OVER 3,000 years ago, the ancient patriarch Job realized that the birds of the heavens have much to tell us about the handiwork of God. But their characteristic behavior also makes them ideal subjects for illustrations and metaphors. In the Bible, many of the references to the birds of the heavens teach us important lessons about life and our relationship with God. Let us look at a few examples.
WHERE THE SWALLOWS NEST
Inhabitants of Jerusalem were familiar with swallows, which customarily build their nests under the eaves of buildings. Some made their nests in Solomon’s temple. Likely, swallows that nested in the temple area each year found it a place of safety, where they could rear their young undisturbed.
The composer of Psalm 84
THE STORK KNOWS ITS TIME
“The stork in the sky knows its seasons,” wrote the prophet Jeremiah. He was doubtless well aware of the migration of storks through the Promised Land. In the spring, over 300,000 white storks have been counted migrating from Africa to Northern Europe by way of the Jordan Valley. Their internal clock triggers the urge to return to their summer breeding grounds. Like other migratory birds, they “keep to the time of their return.”
“The true wonder of migration is that it is instinctive,” says Collins Atlas of Bird Migration. Jehovah God gave migratory birds instinctive wisdom regarding the seasons, but he gave man the ability to discern the times and the seasons. (Luke 12:54-56) Unlike the instinctive wisdom of the stork, knowledge of God is the key to man’s discerning the significance of the events of the time we live in. The Israelites of Jeremiah’s day were oblivious to such signs. God explained the underlying problem, stating: “They have rejected the word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?”
Today we have ample evidence that we are living in what the Bible calls “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Will you imitate the stork and take notice of ‘the season’?
THE EAGLE LOOKS FAR INTO THE DISTANCE
The eagle is mentioned many times in the Bible, and its striking silhouette is a familiar feature of the Promised Land. From its nest high up on a cliff, the eagle “searches for food; its eyes look far into the distance.” (Job 39:27-29) Its sight is so powerful that the eagle can reportedly spot a rabbit half a mile (1 km) away.
Just as the eagle can “look far into the distance,” Jehovah is able to look far into the future. Thus, Jehovah God declared: “From the beginning I foretell the outcome, and from long ago the things that have not yet been done.” (Isaiah 46:10) By heeding Jehovah’s counsel, we can benefit from his matchless wisdom and foresight.
The Bible also compares those who trust in God to eagles: “Those hoping in Jehovah will regain power. They will soar on wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31) An eagle soars by using thermals, or columns of rising warm air. Once the eagle locates a thermal, it spreads out its wings and circles around within the column of air, rising higher and higher. The eagle does not depend on its own strength to soar and glide long distances. Likewise, those who trust in Jehovah can look to him as the one who promises them “the power beyond what is normal.”
“THE WAY A HEN GATHERS HER CHICKS”
Shortly before his death, Jesus paused to look at the Jewish capital city. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent to her,” he sighed. “How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings! But you did not want it.”
One of the strongest instincts among birds is their desire to protect their young. Birds that nest on the ground, such as domestic hens, must keep a sharp lookout for danger. If the hen spots a hawk circling overhead, she emits a loud warning call, at which the chicks quickly run to safety beneath her wings. There the fledgling chicks can also find shelter from the hot sun and heavy rain. Jesus likewise wanted to offer the inhabitants of Jerusalem spiritual shelter and protection. Today, Jesus invites us to come to him for refreshment and protection from the burdens and anxieties of our daily life.
Truly, there is much that we can learn from these winged creatures. As you observe their behavior, try to recall the Scriptural metaphors that speak of them. May the swallow help you to appreciate Jehovah’s house of worship. May you look to God for hope that can enable you to soar like an eagle. May you come to Jesus for spiritual truth that safeguards you the way a mother hen does her chicks. And may the stork remind you to stay alert to the significance of world events that mark our time.