Dogs of Woolpit

An Englishman’s best friend is his dog, yet have you noticed that in scripture, dogs are generally given a rather negative press? As a nation, however, we love the animal, and it came as no little surprise that at one Suffolk church I visited this month, dozens of them had been carved onto the ends of the fifteenth-century pews. The dogs of St Mary’s, Woolpit, were deemed suitably non-idolatrous to survive the chisels of puritan reformation. Here is a sample of the scriptural references to canines:

Their use in divine judgment:

1 Kings 14:11: The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Jeroboam and dies in the city…

1 Kings 16:4: The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Baasha and dies in the city…

1 Kings 21:23: And concerning Jezebel the Lord also spoke, saying, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’

Their lowly status:

Job 30:1: “But now they mock at me, men younger than I, Whose fathers I disdained to put with the dogs of my flock.”

Their brutality, as seen in Messiah’s sufferings:

Psalm 22:16: For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet;

Their ignorance and lethargy:

Isaiah 56:10 His watchmen are blind, They are all ignorant; They are all dumb dogs, They cannot bark; Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.

Their unworthiness of God’s goodness:

Matthew 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

Their symbolising dangerous, false teachers:

Philippians 3:2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!

Their exclusion from God’s salvation:

Revelation 22:15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie

Notwithstanding their being made by God, one might read the above and conclude they are a most unfitting symbol to be carved in a church, another example of pre-reformation ignorance. Yet do not the dogs above perfectly describe the human condition?

-We are ripe for judgement.
-We are laid waste by sin.
-We are brutal towards the weak.
-We are spiritually ignorant and lazy.
-We deserve not God’s blessing.
-We are prone to false and flattering heresy.
-We well deserve exclusion from all that is good and holy.

If we recognised our spoiled, sinful state ahead of hearing God’s word, we might more profitably receive it. A too exalted view of our status will only even deafen our ears and stupefy our minds to gospel truth.

The one semi-positive reference to dogs comes from the exchange between the Lord and Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15:26-28:

But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

To which He replied:

28 “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Whatever their faults, dogs hear better than we do. Like the carved dogs of Woolpit, below, may we sit still to hear better God's word.