When I visited the county fair each year as a young adult, my favorite exhibit was always the pen of baby “piggies.” Just thinking back on them makes me smile. We live in a culture that is nearly obsessed with animals. Pampered pets are everywhere. There are zoos to visit, not to mention animal movies, videos, and TV shows. In my leisure time, one of my top choices for video entertainment is nature documentaries. I’ve watched countless of shows on every kind of creature. I will simply never tire of marveling at God’s astounding creation. So it may not be surprising that some people have cast doubt on Jesus’s compassion when he allowed 2,000 helpless pigs to plunge to their deaths.
The story is found in the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark. Jesus had just sailed across the Sea of Galilee into Gentile territory with His disciples when a naked, crazed, demon-possessed man meets Him at the shore. Speaking through the man, the demons cry out, What do you want with us, Jesus? Swear to God you won’t torture us! Don’t send us into the abyss!
When we consider the power of Satan and his demons, it is almost comical that when we finally get a good glimpse into their behavior, we find hissing, cowering beggars. Picture the scene: after the demons realize that Jesus had not come to execute their final judgment—after all, it was before the time (Matt. 8:29)—and, because Jesus is forcing them to abandon their human host, the demons immediately look around for a new victim. For another opportunity to inflict chaos and torment on God’s beloved creation. There on the hillside, a huge herd of pigs is leisurely grazing on grass, plants, roots, insects, and anything else it can find.
Spying the pigs, the demons squeal with delight as they present Jesus with their request. Send us into the pigs; let us enter them! If they could not destroy the man, perhaps they could find a way to entice the entire town to curse God! After all, pigs were a lucrative business for the region’s rampant pagan sacrifices. Jesus responds with a single word: “Go!” (Matt. 8:32). All at once, the demons charge into the pigs, throwing the herd into a panic. Squealing in terror, kicking dirt and grass into the air, the pigs stampede right off the edge of a cliff, plunging to their deaths in the water below.
Pause here for a moment. Imagine that you are the demon-possessed man’s parent, child, or sibling standing nearby. For years, you have witnessed him living among the tombs, howling into the night and cutting himself with stones. He was so violent that even iron shackles could not hold him. When the demons beg Jesus for permission to enter the pigs, how would you react? What would you say to Jesus?
God takes delight in all of His creation (Gen. 1:31). The problem, however, with focusing on the loss of the pigs is that when we do, we lose sight of what matters most. If the man were our father or brother or son, we would be the ones begging. Begging Jesus to rescue the man, no matter the cost. And when He does, we would be so overcome with joy and gratitude, we wouldn’t even give the pigs a second thought. How could we when a human soul created in God’s own image was just delivered from unspeakable torment? The reality is that Jesus is exercising the deepest compassion by declaring one lost man more valuable than two thousand pigs.
“Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!” – Jesus (Matthew 12:12 ESV)
This post is adapted from my new Bible study, LEGION: Rediscovering the God Who Rescues Me.
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Shadia is a passionate Bible teacher, author and speaker who has a heart for seeing lives transformed by the power of God’s Word. She holds a master’s in biblical and theological studies from Western Seminary and is author of several books and Bible studies.