In my efforts to overcome my fear of spiders, I’ve been trying to learn more about them. As someone who studies the Bible and biblical tradition, I had to look there too.
Job 8:14-15 mentions spider’s webs in a speech about those who forget God:
Their confidence is gossamer,
a spider’s house their trust.
If one leans against its house, it will not stand;
if one lays hold of it, it will not endure.
In other words, without God, we’re weak, and leaning on anything other than God is like leaning on a spider’s web. (It’s a good speech, but it’s by Bildad, one of the people who tries to console Job, but actually blames innocent Job for what has befallen him, saying basically, if Job were truly righteous, none of the bad stuff would have happened to him). Still, a great image.
Isaiah 59:5-6 says of oppressors and the unjust:
They hatch adders’ eggs,
and weave the spider’s web;
whoever eats their eggs dies,
and the crushed egg hatches out a viper.
Their webs cannot serve as clothing;
they cannot cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
and deeds of violence are in their hands.
Definitely an image to make you think twice about getting close to iniquity or spiders (or snakes, for that matter).
There may be another reference in Proverbs, but that’s disputed and I’ll save it for another time.
So, the category Arachnophobes of the Bible comes up pretty sparse, but a story from Jewish tradition relates that even as mighty a warrior as King David didn’t like spiders, at least for a while.
The story can be found in several forms, here is a version from the Alphabet of Ben Sirach (probably from the Middle Ages, also found in many versions).
King David asked God why God created spiders since they are such ugly and useless creatures. God responded, “Be patient, a day will come when you will want to kiss one.”
One day it happened that King Saul was pursuing David to kill him. David hid from Saul in a cave. God sent a spider who spun a web over the opening of the cave, closing it up. When Saul came to the cave he saw the spider’s web and said, “Surely no one has entered here, for if he had entered, he would have torn the web apart.” And so Saul went away and did not enter the cave. When David emerged and saw the spider, he kissed the spider and said, “Blessed be your Creator and blessed be you!”
You can find a version of the story here and in Humanism in Talmud and Midrash by Samuel Tobias Lachs.
As a bonus, Joe and I went on a hike yesterday to the Bone Caves near Lochinver in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland. Here’s Joe at the mouth of the cave.
Happy to report: no spiders, no webs, no enemies in pursuit. Just a nice walk. And a chance to think about King David and learning to appreciate all of God’s creation.
I also found this lovely post by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh in which she discusses these passages.