". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Good Leaders Care for Their Animals

May 7, 2024

“Dog bites man” is not a story. But, “politician shoots dog,” is. According to her autobiographical memoir released Tuesday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) shot her family’s 14-month-old dog because it was “untrainable.” Then she went on national television to not only defend her decision, but to declare that President Joe Biden should shoot his dog, too.

USA Today reported in February that Biden’s dog Commander has been involved in at least 25 biting incidents (11 requiring medical attention) at the White House, attacking Secret Service agents’ in the “arms, hands, thighs, back, wrists, elbows, waist, chest and an agent’s ammunition magazine pouch.”

At first glance, this may seem like a niche, obscure issue. Yet the Bible provides a substantial amount of instruction regarding how humans should relate to animals.


In the beginning, God gave mankind dominion over all kinds of animals. After he created male and female in his image, “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

The first man then exercised that dominion when he “gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field” (Genesis 2:20). Moses added that, among all the animals that Adam named, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20). Man’s authority over animals is appropriate because man is distinct. Only man is created in the image of God.


Man’s authority over the animal kingdom is just one of the many types of authority God instituted to bless his creation (Romans 13:1). The one in authority is “God’s servant” for the good of those under him (Romans 13:4). Authority that is used properly refreshes and nourishes those under authority, causing them to flourish. Authority used rightly is “like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Samuel 23:4).

Scripture provides examples of what good authority looks like. It looks like husbands loving their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). It looks like fathers not provoking their children to anger (Ephesians 6:4). It looks like bosses motivating their employees not through threats or fear, but with just and fair treatment (Ephesians 6:9). It looks like church leaders “not domineering” over church members “but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). It looks like rulers not using their power to exploit others (2 Samuel 23:17). In a phrase, it is “ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3).

Similarly, when humans use their authority over animals and the rest of the created order well, it causes creation to flourish. Thus, we find in Proverbs, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel” (Proverbs 12:10). Jesus also reasoned from this premise, saying, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? … So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12).

The underlying reason for treating animals well is that they have been made by God. God made them (Psalm 104:24), provides for them (Psalm 104:27-28), watches over them (Matthew 10:29), and pities them (Jonah 4:11). It is true that humans are more valuable (Matthew 10:31) because we are created in the image of God, but animals should also be valued because they are created by him.


Sadly, people in authority often misuse and abuse their authority. In Genesis 3, the created order was inverted when Adam and Eve obeyed the voice of the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit, thus failing to exercise dominion over the animal kingdom. According to some commentators, Adam had already failed to “keep” the garden (Genesis 2:15) by allowing the serpent inside. Abuse of authority is baked into the curse (Genesis 3:16), and this fallen world has provided endless examples of it ever since.

Yet mankind, though fallen in sin, still rules over creation, including the animal kingdom — albeit with a more adversarial relationship. After the flood, God told Noah and his sons what he told Adam, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). He also placed the fear and dread of man upon all animals, delivering them into man’s hand as food (Genesis 9:2-3).

Good rulers of men will also exercise their authority over the animal kingdom. In a recent podcast, Pastor Sam Emadi argued that King Solomon was depicted as a new Adam, re-establishing an Eden-like domain that reached to the Euphrates River (Genesis 2:14, 1 Kings 4:24) and was full of gardens (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6). Adam’s dominion was “primarily communicated in terms of his relationship to the animal kingdom,” he said, and Solomon’s table was supplied with seven kinds of animals (1 Kings 4:23), a number corresponding to the days of creation. Solomon was not a perfect ruler — no fallen human will be — but Israel prospered under him (1 Kings 4:20) as he used his authority over both men and beasts well.

Even before Solomon, Emadi added, Saul and David handled animals differently. Before he became a self-centered, paranoid tyrant, Saul could not find his father’s donkeys (1 Samuel 9:3-5). In contrast, David “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). Before he ascended the throne, he kept sheep and risked his own life to deliver them from lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-36). “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).


The principle at work in these narratives of ancient kings is that rulers who use their authority over men well also use their authority over animals well, while rulers who fail to use their authority over men well also fail to use their authority over animals well.

This principle comports with Jesus’s parable of the talents, in which the master rewards the faithful servants, saying, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Paul reasoned similarly when requiring that church elders “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). Someone who can’t do a small task well is not a good candidate to do a larger version of the same task.

Are you looking for someone capable of handling great authority and responsibility, and doing it well? Look to those who have conducted themselves commendably with a little authority or responsibility. If someone can’t be trusted with a little responsibility, it isn’t wise to trust them with more. If you wouldn’t trust someone to pull his or her weight in a group project, or walk your dog, or babysit your child, then you shouldn’t trust that person as church treasurer, mayor, or senator.

This is why a seemingly trivial issue, like how people manage their household pets, can provide a window into how they would or do handle the nation’s top elected positions. If someone cannot restrain his dog from biting his own security detail, how would he respond as commander-in-chief to a brazen foreign adversary determined to attack a vulnerable ally? If someone shoots a 14-month-old dog as “untrainable,” how would she respond as negotiator-in-chief when congressional leaders refuse to give her legislative victories? Good rulers of men will also be good rulers over the animal kingdom.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.