October 5, 2013

Covered In Wings: Birds In The Bible


Since I have been on a streak with topical posts recently that have included trees, music and villains of the Bible. I believe I will stay on the same path as it is diversifying my body of knowledge about the Bible as I study these things topically. For this post I will focus on the winged species of God's amazing Creation.

Leviticus 11:13-19 “‘These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.

One need only look at the diets and lives of these “birds” to understand why they are considered unclean. They are all potential carrion eaters in one form or another and therefore eat of dead meat or predeceased meat. The belief that eagles are not carrion eaters is erroneous. According to the testimony of Arabian writers, they will eat carrion if it is freshly killed and not decomposed (Damari 577). The Ossifrage is also known as a bearded or golden vulture. Many of the names commonly translated hawk and kite would better be understood in Hebrew as a form of vulture also. Other birds in the list are voracious and lazy eaters and will eat much of anything and have been known to eat pieces of stones, metal and even glass. Birds like the cuckoo are near parasitic in their approach to other birds and have been known to eat other bird’s eggs just to lay their own eggs in the nest.

Additionally, many will say that the Bible is in error calling the bat a bird but this is an errant statement. The bat has not always been considered a mammal and it is only because of the advent of the taxonomy structure of the last two hundred years. To assume the modern classification has always been the same would be to try and contemporize the ancient classification of the bat which is wrong. As a matter of fact the word in Hebrew used for fowl or bird is actually הָע֔וֹף or "the flyers"/"cover in wings" (not feathers).

In the end the list isn’t an issue of whether or not it is healthy for the believer to eat the bird so much as it is purely an issue of clean or unclean which is to say it is either that which God deems holy or unholy. The fact that many if not most of these “birds” could potentially be a health threat is a by-product of God’s omniscience, mercy and grace.

The next example of birds in the Bible I will cite is when God sent quails to feed the children of Israel during their exodus from Egypt.

Exodus 16:13 ~ That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.

We understand that the Manna in this passage is a type or shadow of Christ (John 6:33, 41-42, 52) - but what about the Quails? John Calvin summarized the issue(s) quite well. I will merely quote him about this episode…
“…from weariness of the manna they began to desire meat, quails were again given them; but, while they were yet in their mouths, a terrible punishment was inflicted upon their gluttony. When here they had only complained of their want of food, God for once satiated them with flesh, that He might show them that He has in His hand all kinds and quantity of meats. Yet, it was His will that they should be content with one single sort; for, although they had complained that they were deprived of flesh, at the pots of which they had formerly sat, yet it was not reasonable that He should comply altogether with their unholy desires. Besides, it was profitable for them that certain bounds should be set, that they might learn dependence on His will.”
Moving on we see the peacocks of King Solomon that he had imported. These showy birds are part of the description of Solomon’s splendor and riches and therefore should be viewed as God's blessing on his kingdom.

1 Kings 10:21-22 ~ “All King Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

In this passage we see not only the abundance with which God can provide His believers it also shows the abundance of diversity within His Creation. Not only does Solomon the king prosper but it is a national prosperity as evidenced by the fact that all vessels were of gold since silver was consider of such little value in their prosperity. This is a systemic prosperity not just a localized one. All benefited from the blessing to the nation and the king which only came with obedience…so much so that every three years ships would arrive loaded with riches and the exotic animals including the aforementioned peacocks.

As mentioned in a previous post about animals in the Bible we have the story of Elijah who hid from Ahab at the brook Cherith, and ravens brought him bread and flesh, morning and evening  in 1 Kings 17:6

1 Kings 17:6 ~ The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

Ravens are carrion birds. Either Elijah was close to starvation at times or he had few scruples. Ravens scavenged the dead. In eating from the Ravens Elijah was gaining life and sustenance from the dead. We see life gained from that which has died-perhaps a shadow of Christ in its subtlety. There are many (mostly liberal theologians) that will discount miraculous stories like this because of the almost human nature of the duty of the ravens. Rationalistically, these events are hard to explain so they are readily discounted as myth. I disagree. The “matter of fact” method of narration precludes discounting them as embellished myth. They are written as historical narrative accounts. A style that was unheard of at the time of the writing of the book of the Kings. In effect what we are really seeing here is not a repeated visit from a dumb raven with pieces of a dead carcass in its beak but instead we are seeing a continued act of the supernatural orchestrated by a supernatural and sovereign God.

