ritually filthy industry. Not only that, but it is not enough to feed him after all.
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. (Matthew 7:6)
As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22, emphasis added)
This adds another angle to our understanding of swinishness. It could represent lack of discretion
But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (2 Peter 2:22, emphasis added)

And thus six years had not passed away since the more part of the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire. (3 Nephi 7:8, emphasis added)
Here swine seem to be used to represent people who return to their wickedness after having been previously cleansed.

Understanding the meaning of certain animals—in this case, swine—can help us understand the deeper meaning behind certain scriptures and open up subtext that we haven’t seen before.


Dan Olsen said...

Interesting insight that I hadn't considered before.

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