A close-up photo of a hyrax perched on a rock, symbolizing the biblical reference of this unique creature mentioned in the Book of Proverbs.

What Is A Hyrax In The Bible? A Complete Guide

The hyrax is one of the most peculiar animals mentioned in the Bible. At first glance, it may seem insignificant. But a closer look reveals that this small mammal has some surprising connections to spiritual themes.

If you’re wondering what exactly a hyrax is and why the Bible mentions it, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The hyrax is a small furry mammal that the Bible classifies as unclean and says chews the cud despite not having divided hoofs. It lives in rocks and is known for appearing timid.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the biology of the hyrax and analyze the biblical references to this unusual creature. We will uncover what these passages reveal about God’s creation and law.

By the end, you’ll have a thorough understanding of the hyrax’s symbolic significance and what we can learn from this humble animal.

The Biology and Behavior of Hyraxes

What is a Hyrax?

Hyraxes are small mammalians that resemble rodents but are actually more closely related to elephants and manatees. There are four living species of hyraxes, including the rock hyrax, bush hyrax, tree hyrax, and yellow-spotted hyrax.

They inhabit rocky outcrops and savannas across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Asia. Though small, hyraxes have some incredible adaptations that enable them to thrive in harsh, arid environments.

Where Hyraxes Live

Hyraxes inhabit a wide range of habitats across Africa and Asia. Rock hyraxes inhabit rocky outcrops and cliffs across sub-Saharan Africa. Tree hyraxes, also called dend hyraxes, live in the rainforests of Central and East Africa.

Bush hyraxes, also called hare hyraxes, inhabit savannas and woodlands from Ethiopia to Southern Africa. The yellow-spotted hyrax is found along the coast of East Africa. Their ability to inhabit dry, rocky areas is thanks to special moisture-retaining adaptations like concentrated urine and dry pellets.

Physical Features and Adaptations

Hyraxes weigh 4 to 12 pounds as adults and have stout bodies with short legs, rounded ears, and short tails. They have durable padding on their feet that allows them to walk on rough, rocky surfaces. Hyraxes have long, sharp incisors for gnawing on plants and fruits.

Interestingly, they lack a gall bladder. Hyraxes have excellent low-light vision, allowing them to be active at dawn and dusk. Their specialized kidneys concentrate urine and minimize water loss. They don’t need to drink water as long as they have access to moist food sources.

Social Structure and Habits

Hyraxes live in small family groups dominated by a single male. Females nurse their young for up to 14 months. Hyraxes use communal latrine areas and have complex vocalizations to communicate. They bask in the sun to stay warm and huddle together at night.

Hyraxes are most active during the dawn and dusk hours of the day. They spend the day resting in rock crevices or trees. Hyraxes are herbivores who eat leaves, fruits, buds, and grasses. Their constant gnawing keeps their incisors in check.

Potential predators include leopards, snakes, jackals, and eagles.

The Hyrax in the Bible

The Hyrax’s Classification as Unclean

The hyrax, a small furry mammal native to Africa and the Middle East, is explicitly classified in the Bible among the animals that are ritually unclean. According to Leviticus 11:5, the hyrax is one of the animals that “cheweth the cud” but “divideth not the hoof” and is therefore forbidden to be eaten.

This biblical categorization of the hyrax has puzzled some modern readers, as zoologically the hyrax does not actually chew cud. It is not a ruminant with a multi-chambered stomach like cows, sheep, and goats.

However, the hyrax does frequently chew and re-ingest its food, giving the visual appearance of a cud-chewing animal.

The biblical laws concerning clean and unclean animals were primarily focused on external features that could be easily observed. Even if the biology is not a perfect match, the hyrax fits the general profile of an unclean animal according to the biblical criteria.

Chewing the Cud and Missing Hooves

The major reason the hyrax is called unclean in the Bible is that it possesses one of the two traits that render an animal unfit for eating: chewing the cud (or at least appearing to) while not having split hooves.

Leviticus 11:3 establishes the rule that land animals must both chew the cud and have split hooves to be considered clean. The hyrax fails on the second count, as its feet bear more resemblance to paws or claws than hooves.

Some scholars have proposed that this double requirement was intended to limit the Israelites’ diet only to animals specialized for grazing and chewing. The hyrax, as a generalist feeder without hooves, did not fit the profile of a permitted food source.

Additional Verses Mentioning the Hyrax

Beyond Leviticus, the hyrax is also mentioned in Proverbs 30:26 and Psalm 104:18. Proverbs describes the hyrax as a “creature of little power” that nonetheless makes its home among the rocks. Psalm 104 praises God’s wisdom in creating the hyrax.

These biblical references attest that the hyrax was a familiar animal in the Middle East during biblical times. Even if some of its habits were not fully understood, the Israelites recognized the hyrax as a unique creature and associated it with rocky habitats.

Modern zoology has clarified that the hyrax, though not a true ruminant, does have unusual dentition and digestive processes that account for the cud-chewing description. The biblical label of the hyrax as “unclean” due to this chewing behavior represents an astute observational classification for ancient peoples.

Symbolic Meaning and Spiritual Lessons

Humility and Trust in God

Hyraxes are small, unassuming creatures that depend on hiding spots among the rocks to protect themselves from predators. Their vulnerable nature teaches us to be humble and rely on God rather than our own strength or abilities (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Though hyraxes seem insignificant, God cares for each one, reminding us that we are precious in His sight despite our smallness before the Creator of the universe (Matthew 10:29-31).

Appreciating God’s Wisdom in Creation

Hyraxes have unique physical adaptations that enable them to thrive in harsh environments, like their glue-like foot pads for gripping rocks and self-regulating hibernation abilities. As we study these small mammals, we can appreciate the ingenious wisdom of our Creator who fashioned all creatures with specialized talents and abilities to demonstrate His love and care through the details of creation (Psalm 104:24).

Their resourcefulness points us to trust God’s providence in every season of life.

Obedience to God’s Laws

In the Old Testament laws, hyraxes were included among the unclean animals (Leviticus 11:5). Abrahamic religions prohibited eating hyrax to teach spiritual lessons. Their unusual features, like rodent-like incisors but not actually being rodents biologically, reminded Israel to carefully obey God’s commands rather than follow convenient classifications.

As New Testament believers, hyraxes continue teaching us to pursue holiness and sanctification through submitting even areas not fully understandable to us under Christ’s Lordship (1 Peter 1:14-16).

For more analysis of the symbolic meaning of hyraxes in the Bible, check out the references on this website or the book A Guide to Bible Animals by W.P. Barker (Regent College Publishing, 2022). These resources provide fascinating connections between these little-known desert mammals and living obedience through trusting the goodness of God our Provider.


The humble hyrax may seem like just a minor background character in the grand biblical narrative. But this small mammal provides key spiritual insights for readers who take time to reflect. Studying the hyrax highlights both the wisdom of God’s creation and the purpose of His laws.

Despite its timid nature, the hyrax reminds us of valuable virtues like humility and trust in God’s providence. Whenever this biblical animal crosses your path, remember there are always deeper lessons to uncover, even in the most unlikely of creatures.

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