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Discovery Magazine 8/1/2000

The Leopard's Spots

by  Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Jacob had prophesied that the families of his son, Judah, would grow into a mighty kingdom (Genesis

49:9-10). But he didn't say the kingdom would last forever. As each generation went by, the people of Judah moved further away from God. They were turning away from the God Who had rescued them from Egypt, and given them the land of Canaan. They were raising up idols and refusing to follow God's commandments.

By the time of Jeremiah the prophet, it seemed there was no going back. The people of Judah had made a habit of their sinful ways. All of Jeremiah's warnings and pleadings fell on deaf ears. So Jeremiah told them to expect the worst. If they did not change, God would judge them.

Jeremiah all but gave up on his own countrymen.

He was so disgusted that he ended up asking this question: Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard its spots? The answer, of course, is "No." Jeremiah thought that there was as much chance of Ethiopians or leopds changing their skin color, as there was of his people changing their ways from bad to good.

Actually, these "Ethiopians" were the people of ancient Cush. They were renowned for their beautiful, dark skin, and had built a great civilization along the Nile River in what is now northern and central Sudan. They had a long history of warfare with their Egyptian neighbors to the north. Sometimes they even ruled over Egypt. A Cushite pharaoh, King Tirhakah, is mentioned in Isaiah 37:9.

As for the leopards, these were very common throughout Africa and Asia. Leopards have distinctive spots arranged in circular patterns called "rosettes." Their coats can range in color from pale yellow to deep gold. Like skin color among humans, the distinctive coloring of a leopard's coat depends on different varieties of a chemical known as melanin. How much melanin, what types of melanin, and how melanin is arranged in special skin cells, all have an effect on skin coloration.

It is true that we cannot change what nature has given us, any more than a leopard can change its spots. we can change what's on the inside-in our hearts and minds (Romans 12:1-2). We can turn a habit oflying into a habit of telling the truth. We can turn habits of selfish living into habits of worship, prayer, and love for others. Christians are people who have decided to make godly living as natural as a leopard's spots.

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