The remaining birds in the Bible I wish to mention all revolve around Jesus and His ministry so obviously there will be quite a few things to hit on theologically and morally. I will mention as many as come to my mind readily by the work of the Spirit.

Matthew 23:37 ~ “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

In this verse we see the sorrow over a sinful world. This lament from the Lord is from the concluding portion of Jesus’ last public discourse before the Passion Week. They are the last utterances from His lips in the temple and they mark the end of His ministry. He could not without pain, go on with this denouncing of doom upon His chosen people. He breaks down and the infinite compassion of an infinite God springs forth from the wellspring  of a divine servant’s heart. The words reveal that of a brooding mother hen that knows her chicks are under a sentence of death. The axe hangs above their heads. The Hen (Jesus) in this instance knows the impending death but the chicks do not and they run blindly for the executioner’s blade.

Jerusalem had been vehemently warned by God’s very Son. Jesus pleaded with her. He had wept over her, He had invited her to repentance but all to no avail…all to this confession of defeat for a stiff-necked people. He (Jesus) still loves His people and has remained faithful to them like a mother to a sinful child...even in light of the impending death He would soon face. He is not alienated by their perversity nor by their unrepentant obstinacy.  Jesus laments as a parent would for an errant child that refuses to obey their parents.

We see how tenderly He gives shelter and rest to those who come, “even as a hen.” Even in spite of the very love of God Himself, men will chose intentionally to perish. We see Jesus in the analogy of the hen showing Himself to be shelter just as the feathers of the Hen for the chicks. We see the potential fierce protectiveness of a mother hen when her clutch is threatened. We see the sturdy wing of omnipotence spread in your defense as the believer who obeys God’s call. We see a protector who is willing to put Himself between His own and the danger that threatens their lives (sin) not only as a mother hen but also as the Good Shepherd and the sheep gate. Finally, we see that all people are responsible for their own salvation and it is an individual choice just like those metaphorical chicks implied by Jesus in His own comparison to a mother hen. Sadly, many will turn their backs on Messiah and many still do…in the end the Temple will become desolate. So too today, any place the Gospel is not preached properly becomes a tomb of dead man’s bones. Any place the Gospel is preached, life comes back from the dead and a heart of flesh if given in place of a heart of stone.

We also see the ominous prediction from Jesus about Peter. Jesus accurately predicted that before the cock or rooster crowed, Peter would deny Him three times.

Matthew 26:34 ~ “Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

We see here Christ’s clear ability to foretell and see the future. It is an ominous warning to a bumbling disciple from an omniscient sovereign God. Although it foretells of a betrayal of trust and faithlessness of a mere man, it also speaks of a God that not only knows it’s coming, it is coming according to a plan He foreknew. It comes from a God that will stay faithful to Peter even when Peter is unfaithful to Jesus. God is in control and sometimes even the bad stuff is meant to happen exactly the way it does. We should not be too hard on Peter as most of us in the same given situation would have done the same exact thing (if we are honest). These words are not guesses form our Lord, they are spoken with absolute conviction and foreknowledge as if they had already taken place. There is surety in Jesus’ statement. It has to happen. The fact Peter would deny God seems appalling but to do so three times in succession seems unimaginable. What is Peter’s response to Jesus’ revelation of truth about his betrayal? 

Defiance and doubt, not belief and faith.

