Two words in Hebrew are translated "fox" in the Bible; and it is not easy in every case to determine what animal is referred to. There were several varieties of fox in Palestine, all like the common fox in form and habits. The fox is cunning, voracious, and mischievous, Eze 13:4; Lu 13:32. He is fond of grapes, and does much harm in vineyards, Song 2:15. The fable of the fox and the sour grapes is well known. He is solitary in his habits, and burrows a home for himself in the ground, Lu 9:58. The jackal, at the present day, is much more numerous in Palestine, and is probably referred to in many texts where the word "foxes" occurs. It is like a medium-sized dog, with a head like the wolves, and a tail like the fox's; of a bright yellow color. To the fierceness of the wolf it joins the impudent familiarity of the dog. It differs from the fox in its habit of hunting its prey in large packs, and in its cry-a mournful howl, mixed with barking, which they keep up all night, to the annoyance of all within hearing. They live in holes; prowl around villages; ravage poultry yards; feed upon game, lizards, insects, grapes, garbage; and when they can find nothing else, old leather and any thing that has once had animal life. They follow after caravans and armies, and devour the bodies of the dead, and even dig them up from their graves, Ps 63:10; La 5:18. The incident in the life of Samson, where foxes, or perhaps jackals, are referred to, Jg 15:4-5, has a parallel in the ancient Roman feast of Ceres, goddess of corn; when torches were bound to the tails of numbers of foxes, and they ran round the circus till the fire stopped and consumed them. This was in revenge for their once burning up some fields of corn.
(Heb shu'al, a name derived from its digging or burrowing under ground), the Vulpes thaleb, or Syrian fox (Illustration: Syrian Fox), the only species of this animal indigenous to Palestine. It burrows, is silent and solitary in its habits, is destructive to vineyards, being a plunderer of ripe grapes (Song 2:15). The Vulpes Niloticus, or Egyptian dog-fox, and the Vulpes vulgaris, or common fox, are also found in Palestine.
The proverbial cunning of the fox is alluded to in Eze 13:4, and in Lu 13:32, where our Lord calls Herod "that fox." In Jg 15:4-5, the reference is in all probability to the jackal. The Hebrew word shu'al through the Persian schagal becomes our jackal (Canis aureus), so that the word may bear that signification here. The reasons for preferring the rendering "jackal" are (1) that it is more easily caught than the fox; (2) that the fox is shy and suspicious, and flies mankind, while the jackal does not; and (3) that foxes are difficult, jackals comparatively easy, to treat in the way here described. Jackals hunt in large numbers, and are still very numerous in Southern Palestine.
shuw'al, from sha'al "to burrow" (Ne 4:3; La 5:18; Mt 8:20). In Hebrew including also the jackal which preys on unburied carcasses; "they shall be a portion for jackals" (Ps 63:9-10), fulfilled on "the seekers after David's soul" (2Sa 18:7-17). So Samson's 300 jackals (Judges 15); for jackals are gregarious, the fox is solitary. The Arab shikal, "jackal", is related to the Hebrew shu'al. That jackals were common in Palestine appears from the names of places compounded with shual, as Hagar-shual, Shaalbim; (compare Foxhayes, etc., in our own land;) being gregarious they would naturally run in couples, tied together by a cord of two or three yards length; Samson probably had men to help him, and caught and let them loose from different places to consume the greater quantity of the Philistines' grain.
Fond of grapes; (Song 2:15) "take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines." The bride after awaking from her past unwatchfulness is the more jealous of subtle (fox-like) sins (Ps 139:23). In spiritual winter evil weeds as well as good plants are frozen up; in the spring of revivals these start up unperceived, crafty false teachers spiritual pride, uncharitableness (Ps 19:12; Mt 13:26; Heb 12:15). Little sins beget the greatest (Ec 10:1; 1Co 5:6). Eze 13:4; "thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts," where the foxes from having nothing to eat become doubly ravenous and crafty to get food. So, in Israel, once a vineyard now a moral desert, the prophets whose duty was to guard the church from being spoiled themselves spoil it, through crafty greed of gain.
So, Jesus calls Herod "that fox." The Lord had withdrawn from His plotting foes in Judea to the retired region beyond Jordan, Peraea. The Pharisees came to expedite His departure by pretending "Herod was seeking to kill Him." Herod was wishing Him to depart, feeling embarrassed how to treat Him whether to honor or persecute Him (Lu 9:7-9; 13:32). It was the Pharisees themselves who wished to kill Him. But Herod lent himself to their design and so played the "fox." Tell that fox that "today and tomorrow" I remain doing works of mercy in the borders of his province, "on the third day" I begin that journey which ends in My about to be consummated sacrifice. The common jackal of Palestine is the Canis aureus which may be heard nightly; also the Vulpes vulgaris.
The well-known animal, that burrows in the ground. Mt 8:20. They will eat anything, and are especially fond of grapes. Cant. 2:15. They are very sly, and cunning in catching their prey; which accounts for Herod Antipas being called a fox by the Lord. Lu 13:32. It is supposed that the same Hebrew word, shual, includes the JACKAL, which may be intended in Ps 63:10, and indeed in other passages. The canis aureus is the common Jackal of Palestine.
