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For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind. (James 3:7)
For every kind of beast. The apostle proceeds to state another thing showing the power of the tongue, the fact that it is ungovernable, and that there is no power of man to keep it under control. Everything else but this has been tamed. It is unnecessary to refine the expressions used here by attempting to prove that it is literally true that every species of beasts, and birds, and fish have been tamed. The apostle is to be understood as speaking in a general and popular sense, showing the remarkable power of man over those things which are by nature savage and wild. The power of man in taming wild beasts is wonderful. Indeed, it is to be remembered that nearly all those beasts which we now speak of as ‘domestic’ animals, and which we are accustomed to seeing only when they are tame, were once fierce and savage races. This is the case with the horse, the ox, the ass, the swine, the dog, the cat, &c. The editor of the Pictorial Bible well remarks,’ There is perhaps no kind of creature, to which man has access, which might not be tamed by him with good perseverance. The ancients seem to have made more exertions to this end, with much better success, than us. The examples given by Pliny, of creatures tamed by men, relate to elephants, lions, and tigers, among beasts; to the eagle, among birds; to asps, and other serpents; and to crocodiles, and various fishes, among the inhabitants of the water. Nat. His. viii. 9, 16, 17; x. 5, 44. The ancient Egyptians commonly tamed the lion and trained to assist both in hunting and in war.’ Notes in loc. The only animal that has been supposed to have defied man’s power to tame it is the hyena, and even this, it is said, has been subdued in modern times. There is a passage in Euripides which has a strong resemblance to this of James:—
Βραχὺ τοι σθένος ἀνέρος
Ἀλλὰ ποικιλίαις πραπίδων
Δαμᾷ φῦλα πόντου,
Χθονίων τʼ ἀερίων τε παιδεύματα.
‘Small is the power which nature has given to man; but, by various acts of his superior understanding, he has subdued the tribes of the sea, the earth, and the air.’ Comp. on this subject, the passages quoted by Pricæus in the Critici Sacri, in loc.
And of birds. It is a common thing to tame birds, and even the wildest are susceptible to being tamed. A portion of the feathered race, as the hen, the goose, the duck, is thoroughly domesticated. The pigeon, the martin, the hawk, the eagle, may be, and perhaps there is none of that race which might not be made subject to the will of man.
And of serpents. The ancients showed great skill in this art in reference to asps and other venomous serpents, and it is common now in India. In many instances, indeed, it is known that the fangs of the serpents are extracted; but even when this is not done, they who practice the art learn to handle them with impunity.
And sea creature. Like the crocodile mentioned by Pliny. It may be affirmed with confidence that there is no animal that might not be rendered tame or made obedient to the will of man by proper skill and perseverance. However, it is not necessary to understand the apostle as affirming that literally every animal has been tamed, or ever can be. He evidently speaks in a popular sense of the great power which man undeniably has over all kinds of wild animals—over the creation beneath him.
James makes a useful contrast, showing just how dangerous the tongue can be. James says every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed. The tiger is a fierce and powerful beast, yet man can tame this savage beast. Elephants weigh more than a ton and can crush anything in their path, yet man can tame these large creatures. Falcons, hawks, and even eagles in hunting can be trained. Parrots from the tropical forest can be taught by men to repeat every word that comes out of their mouths, and cobras can be put into trances by playing a flute. Although there are many wild beasts and animals that can be tamed, that is not the central point that James is conveying. The reality that James is making in regard to these beasts and birds is that they have been tamed by mankind. However, man has something more dangerous than wild animals that he often cannot control, and that is his tongue. The tongue can cause much more danger and destruction than any wild beast that man can tame. Apparently, with time, persistence, and devotion, any creature that man has access to can be controlled and trained to perform certain feats. All these animals are inferior to man’s superior intelligence. Nevertheless, as James makes all true clear, the corrupt propensity of the tongue is not easily impacted by the perfect, supreme knowledge, wisdom, intelligence of man.