The Scriptures speak of the wild ass which inhabits mountain steppes and semi-desert plains (Job 24:5). These animals are known today as onagers. They are reddish-brown or yellowish-brown in colour and have a broad dorsal stripe on the middle of the back. Unlike donkeys, onagers have never been domesticated. They are among the fastest mammals, able to run as fast as 70kmh.

Populations of onagers went extinct in the Negev Desert in the 1920s but were re-introduced in the 1980s.

In Job 39:5-8 we have a description of the onager’s freedom and ability to survive in the harshest of desert environments. In its refusal to bear the yoke of accountability and domestication it became an apt symbol of profane men like Ishmael, a man who was called a “wild ass among men” in Genesis 16:12 (AMP). Like the onager he could not be confined and controlled.

Hence in Jeremiah 2:24 rebellious Israel was likened to an untameable onager “that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure.” This is a description of the onager tilting its head back and curling its upper lip back to engage a highly sensitive olfactory receptor known as Jacobson’s organ. It uses this in seeking out a mate and became an apt symbol of the nation’s desire to play the harlot before God.