I’ve been keeping tabs on a new member of the neighborhood, a large black and yellow garden spider who hangs her web between a holly bush and the post holding our community doggy-doo can. The spider’s bright colors stand out against the background of brown pinestraw or green grass and trees, a bright reminder of how amazingly diverse the world can be.
I looked it up on the web to find the spider’s official name (Argiope aurantia), and learned that it sits on two webs in one: the large female builds an orb-shaped web up to two feet across, with a zig zag section in the middle. The male, less than half the size of the female, settles for a smaller zigzag web nearby. Every night, so the experts say, the spider eats the central portion of its web and then rebuilds it. I went out before dawn to see if I could catch it in the act, but apparently its remodeling efforts were already complete.
Always intrigued by such things, I wondered what I might learn from a spider. I went to my favorite Bible software program (Accordance) and quickly learned that spiders are mentioned twice in the scripture. Neither image is favorable: in Job 8:14, Job’s friend Bildad declares that the godless are hopeless, saying
Their confidence is gossamer,
a spider’s house their trust.
Bildad apparently didn’t know that, pound for pound, spider silk has the tensile strength of high quality steel.
The Book of Isaiah has an equally negative view of spiders, joining them with poisonous snakes as a dual metaphor for unjust, wicked, and violent people:
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. (Isa. 58:5-6)
Spiders, like bats and snakes, are easy to hate. They’re a little creepy, but have you noticed how resilient they are? How patiently they work to build their webs? How artistic they can be? I tried sewing up a six-inch rip in a quilted bedspread last night, and I could only wish that my stitches were as neat and regular as the zigzag portion of the garden spider’s web.
Love ’em or hate ’em, spiders are here to stay. If only I could train one to sew for me …
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.