Hushai, David’s faithful servant and counselor, used the picture of a bear robbed of her cubs to describe David’s supposed rage over his recent losses in order to discourage Absalom from pursuing immediately after David (II Sam. 17:8). For who would be so foolish as to go after such a one as that, rashly and unprepared? The unparalleled ferocity and rage of a mother bear who has been prematurely separated from her cubs is used in Scripture to picture a fierce sense of anger. A mother bear will become violent very quickly if she perceives any danger to her cubs and will protect them to the very end. This important instinct given by God to these animals, as a means to maintain the bear population, is worthy of consideration from both a physical and a spiritual perspective.
In a recent scientific study of grizzly bear populations in the Banff National Park area, where special techniques were intentionally used to try to increase the grizzly population, the overall population change was estimated at only 1.04 (a value of 1.0 would mean the population did not change; a value less than 1.0 would mean the population decreased). The population of any species in a particular region can, of course, fluctuate, depending upon the abundance of food, the harshness of the climate, the impact of predators, and similar factors. However, this study illustrates that even when some of the limitations on population growth are minimized, the bear population struggles to maintain itself.
Grizzly bears have one of the slowest reproductive rates of all North American mammals. This is due in part to the fact that most female bears are not reproductively mature until they are about five years of age. Add to this that when a bear has cubs, the cubs stay with the mother for the next two or three years, during which time the female will not mate. Since the average life-span of a bear is about twenty years, a female may give birth only five times, usually to a pair of cubs each time. Consequently, the number of bear offspring is quite limited compared to other mammals. In the ten to fifteen reproductive years of a female bear, not even a half dozen cubs will be raised to maturity. Therefore, one can see quite easily why bear cubs are valuable commodities.
In addition to this, it appears that the ability to bring forth offspring is dependent on the amount of energy reserves the female bear has accumulated in the summer months. In a previous article (March 1, 2012, p. 257) we looked at some of the physiological aspects of a bear in hibernation. Another unique aspect in regards to this is that, though bears mate in the summer, the fertilized egg does not implant in the uterus until hibernation. If the female bear has not accumulated enough fat reserves, the pregnancy will not take. This assures that cubs will come only when there is enough energy stores for them all to survive. If the pregnancy does take, the mother bear will wake during the middle of the winter to give birth and then go back into hibernation. The cubs, weighing maybe a pound, do not hibernate but are provided for in the den by the warmth and milk of the mother, a milk that is about forty percent fat—ten times more fat content than cow milk. In about three months they will leave the den weighing only about four to eight pounds, with a mother ready to defend and protect her cubs, for the dangers are many and varied. Male bears, for example, sometimes kill cubs for food. The mothers, therefore, must be especially protective. Consequently, for the next two to three summers the she-bear diligently cares for her precious cubs.
Though bears are often viewed as fierce, flesh-tearing creatures, it must be remembered that bears are omnivores—creatures that eat both plants and animals. In fact, the vast majority of a bear’s diet comes from plant material and only a small amount is in the form of meat. Most of the latter comes from previously killed or dead animals. Bears do not kill very many animals for food, and when they do, they kill the young and easy-to-catch animals. So in reality bears are, under normal circumstances, not quite as dangerous as we may think them to be.
However, come upon a bear unexpectedly or in some way endanger a bear’s cubs, and you will quickly learn of the fierceness of this creature. Researchers find that female bears are highly aggressive when they are with their cubs. And what makes this aggression so formidable is the sheer size and strength of some of these animals. We may very well encounter an angry mother bird and hardly think anything of it; but to come near an angered mother bear is an entirely different matter. Grizzly bears, for example, stand about seven feet tall and range in weight from four hundred to eight hundred pounds, although even heavier bears have been found. They are capable of snapping off tree branches more than six inches in diameter and knocking large boulders from their pathway with a swipe of a paw. It is with this strength and aggression that the she-bear protects her young.