(Heb. shu'al). Probably the jackal is the animal signified in almost all the passages in the Old Testament where the Hebrew term occurs. Though both foxes and jackals abound in Palestine, the shu'alim (foxes) of
are evidently jackals and not foxes, for the former animal is gregarious, whereas the latter is solitary in its habits; and Samson could not, for that reason, have easily caught three hundred foxes, but it was easy to catch that number of jackals, which are concealed by hundreds in caves and ruins of Syria. It is not probable, however, that Samson sent out the whole three hundred at once. With respect to the jackals and foxes of Palestine, there is no doubt that the common jackal of the country is the Canis aureus, which may be heard every night in the villages. It is like a medium-sized dog, with a head like a wolf, and is of a bright-yellow color. These beasts devour the bodies of the dead, and even dig them up from their graves.
FOX, ????, Jg 15:4; Ne 4:3; 11:27; Ps 63:10; Song 2:15; La 5:11; Eze 13:4; Mt 8:20; Lu 9:58; 13:32. Parkhurst observes that this is the name of an animal, probably so called from its burrowing, or making holes in the earth to hide himself or dwell in. The LXX render it by ??????, the Vulgate, vulpes, and our English version, fox. It is recorded, in Jg 15:4-5, that "Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails; and when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives." Dr. Shaw thinks jackals to be the animals here intended; observing, that "as these are creatures by far the most common and familiar, as well as the most numerous of any in the eastern countries, we may well perceive the great possibility there was for Samson to take, or cause to be taken, three hundred of them. The fox, properly so called," he adds, "is rarely to be met with, neither is it gregarious." So Hasselquist remarks: "Jackals are found in great numbers about Gaza; and, from their gregarious nature, it is much more probable that Samson should have caught three hundred of them, than of the solitary quadruped, the fox."
2. At the feast of Ceres, the goddess of corn, celebrated annually at Rome about the middle of April, there was the observance of this custom, to fix burning torches to the tails of a number of foxes, and to let them run through the circus till they were burnt to death. This was done in revenge upon that species of animals, for having once burnt up the fields of corn. The reason, indeed, assigned by Ovid, is too frivolous an origin for so solemn a rite; and the time of its celebration, the seventeenth of April, it seems, was not harvest time, when the fields were covered with corn, vestilos messibus agros; for the middle of April was seed time in Italy, as appears from Virgil's Georgics. Hence we must infer that this rite must have taken its rise from some other event than that by which Ovid accounted for it; and Samson's foxes are a probable origin of it. The time agrees exactly, as may be collected from several passages of Scripture. For instance from the book of Exodus we learn, that before the passover, that is, before the fourteenth day of the month Abib, or March, barley in Egypt was in the ear, Ex 12:18; 13:4. And in Ex 9:31-32, it is said, that the wheat at that time was not grown up. Barley harvest, then, in Egypt, and so in the country of the Philistines, which bordered upon it, must have fallen about the middle of March. Wheat harvest, according to Pliny, was a month later: "In Egypto hordeum sexto a satu mense, fragmenta septimo metuntur." [In Egypt barley is reaped in the sixth month from the time of its being sown, wheat in the seventh.] Therefore wheat harvest happened about the middle of April; the very time in which the burning of foxes was observed at Rome. It is certain that the Romans borrowed many of their rites and ceremonies, both serious and ludicrous, from foreign nations; and Egypt and Phenicia furnished them with more perhaps than any other country. From one of these the Romans might either receive this rite immediately, or through the hands of their neighbours, the Carthaginians, who were a colony of Phenicians; and so its true origin may be referred back to the story which we have been considering.
Bochart has made it probable that the ???? spoken of in Isa 13:22; 34:14; and Jer 50:39, rendered by our translators "the beasts of the islands," an appellation very vague and indeterminate, are jackals; and that the ???? of the Greeks, and the beni ani of the Arabians are the same animal; and though he takes that to have been their specific name, yet he thinks, that, from their great resemblance to a fox, they might be comprehended under the Hebrew name of a fox, shual; which is indeed almost the same with sciagal sciugal, the Persian names of the jackal. Scaliger and Olearius, quoted by Bochart, expressly call the jackal a fox; and Mr. Sandys speaks of it in the same manner: "The jackals, in my opinion, are no other than foxes, whereof an infinite number," &c. Hasselquist calls it the little eastern fox; and Kaempfer says that it might not be improperly called the wolf-fox. It is therefore very conceivable that the ancients might comprehend this animal under the general name of fox.
3. To give an idea of his own extreme poverty, the Lord Jesus says, Lu 9:58, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." And he calls Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, a fox, Lu 13:32; thereby signifying his craft, and the refinements of his policy. In illustration of the pertinency of this allusion, we may quote a remark of Busbequius: "I heard a mighty noise, as if it had been of men who jeered and mocked us. I asked what was the matter; and was answered, 'Only the howlings of certain beasts which the Turks call, ciagals, or jackals.' They are a sort of wolves, somewhat bigger than foxes, but less than common wolves, yet as greedy and devouring. They go in flocks, and seldom hurt man or beast; but get their food more by craft and stealth than by open force. Thence it is that the Turks call subtle and crafty persons by the metaphorical name of ciagals."