Matthew 26:33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”

What is the response of the other disciples? They do the exact same thing. They deny in defiance of what they know has to be a divine spoken truth from Jesus. Is there ever such as juxtaposing of dark and light as we see here in Jesus’ statement and the disciples reactions? The truth itself reveals a future truth to the very people it applies to…and they deny God’s truth. It is a very sad lack of faith and belief. O' ye of little faith.

I really makes a person wonder reading this passage…

What is the difference between true courage in the face of death (Jesus) and the mere absence of fear (in ignorance of impending death). The difference is true mettle and foolish impudence. It is the difference between an omniscient teacher and a barely reachable people. It is the difference between divine perfection and fallen sinful humanity.

We know how this ends (just like Jesus foreknew). Peter denies, the disciples scatter like rats on a sinking ship and Jesus valiantly faces death alone for the sake of His sheep. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. It is enough to make a person weep.

I will make one more Scriptural reference that pertains to birds but does not speak about a bird in actuality. Although not a direct reference to a bird, it is stated that the Holy Spirit descends like a dove in Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22 and John 1:32. It does not say the Holy Spirit descended as a dove but like one.

Luke 3:22 ~ “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

As soon as the baptism is completed, we are confronted with one of the greatest mysteries of God: The Trinity- Three persons, One Being. We see the Son standing in the water before John the Baptist, we see the Spirit descend while a voice came from Heaven from the Father. I don’t fully understand it nor do most of the people I know but I (and some of them) just need to accept it. The heavens open above Jesus and the Spirit of God manifests Himself in such a way that He is recognizable as a dove. The dove descends to the only resting place it has been decided it can reside…the head and heart of Jesus Christ.

The implication I these verses are unavoidable. God is Truine. Christians are required to believe in and accept a God that is Three Equal Persons but One Being. Fully and equally divine. From the same Heaven from which the Spirit arrives a voice emanates and it is to bear testimony to the nature of the Son standing in the water near John the Baptist. Through Scripture we bear witness to a divine proclamation about divinity.

A disembodied voice lays claim to this seemingly ordinary man and this seemingly ordinary man is nothing of the sort (ordinary). He is fully man and fully divine but more importantly…He is the Son of God the Father and the Father is well-pleased with Him. More specifically, the Father delights in Him and takes great pleasure in this fact. The Father doesn’t say He is well pleased with John the Baptist. He says He is well pleased with His Son Jesus. In this respect, John’s greatness is merely the greatness of a mortal servant but is nothing compared to the testimony of the Father about His Son…yet the Son invites us to be co-heirs with Him. How? Because we are His children! If we are His children, we are heirs to what is His (Romans 8:17)! 

Righteousness!

We also see a divine coronation here. Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his official ministry. From here the Spirit will send Him into the wilderness to be tempted after having lead Him to the Jordan  In doing these things He literally renounces His will in favor of the Fathers…just as Jesus asks us to renounce our will in favor of His.

Even the pure offspring of the Spirit needs a baptism here. In reality it is an anointing by the Spirit for ministry. It is now, after the human frailty had grown strong enough to harbor the Spirit that it would descend on Christ. It is here, now that Jesus is fully endowed with the Spirit for His ministry work. This baptism is on the blessed head of humanity. As all men fell in Adam, all are restored to life in Christ. It is in the context of Trinity and baptism inextricably linked that we see Christ baptized and it is in the context of baptism in the name (singular) of the Father (singular), Son (singular) and Holy Spirit (singular) that we see believers inextricably linked to God. These are no mere accidents of fate, they are preordained plans of an omniscient and sovereign God that is three Persons yet One Being.

Addendum: 

I of course must mention my favorite passage in the Bible that contains reference to a bird. It is Isaiah 40:31.

Isaiah 40:31 ~ “…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

I could spend a lot of time explaining this verse but its explanation is quite simple: It shows that those that invariably trust in God, they will be renewed and will be delivered in the Lord's strength and in His time, not ours. Just as with Jesus' ministry above, all is according to God's plan in His perfect timing. It is not for us to question....it is for us to trust and obey.

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