13th January 2024
"Little Life Lessons
The hyrax and having reliable protection"
In Proverbs 30:24-28 the writer Agur speaks of four small animals that demonstrate wisdom, and in doing so makes the important point that little people can be surprisingly powerful.
The first was the ant, which illustrates the virtue of having a perspective on the future that meant we are prepared.
In verse 26 we have the second:
'hyraxes are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags' (NIV).
The precise animal Agur referred to was for a long time a puzzle for translators, who resorted to such words as coneys, rock badgers, rock rabbits or marmots. It's now agreed that animal in question is the rock hyrax, a mammal unknown to Europe or north America, although it does occur in southern Africa as the dassie.
Although few of us have probably seen a wild hyrax they regularly occur on Natural History programmes and a search on YouTube will bring up some splendid clips.
Hyraxes have a fascinating way of life. They live in small communities close to steep cliff edges.
In the early morning and sunset they graze on the sparse cliff vegetation.
During the day they find themselves some open spot on the rocks and there, clearly visible to the world, stretch out, basking in the sun like holidaymakers on some Mediterranean beach.
As mammals use a great deal of their food energy in simply keeping themselves warm, this sunbathing habit means a hyrax can survive on a minimal diet.
Nevertheless, it is a mode of existence fraught with risk: those hours sprawled motionless on the rocks are a great way of promoting yourself as a tasty menu item for hungry predators.
In fact, the hyrax has a defensive strategy.
Despite their appearance of being half asleep, hyraxes keep their eyes open and at the first hint of an eagle or other predator, they sound an alert.
The hyraxes now, quite literally, leap into action and switch into athlete mode.
Using feet with permanently moist pads that give suction, they move with remarkable speed and breath-taking agility up, down and across often almost vertical rock surfaces into the protection of deep crevices.
In a few seconds the colony goes from being openly visible to lost from sight and secure deep in the rock.
There can be no doubt that it is this seemingly miraculous ability of the hyrax to live openly on hostile cliffs and yet find security in them that Agur is referring to.
These vulnerable and defenceless 'little people' survive because, when the shadow of peril falls on them, they can flee instantly into a nearby refuge of utter security.
For the Christian, especially those of us living in times and places where we feel we are little people in a big and hostile world, there are lessons here.
It is fascinating how frequently the Old Testament in particular picks up the idea of how rocks offer protection.
King David, who would have known the hyrax well, found security in rocks and caves himself when he was hunted by Saul.
That experience of being securely concealed in cliffs and caves no doubt contributed to the fact that many of the psalms refer to rocks and cliffs as places of refuge.
So, in Psalm 18:2 (NIV) we read,
'The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.'
In Psalm 62:6-7 (NIV) we have,
'Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.'
In Psalm 71:3 (NIV) there is,
'Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.'
The New Testament builds on this imagery of security by referring to Christ as a rock.
To trust in Christ is to find our secure refuge in him.
That consoling image of fleeing to Christ as a safe refuge is the basis of several great hymns.
One is Augustus Toplady's 'Rock of Ages', which begins and ends with the lines, 'Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.'
It's an encouraging thought for the Christian that, when we are faced with problems and threats, we can have a safe refuge in Christ.
While I could end here with this comforting idea of Christ as the safe and secure refuge for believers, I want instead to pose a challenge.
As someone who is not just an evangelist but also someone who likes to encourage evangelism, I am often troubled by the way that so many Christians want to spend their entire life secure and hidden away where they will not be seen.
Now there are times, places and situations where keeping a low profile as a Christian is appropriate, but far too many believers want to live hidden in the crevices of life.
In fact, I suspect if many believers were asked to imagine themselves as a small mammal, they would probably identify as the permanently concealed mole rather than the often-conspicuous hyrax.
You see, the hyrax does not live all its life invisible in the crevices; it spends most of the daylight hours openly visible.
It can take this risk because it has that place of security nearby.
There's a lesson here.
The fact that as Christians we have a secure refuge in Christ available to us, means that we can be bold and open in our faith.
Let's remind ourselves that we have a refuge in Christ and be ready to use it, but let's remember that this gives us the freedom to display to the world who we are and who God is.
We may be 'little people' but we have a big God to protect us and that's quite enough
Bible references available on request
is an Evangelist, minister, speaker, broadcaster and writer.
He has been in ministry for four decades. He has spoken in towns, cities and universities in 69 countries.
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