Serving God by Loving People
Believers from the world’s major religions view both angels and animals as creatures made by God, just like human beings. While angels may seem ethereal and animals more down-to-earth, they both serve God by loving people -- angels help care for us, and animals give us companionship. The love they give us often inspires us to love them back.
Here’s a look at what various religious texts have to say about angels and animals:
The Torah and the Bible: An Angel Shuts Lions’ Mouths to Protect a Faithful Believer
In Daniel chapter 6 of the Torah and the Bible, King Darius throws the prophet Daniel into a den with lions to test whether or not God will save Daniel. Daniel spends the night trapped there with ferocious lions, but when King Darius shows up to check on Daniel the next morning, Daniel reports in verse 22 that an angel rescued him by subduing the lions: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight.”
The Bible: An Angel and a Talking Donkey Reveal a Person’s Need to Change
Numbers chapter 22 of the Bible records a memorable encounter between an angel, a donkey, and a man named Balaam who had angered God by not following his instructions. When Balaam started on his day’s journey, verse 22 says that "an angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him" while Balaam was riding his donkey. Then God used the angel to expose the sin of cruelty in Balaam’s soul, getting his attention in an unusual way (by having his donkey talk!).
Verses 23 through 34 describe the scene: "When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again. Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’
Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.’
The donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’
‘No,’ he said.Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the Lord asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.’
Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, ‘I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.’
The Catholic Bible: An Archangel Uses a Fish for Healing
In the Book of Tobit, which is part of the Catholic Bible, the archangel Raphael uses an animal -- a fish -- to bring both spiritual healing to a woman named Sarah who was afflicted by a demon and physical healing to a man named Tobit who was blind. Tobit 3:16-17 records that “the prayer of each of them found favor before the glory of God, and Raphael was sent to bring remedy to them both.”
In Tobit 6:17-18, Raphael instructs Sarah’s future husband, Tobias, how to use part of a fish’s body to scare away the demon who had been tormenting her: “Then once you are in the bridal room, take the heart and liver of the fish and lay a little of it on the burning incense. The reek will rise, the demon will smell it and flee, and there is no danger that he will ever be found near the girl again. Then, before you sleep together, first stand up, both of you, and pray. Ask the Lord of heaven to grant you his grace and protection. Do not be afraid... ". Tobias follows Raphael’s instructions in chapter 8, and verse 3 records that: “The reek of the fish distressed the demon, who fled through the air to Egypt. Raphael pursued him there, shackled him and strangled him forthwith."
Later, in Tobit 11:7-8, Raphael describes what will happen when Tobias uses an ointment made from the fish’s gall to try to heal blindness in his father Tobit: “Raphael said to Tobias before he reached his father, 'I give you my word that your father's eyes will open. You must put the fish's gall to his eyes; the medicine will smart and will draw a filmy white skin off his eyes. And your father will no more be blind but will be able to see the light.'” Sure enough, that’s what happens, and after his healing, Tobias exclaims: “I can see you, my son, the light of my eyes! … Blessed be God! Blessed be his great name! Blessed be all his holy angels!” (Tobit 11:14).
The Bhavagad Gita: A Divine Force Lives Inside Both Angels and Animals
Hindus believe that the same divine force that empowers angelic beings (called devas) also lives inside animals. The Bhagavad Gita declares in chapter 5, verse 18: “An enlightened person -- by perceiving God in all -- looks at a learned person, an outcast, even a cow, an elephant, or a dog with an equal eye.” The angelic devas may manifest in the form of animals when they appear on Earth, Hindus believe, so many statues of the devas in Hindu temples show the devas as animals -- such as tigers or elephants.
The Qur’an: Angels and Animals Join All of Creation in Worshiping God
In chapter 22 (Al Hajj), verse 18, the Qur’an declares that angels and animals join human beings and other parts of nature in worshiping the God who made them: “Have you not seen that before God prostrate all that are in the heavens and all that are in the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees, and the beasts, and a great number among mankind?
The Hadith: Angels May Appear to Animals But Don’t Get Along with Dogs
The Hadith (a collection of the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s teachings) says in Sahih Bukhari 4:522 that animals may see angels: “When you hear the crowing of cocks, ask for Allah’s Blessings, for (their crowing indicates that) they have seen an angel…”. But the Hadith also says that angels don’t like to be in the presence of one type of animal: dogs. Sahih Muslim 24:5248 records that the archangel Gabriel avoided meeting Muhammad at his home for a scheduled appointment because Muhammad had a puppy hiding underneath his cot. After Muhammad put the young dog out of his house, Gabriel visited Muhammad, and Muhammad reminded Gabriel of his broken promise to visit him the previous night. Gabriel replies: “Yes, but we (angels) do not enter a house in which there is a dog ...”.
The Lankavatara Sutra: Angelic Beings Shouldn’t Eat Animals
In chapter 8 of the Lankavatara Sutra (a sacred Buddhist text), Buddha says that angelic beings called bodhisattvas (people who are spiritually enlightened enough to achieve an angelic state) should refrain from eating meat so they won’t compromise their holiness by harming animals: "For the sake of love of purity, the Bodhisattva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood, etc. For fear of causing terror to living beings let the Bodhisattva, who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh."