After I started going to Bible School and reading through different scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments, I realized quickly that the Bible is full of symbolism, including the use of animals to describe different things.
One of my favorite animals happens to be the bear, and that led me to do further research into Biblical passages where they are a prominent feature.
That brings me to this question: What does a bear symbolize in the Bible?
The Bible primarily talks about bears in two contexts: representations of spiritual conflicts, as well as protectors of their offspring against danger. Their physical strength also lends them to be representative of empires or powerful rulers who cause others to fear them. Bears are found in scriptures such as 2 Kings 2:24, 2 Samuel 17:8, 1 Samuel 17:36, metaphorical scriptures like Proverbs 17:12, Isaiah 11:7, Isaiah 59:11, Amos 5:19, Hosea 13:8, and Lamentations 3:10-11, and prophetic passages in Daniel 7:5 and Revelation 13:2.
In this article, I will talk about various passages in the Bible that feature bears. Additionally, since bears hold a lot of significance in other cultures outside those the Biblical writers interacted with, they have additional meanings that you will find interesting and that I will explore.
Where in the Bible does it talk about bears?
Although the Bible does not mention bears in numerous contexts, unlike animals like sheep and lions, bears still feature in certain passages in the Bible – mostly in the Old Testament.
The most famous passage referring to bears is in 2 Kings 2:24, when the prophet Elisha encounters a group of boys who mock him, and two bears come out suddenly and maul them after he pronounces a curse on them. The verse reads, “And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.”
Other instances in the Bible that refer to bears include when David talks of killing bears just before killing Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:36, as well as when David was intensely angry at his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 17:8, due to his attempt to depose him from the throne, and one of Absalom’s advisers described David and his men as “enraged like bears who are robbed of their cubs,” and further telling Absalom to go and fight with his father instead of avoiding him.
The Bible also talks of meeting angry she-bears as being a better option than dealing with fools in Proverbs 17:12, and the same book compares powerful bears to evil rulers in Proverbs 28:15, “Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people.”
Additionally, the Bible uses bears as an illustration of creation’s redemption in scriptures such as Isaiah 11:7, as a symbol for those longing for God’s justice and salvation in Isaiah 59:11, Amos 5:19, and Hosea 13:8, as well as a symbol of evil in Lamentations 3:10-11.
Aside from these, they feature occasionally in Biblical prophecies that talk about past and future kingdoms on the earth.
The most notable mention is in Daniel 7:5, where he sees a bear in a vision and is told by an angel that the animal represents the Medo-Persian Empire, as well as in Revelation 13:2 which illustrates the same empire as “the feet of a bear.”
What do bears represent in the Bible?
In all instances where bears appear in Biblical scripture, they are mainly used to illustrate the war between evil and good.
For instance, the book of 1 Samuel 17 illustrates David fighting against bears to protect his sheep, which could also show the power that God has over evil, and He will overcome it no matter how difficult it may seem.
God uses the bear to also show His strength and judgment against evil since they were considered very dangerous animals during the times of the Biblical authors.
This was illustrated when the prophet Elisha cursed the boys who mocked him in 2 Kings 2, and two bears came out and killed them: “And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.”
Additionally, there is a third instance where bears feature in the Bible – to show powerful empires, especially in Biblical prophecy.
This happens twice in the scriptures: first, when Daniel sees a vision of four beasts in Daniel 7 representing four world empires (the bear representing the joint Medo-Persian Empire), and in Revelation 13, where John saw a vision of a hybrid beast with feet of a bear (again, representing Medo-Persia).
The verse says, “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.”
3 symbolic meanings of bears in the Bible
Protection and strength
Considering its large size and great strength, bears are prominent symbols of strength – both for good and evil.
Therefore, the Bible uses the animal as a symbol of protection, as it is used in metaphors denoting God’s protection over His people, or His power to defeat evil; like a mother bear watching over her cubs.
Often in the Biblical scriptures, bears are used as symbols of cruelty – either in the form of evil kings or evil empires or kingdoms. This is because it kills its enemies without showing mercy or conscience.
A prominent example of this is in the book of Daniel, where Daniel receives a prophetic vision. The powerful bear he sees is an animal representative of the Kingdom of Medo-Persia, which the Bible portrays as an evil empire as it brought death and corruption to its conquered subjects.
This passage is found in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7:5. It reads, “And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.'”
As an additional portrayal in Bible prophecy, Revelation 13:2 describes a beast that has the feet of a bear, and this beast is used to represent a powerful nation that is hostile to God and His people during the time of Tribulation as it supports the Antichrist.
The bible says, “And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.”
Closely related to cruelty are bears representing judgment on evildoers, corrupt societies, or evil kingdoms. A classic example of this is in 2 Kings 2:23, where two she-bears mauled some boys who mocked Elisha for his appearance – the animals served as a punishment to the boys and a warning to not mock God’s prophets.
What do bears mean spiritually?
Since many cultures interacted with bears of different kinds, the culture ascribed different meanings to bears depending on which ones they had in their environments. Some of these meanings include:
Although bears are one of the most intimidating animals in nature, as their strength can easily kill and maul humans and other animals.
However, they are also very playful and curious, as observed when young bears are in captivity – they love to inspect objects by smelling them.
In most cases, even in the wild, they also do not hunt as much; they also enjoy relaxing and sleeping in their downtime.
Seeing a bear’s power and size, you will hardly be surprised that it is a sign of strength across numerous cultures, and its speed is impressive, considering its size.
Bears are also quite nimble, even when running at high speeds, which is surprising when you think about how big it is.
