Proverbs 12:10 (ESV)

10 Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

God made all the animals that live on earth, and he called them “good” (Genesis 1:21, Genesis 1:25). He extends his blessing (Genesis 1:22) and his kindness also to them. Therefore, the Israelites were commanded to treat their animals well. For example, they had to rest their animals for one day each week (Exodus 20:10). And an ox that was treading out grain had to be allowed to eat while working (Deuteronomy 25:4).

God’s love for animals is also seen in the book of Jonah, where he expresses his concern for the cattle in Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). See also Deuteronomy 22:6, Psalm 36:6, Psalm 104:27, Psalm 145:15–17, Job 39:1–3, Matthew 6:26.

Therefore, when it comes to animal welfare, the fear of the Lord is once again the beginning of wisdom. On the one hand, it preserves us from false sentimentality. It is not wrong to kill an animal for the sake of human use and human safety. But the fear of the Lord is also the strongest motivation for treating animals with kindness.

This proverb literally says, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the soul [nephesh] of his beast.” The “soul” of an animal is its whole life: its appetite, its mood, its longings, its nature. The righteous one “knows” this soul of his ox or donkey. He loves it, as knowing and loving are often connected in the Bible. He is loyal to his animals.

Animals are also suffering from the curse that was laid on the earth, due to human sin (Romans 8:22). As Christians, we should long for the time when no creature will have to suffer anymore. We should remember that we ourselves are dependent on God’s kindness. Then we will extend his kindness to his other creatures. Our children should learn to admire God’s creatures, rather than being cruel toward them and needlessly killing them.

The second part of this proverb literally says that a wicked person’s inner being is cruel. People who do not fear God can have no idea of true kindness. Even the strongest feelings of humanity will not keep us from cruelty for long. Only the fear of God can keep us from cruelty toward people and animals.