An evolutionist can likely cite several examples of animals that do not care for their young very well, perhaps abandoning them altogether, or even killing and eating their offspring. Such examples are, however, rare. And as we well know, an exception does not prove the rule. In fact, the exception only tends to strengthen or highlight the rule—in this case, that mothers care for their young.
A bear protecting her cubs ought to remind us of the great calling we have of bringing forth covenant children and rearing them vigilantly in the fear of God’s name. May our mothers not be as the ostrich, which is hardened against her young ones (Job 39:13-18). But may our mothers (and fathers too, of course) vigorously defend their children, as God’s children, from the attacks of the world (whether in the form of false doctrine, foolish companions, worldly music and entertainment, or any other of the multitude of evils that prey on our children) and teach them diligently to fight against the wiles of the devil and their own sinful natures. May our mothers learn from the grizzly bear to protect diligently the covenant seed in the way of being “keepers at home” and “joyful mother(s) of children” (Tit. 2:5; I Tim. 5:14; Ps. 113:9).
However, Scripture draws our attention more directly to other important truths when it speaks of a bear robbed of her cubs. In Proverbs 17:12 we read, “Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.” Here we are taught of the seriousness of walking in folly, or of fellowshipping with a fool who walks in his folly. So spiritually dangerous and evil is the fool walking in sinful ways, that it would be better that we meet a bear robbed of her cubs than to meet a fool in his folly. Though a bear might wound physically, foolishness cuts to the soul. One must as carefully flee foolishness and those that walk in it, as one would avoid coming between a mother bear and her cubs. Flee unrighteous anger, reckless pursuit of pleasure, sinful pride, false doctrine, and anything else that is wicked and perverse—for such folly destroys both individuals and the church of God. The danger is a very real thing, for we all have a sinful nature that is inclined to such foolishness. As adopted children of God, we give thanks to God that He has given us a new heart and has freed us from living in bondage to sin and that sinful, foolish nature. Thanks be to God for the grace to “get wisdom…for she is thy life” (Prov. 4:5-13).
Finally, the fierce anger of a she-bear bereaved of her cubs is a reminder that our God is a jealous God and that He will not give His glory to another. In Hosea 13:6-8 we read,
According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me. Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them: I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them.
In this passage we see the terrible consequence of forgetting the Lord. To know God and partake of His good gifts but to refuse to praise Him for them is a serious matter. It is grievous that in times of peace and bounty, when we ought to be bubbling with praise to God, who alone is the giver of every good and perfect gift, we often are unthankful and seem to live as if we have no need of Him. When this characterizes the church as a whole, as it did Israel of old, then the jealous God comes as a bear bereaved of her whelps. As a nation, Israel was destroyed at the paw of the bear. But the elect were then, and are today, saved in the way of this judgment. For God comes in judgment to condemn those who refuse to acknowledge Him as Lord of all, but to awaken in us, His covenant people, a renewed zeal and an appreciation for all the benefits of walking in covenant fellowship with Him. This warning and similar ones in Scripture are real and serve God’s purpose to turn us—those whom He loves—from wandering the wrong way. “For grace is conferred by means of admonitions” (Canons III/IV, Art. 17). We must take to heart these admonitions, recognizing the seriousness of forgetting the Lord—even for a time—and turn from our sins. And we must always be reminded of God’s sovereign purpose in such warnings and judgments—to accomplish our salvation. How grateful we are to God that He has poured out His wrath on Christ, so that we may be delivered from the guilt of sin and know only His boundless love. Thanks be to God for such a deliverance.
May God give us the grace to see all creatures, including a she-bear robbed of her cubs, in the light of the Word and to learn from them. The great danger of an encounter with a raging bear must teach us of the extreme danger of a fool and his folly. We must pray for wisdom—wisdom to abhor all the folly of a fool; for his folly leads only to death. Let us also learn to heed God’s warnings to flee folly and all that would separate us from the fellowship of our covenant God. Rather than walking with the fool or in the way of folly, let us walk the way of wisdom, rejoicing in the true life of the covenant He has graciously given us—a privileged life of service and friendship with Him.