Aside from their strength acting as their protective mechanism, they are also very bright animals and use their knowledge to take down their perceived enemies as efficiently as possible without always resorting to brute force.
Bears are more adaptable to their environments than one may initially assume. Not only do they operate for most of the year, but they also adapt to winter conditions by hibernating throughout the season and re-emerging during the onset of spring.
This has made many cultures associate them with rebirth and transitions.
It takes a lot for a bear to sustain itself in its forested habitat, and intelligence is a major key. Its intelligence is partly why it is an excellent predator – even to the extent of outsmarting humans and killing them when they pose a threat to it.
The hallmark of a bear’s hunting and life is its patience – not just its strength. This is why it is considered an apex predator because it will stealthily hunt down its target once it spots it, and it is patient enough to wait for the most opportune time to do so.
What do bears mean in a dream?
Dreaming about bears attacking
When you see a bear attacking you in your dreams, the likely reason is that you are facing a personal challenge or fear, and you need plenty of courage to overcome it before it overwhelms you.
This could appear because some major obstacles have come up, such as relationship problems, financial issues, or health troubles.
You may also dream about bears if you have some unresolved feelings of aggression, resentment, or anger, whether that is directed at yourself or someone else.
This may be the result of a difficult person being present in your life, and the dream may signal that you need to form strong personal boundaries.
Dreaming about bears and cubs
It is well-known that bears are very nurturing and warm to their cubs – there is plenty of evidence that shows that they are among the few wild animals that will stay with their young for many years because they have a strong need to protect them.
It is also why they are known for their ferocious behavior when they lose their cubs.
Therefore, seeing bears and cubs in your dream could strongly suggest that you have feelings of maternal love or overprotectiveness. This could also be a hint towards your anxiety as a parent, as you desire your child to succeed.
Dreaming about brown bears
Brown bears are very common, and many people will dream about them. They are symbols of stability, so the common meaning of seeing them could be that you are trying to get a grip on things or events in your life as you sense it is getting out of control.
Dreaming about black bears
Black bears are all about peace, so seeing them in your dreams could show that you have a composed personality who exercises control and logic in your decisions.
However, it can also have a negative meaning – one of being extremely private and a tendency to hide your emotions for too long.
Dreaming about aggressive bears
This could indicate that something is annoying you, even though you might not know what it is. It could also indicate that you are easily irritated by things you find silly.
Dreaming about bears chasing me
This may indicate that you are trying to avoid people or situations that make you afraid or intimidated. In some cases, this fear you hold may go away, but it may also refuse to leave until you are courageous enough to face it head-on.
Dreaming about bears in the house
This could be among the most literal dreams in terms of meaning because a bear in your house can symbolize that something or someone is in your immediate space.
This person is likely to be powerful or is a dominant woman, as bears are associated with motherhood and security.
Dreaming about bears fighting
This could hint that there is an ongoing fight in your waking life, or it will happen very soon. This could be in the form of other people who threaten you, so you need to keep your guard up.
Dreaming about a bear attacking family
Seeing family in your dreams could be a sign that you are looking for safety and comfort. Therefore, seeing a bear attacking them could show that your family is going through unresolved fights, or that you may have a fear of failing to protect them.
Dreaming about bears playing
If a bear is playing with you, this could show its friendliness towards you – and this is a representation of your personality. If the bear is a representation of someone else, it could show there is a person of authority in your life who you admire.
Dreaming about bears in trees
Bears love trees because they get to relax in these environments, so seeing them in trees in your dream is a sign of harmony and prosperity. It can also show that you are mentally strong and balanced.
Dreaming about grizzly bears
Since grizzly bears are strong and stick to their instincts, seeing them in your dream could mean that you need to stay on course once you have decided on something.
What does it mean to encounter a black bear?
Many cultures that interacted with black bears perceived them to be among the gentler species of bears, so they are not as feared as other species. Due to their reputation, encountering them can have several meanings that, include:
- Quiet confidence – They are viewed as apex predators and only use strategic means to hunt their prey; they are not aggressive.
- Peace – Black bears tend to be introverted and quiet, so they are used as symbols of solitude.
- Optimism – These animals are symbols of courage, so it is common to find them being used as sports mascots.
- Ancestry – Certain Native Americans see black bears as representations of their ancestry, so they feel the need to protect them and their habitats.
What does it mean to encounter a brown bear?
Encountering brown bears is likely to mean that your life in the physical world has balance, harmony, and integrity. It can also signal that you need to be more active or that you have a call towards protecting nature.
It could also symbolize motherhood – similar to all bears, brown bears are tender mothers to their cubs. They are powerful defenders against perceived enemies, and this sense is heightened when they have young cubs they need to care for. This can be a sign that you have overprotective tendencies as well.
What do bears mean in the Hebrew Bible?
Bears are relatively common in the Hebrew Bible due to their presence in ancient Syria and Palestine. Since they are very strong and fierce, they were often used as an illustration of evil or as the enemies of men; lions were the other animals used to illustrate the same things.
Additionally, aside from their status as man’s enemy, they also appeared in the narratives of shepherds. Since Israelites tended to do sheep farming, it was common for them to employ shepherds to take care of their sheep – and bears were a constant threat to these sheep.
This is illustrated in David’s account when he tells King Saul that he had killed bears and lions that were seeking to kill his sheep in 1 Samuel 17:34-35: “But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.”
It is worth noting that bears were particularly noted for their anger in several Bible passages, especially in the case of a mother bear losing her cubs.
This is why God describes His anger towards wicked people are that of an angry bear, such as in Hosea 13:8, “I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open.”
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.